Rwanda filled my dreams yet again last night. It was so real that when I awoke and found myself laying on the mattress on the floor in Boise, (our makeshift home for the summer), I was thoroughly confused for a good 15 seconds. I must add though, that the malaria medication I took on the entire trip and a week after coming home gave me the weirdest dreams. Not sure if it’s still in my system or not, or maybe the side effects are permanent? Who knows. Anyway, once I realized where I was, (or should I say where I was NOT), I was disappointed. I had expected this trip to Africa with my Grandpa to