Sunday, March 9, 2014

My secret honeymoon......

I cannot believe that I haven't posted a blog since November. I need to get back into the habit of getting my thoughts down on paper. I think what I have realized is that many of my thoughts were really driven by panic and anxiety. As my medication continues to keep me much more even-keeled, I find that I don't have as much in my head that I feel I need to get out. I often think of things I want to write about, the difference now is the "need" to get it out of my head and onto paper. What used to be thoughts that would roll around in my mind until I let them out, now kind of come and go much more freely, more easily and less stressful. So, I need to continue to find opportunities to put things down because I still truly enjoy writing and getting these things out of my head.

Anyone that has read prior blogs may find this blog a bit different. Most of my blogs are really about thoughts, and moments that are very reactionary. How I am thinking and feeling about things that are happening in my life, in my world, injustices I see and struggles I have, etc. This blog is going to allow me the opportunity to share a bit about one of my favorite people and my honeymoon.

Since as long as I can remember I have wanted to go and visit the ancient ruins of the world. Egypt, Greece, Belize, Guatemala, etc. I have always been extremely fascinated by things I cannot really begin to know and understand. I know part of my love for all things science, especially space, is that it is so unbelievably difficult for me to comprehend how it all went down. From the big bang nearly 14 billion years ago to where we find ourselves today, it is really all beyond understanding for me. Similarly, when I look at ancient ruins, it really makes my mind expand. How did they do it? How did they cut those?, how did they move those stones. It truly fascinates me, always has.

When Greg and I decided we wanted to do a big honeymoon we started thinking of all of the places we wanted to go. We knew we wanted to find a way to balance the outdoors, activities and history with a relaxing/beach opportunity as well. We are both fans of reading and there is almost nothing I enjoy more than reading on the beach and listening to the sounds of the waves. I have loved the ocean since I was a child and cannot imagine my honeymoon not involving the ocean at least a bit.

So, as we started narrowing down choices (New Zealand, Thailand, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica), we started thinking about what we really wanted to do. We knew that Belize and Guatemala would give us a nice balance of culture, outdoors, ruins and beach. We were turned onto the Francis Coppola resorts by my supervisor and when we realized there were 3 resorts between Belize and Guatemala, we knew where we were headed.

While we had no doubt our honeymoon would be a memorable and amazing time, I had no idea how special and important it would turn out to be.

Before I go on, I think I need to flash back to August 2008. It was a regular day and Greg and I were going down the escalator at Home Depot in midtown. I got a phone call from my dad and I was told that "Joey passed away." I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about because never in a million years did I assume he meant my cousin Joey. That just didn't register and wasn't registering at all. I thought my dad was talking about one of his friends or someone he knew from growing up or work. It just wasn't registering. I remember saying "what???" That is when my dad went on to tell me some of the most awful news I ever heard in my entire life. I will never forget that day. I will never ever forget that day. I was in total and absolute shock as I hung up the phone in Home Depot. I don't remember much more of that day. I vaguely remember crying on my couch, but it is truly a blur an absolute and total blur.

How do you even make sense of your 18 year old cousin passing away. How do you even comprehend that? What do you even say to his parents and grandparents, your cousins and aunt and uncle? The next thing I remember is Greg and I driving up to Athol. If was a difficult few days between Joey's passing and the services. It is really hard not being with and around family during difficult times. It is really hard feeling like you aren't there when those you love the most need you the most. It is hard to be away when you want nothing more than to hug those you love and care for. Greg and I drove up to Athol for Joey's services on the 19th of August, 2008. We drove straight to my Uncle Alan and Auntie Annie's house so we could all be together and head to the services together.

There really is no way to prepare for this. I think that anyone who has been to services for someone who has passed away tragically before their time can relate. I have been to a few services like this, but clearly Joey's was beyond words. Joey had tragically passed away in a car accident and all of our hearts were ripped out of our chests in the process. Much like that week, the day was a blur. I have very vivid memories of hugging Dusty for a long time and I have very vivid memories of sobbing in a chair. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain my cousin Dusty, Joey's brother Lennon and Joey's Dad Chad went through. I know how I felt and I know how I feel, but I cannot even begin to imagine how my Uncle Alan and my Auntie Annie and Laurie felt and (Joey's grandparents). I just cannot imagine.

Now I need to be careful, I cannot do Joey or his passing justice. I promised myself I would not go there because I really have no words for that time in my family's past. It is really hard to eloquently speak about that time and the feelings. I also cannot even begin to pretend to describe how his mother father, step mother, grandparents and brother felt so I will switch back to what I can describe, my honor to have him along on our honeymoon.

In early January I received a Facebook message from my cousin Dusty asking if I would be comfortable bringing some of Joey's ashes to spread on the honeymoon. I was so honored to be asked and said immediately that Greg and I would be honored to have Joey with us on our honeymoon.

I received Joey on February 6th and kept him with me and on me at all times from that moment on. I have thought of Joey a lot over the past 5+ years, but it was so nice to have so many conversations with him over the next few weeks. I joked with Greg that if our plane went down and they were doing DNA analysis, they may get really confused to find ashes from someone who passed away in 2008. My only fear was that somehow the ashes would get flagged and found. I am not sure why ashes would make a metal detector go off, but I had visions of needing to explain myself. My number one priority the entire trip was not just honoring Joey but keeping him safe and helping him be a part of experiences he wasn't able to be a part of while he was here. The honeymoon wasn't just about Greg and I. It was about Joey too and that made it so very special.

I had talked to Dusty a bit about where she would like his ashes spread and if there was anything in particular she wanted me to do. We had discussed spreading ashes at the Mayan ruins so that was definitely my plan. What I had not anticipated was how many ruins and how many places there were to think about and consider spreading ashes. I found myself having a difficult time letting go of Joey's ashes each and every time. I was very conservative with the amount I was spreading because I so enjoyed having him around and was dreading spreading the last of the ashes.

As someone who had never done this before, I wasn't really sure what to expect. The first Mayan ruin we went to was the large archaeological site of Caracol, located in the Cayo District of Belize. Our guide Hugh took us all around the site and taught us so much about the archaeological team excavating the site, the Mayans, the building of Caracol and the area. I can remember walking around thinking ok Joey, let me know where you would like to be. The first time I got the feeling he wanted me to spread some ashes was in a large area of ruins. There were four ruins that created a courtyard/plaza of sorts. I spread some ashes in the courtyard. Shortly after I spread some ashes there were two butterflies that flew by. I have to say butterflies were everywhere when I spread Joey's ashes.

Within that courtyard we were allowed to climb a ruin that the Mayans used as an observatory. There was one room in particular in the observatory where the sun shines during the equinoxes. I spread some more ashes there, knowing the sun will be shining on Joey not only daily, but especially during the special time of year. We spent some more time up in the observatory taking pictures and just enjoying the moment. I have to say I certainly felt Joey was with us on our honeymoon, the entire time. I felt like he was experiencing these places with me and I am so very grateful to have had that opportunity with my cousin who I love so dearly!

Throughout the rest of our walk throughout Caracol whenever I felt a little tug, I would spread some ashes. There were some times when I was like, "I will Joey, just waiting for Hugh to look away" :) I wasn't sure if spreading ashes was "kosher" and as much as I was loving Belize, I didn't want to find myself detained for doing something illegal. We climbed up Canna,  the largest ruin in Caracol. When we got to the top, there was an absolutely amazing view. I felt another tug, saw some more butterflies and knew this was another place to spread Joey's ashes. We had a spectacular view of Caracol in both directions. Knowing that the area was occupied as early as 1200 BC with this specific area we were in being occupied around 650 BC, it was just another perfect place for Joey's spirit to have a few moments.

As we left Caracol with Joey in my pocket, I was happy to find that I had plenty of ashes left so Joey could continue our trip with us. I was not looking forward to spreading the last bit of ashes. After Caracol we headed to Rio on Pools and waterfalls for a swim. Greg and I had a fabulous time swimming in the warm water and looking at the waterfalls. On our way out, I felt another tug. I was a bit surprised as it wasn't a ruin, but it was a really cool place where I have no doubt Joey would have loved. It was a little more challenging as there were way more people around, but I tapped my pocket as I did each time I talked to Joey and I went ahead and spread some ashes. As I walked away from the waterfall, I was glad I had listened to yet another tug.

The next day we were able to go to Barton Creek Cave, which is a completely amazing cave that you tour via canoe. It was a cave where Mayan rituals were held and you could actually see bones and skulls left behind by the Mayans up in the walls of the cave. It was incredible. Inside the cave there were bats and beautiful and amazing stalagmites and stalactites. It is amazing to be reminded that all of these formations are totally natural. Created by water dripping and building up on itself. It was an amazing tour. I didn't feel right spreading ashes in the cave, but Joey was there with me the entire time. I think he would have really liked the cave, it was so cool to see it all and imagine being a Mayan and thinking what they would have been thinking so many years ago.

When we got out of the canoe and were about to leave the cave area, I spread some ashes and I felt another tug. I had no idea what to expect from this experience, but I honestly can not imagine my honeymoon without Joey being there with Greg and I. We referred to him often and Greg and I spent a lot of time not only talking about Joey, but also what we thought he would like and where he would want to go and be left behind. It was not only special for me, but it was really for Greg and I. It made our honeymoon so much more special, memorable and meaningful than we could have ever imagined.

Back at Blancaneaux I was so enjoying myself. The resort was just amazing and the staff, food, wine, views and customer service could not have been better. Everywhere we went we were called by name and it was just really nice having a relaxing place where we totally felt like we were being taken care of. I would recommend the Coppola resorts to anyone and I truly hope to go back. It was really hard to leave Blancaneaux. I found myself getting extremely sad while we were leaving.

But, we were heading to Guatemala and we would be going to Tikal the next day. I knew all along that my plan was really to spread the most of Joey's ashes at Tikal. It was making me sad to think about and I really just wanted to find the most perfect place for him. Greg and I talked a lot about how I would know where to spread the last of the ashes and if I should keep ashes for the entire trip. We really put a lot of time and thought into not only where to spread the ashes, but what we thought would mean the most to Joey and what Joey would enjoy most.

While at La Lancha in Guatemala we were blown away once again by the food, wine, customer service, staff and especially the howler monkeys. You haven't heard anything in the wilderness until you have heard a howler monkey making itself known at 5:00 a.m. La Lancha was a bit smaller than Blancaneaux, but we were so excited to have the opportunity to practice our Spanish and be around others speaking Spanish. Everyone was just so friendly and incredible. At each resort we met staff that made an impact. At Blancanaux there was Hugh and Jorge and at La Lancha there was Jairo and Santos.

We headed out to Tikal early the next morning with our driver Jose and our guide a real medicine man. Our time in Tikal was so amazing. Our guide had lived in the jungle for many years and talked so much to us about getting rid of your fears and about how fear isn't real, that it all lives in your mind. He told us so much about the Mayans and what they believed. We learned a lot during our tour of Tikal. It was interesting to get such an insightful perspective not only on Tikal, but on the Mayans and life in general. We really lucked out on all of our tours. All our our guides were just amazing!

Tikal is HUGE. Not only are there more ruins that have been uncovered in Tikal than Caracol, but they are also much taller. One of the first plaza areas we walked into is where Temple 2 is located. I knew immediately when I saw it that I wanted to spread some ashes in the plaza. It was such a cool area. It was amazing to just put yourself back into 200 AD and think about how the Mayans would be using the plaza. What they would be doing, what they would be thinking about the world, about their Gods. It is just truly incredible for me to think about not only how they were able to build these massive structures, but how they were able to think about math, astronomy, agriculture-including their massive and advanced systems of aqueducts. It is just all so fascinating.

After we spent some time taking pictures in the plaza, we were then able to climb up Temple 2. Temple 2 is one of the larger temples where stairs have been built next to the structure in order to help keep the structures integrity. There were a lot of stairs up, but again, it led to an amazing view, pictures and of course another tug to spread some ashes. It was another truly amazing and unforgettable moment. It really makes you feel small to think about who has come before and what those that came before were able to accomplish. It is mind boggling to consider how they dreamt, and what they knew and believed.

We spent the entire day walking around Tikal with our guide and learning about the philosophies and psychologies of the Mayan people. Beliefs as to why they did what they did. It was very interesting to compare and contrast Caracol with Tikal. It isn't necessarily that Caracol is "smaller" there has just been much less opportunity for excavating as it is very expensive. It is truly amazing how the jungle took back these ancient cities. It was amazing to learn that under much of the "hills" we were seeing were temples and ruins. They remain buried as it is really expensive and really time consuming to uncover safely and correctly. It also makes a difference as to if the ruins are being restored or excavated. Greg and I found ourselves looking at each month of earth and wondering what was under it. It really makes you think what else may be in the forests and jungles of Belize and Guatemala. What else are the leaves and dirt hiding. It really is fascinating.

We had been told by everyone in both Belize and Guatemala to make sure that we climbed up Temple 4. It was the largest temple, with another set of wooden stairs to help maintain the structural integrity of the Temple. It was quite the climb, but as always, well worth the view. We got to the top of Temple 4 and knew. I knew this is where I would be saying "goodbye" to Joey. While I knew it wasn't really goodbye that he is always with me and always will be, he had honestly been such a big part of our honeymoon, I wasn't sure how to let go.

Greg and I climbed up to the very top to sit down at Temple 4 to have a granola bar. I must have asked Greg about 12 times if he was sure I should put the rest of Joey's ashes here on the top of Temple 4. We took lots of pictures, took some video of the views and then it was time for me to spread the rest of Joey's ashes. I put him on the very top of Temple 4 knowing the wind will take his ashes eventually to explore the rest of Tikal from heights none of us will ever be able to replicate.

As I sat on the top of Temple 4 I just start crying. It was a bit like saying goodbye all over again. It was hard to spread the last of his ashes, it really was. He "lived" in my pocket for our entire honeymoon and now he wouldn't be any longer. We sat at the top of the temple for a little while longer and then made our way back down.

I continued to find myself grabbing my pocket whenever I saw something really cool. I also continued to constantly check my pocket to ensure Joey was still with me. It really became an instinct and it wasn't one that went away. In the end, I know we made the right decisions with our many spreading locations.

As we left Guatemala the next day we were both so sad. I was sad that what felt like the "purpose" of our honeymoon was over. We were both sad that our honeymoon was coming to an end. As we boarded the tiny plane to head back Belize to our last resort at Turtle Inn, I kept Joey's container in my purse. I thought he would really like these flights. They were in tiny planes and Greg and I were able to sit right behind the pilot. I actually felt him very strongly during all of those flights. It was nice to know he was still "around."

Turtle Inn was the perfect way to end our honeymoon. Right on the beach! A beautiful resort, hammocks and more amazing food, wine and customer service. All of the rooms were just gorgeous and Turtle Inn had an outdoor shower ta boot. It was just beautiful. At Turtle Inn we had more wonderful guides and servers, Terry, Jose, Bar Romeo and our beach captain Randi. We were able to spend time on the water, on the beach, on Monkey River seeing amazing wildlife like crocodiles, more howler monkeys, tons of birds, dolphins, manatees and pelicans. We were able to spend a lot of time on the water as transportation was done via boat, which was amazing. We were also able to go snorkeling which was incredible. I had never been snorkeling. We saw amazing fish along the reef and it was incredible to need to rely on your snorkel gear for breathing. I would go snorkeling again in a heartbeat!

Once again, while Joey wasn't with me, I could imagine him really enjoying snorkeling and I would often ask him if he was having fun.

To Greg, thank you for being you. Thank you for being the amazing, wonderful, kind and caring person that you are. I know you loved Joey and it meant so much to me that we were able to spread Joey's ashes together. I love you!

Our honeymoon was amazing and special for so many reasons. We were able to be taken care of for 10 days by three amazing resorts. I would go back to each of them again and again if I could. We were able to meet some amazing, caring and kind people. We were able to have unique experiences and try many things for the first time. We were able to be reminded of our love of the outdoors and all things nature. We were able to be in awe of those that came before us and fascinated by history. We were able to have another amazing adventure together and experience different cultures in different countries. Belize and Guatemala helped remind me what is really important in life. It reminded me of all the small things once again. What you really "need" to live and be happy. All that being said, our honeymoon was made more amazing because my super duper spectacular cousin Joey was there with us the entire time. Even when he wasn't there, he was there. We had many conversations and I am extremely grateful to have had the honor of spreading his ashes.

And that's all she wrote....

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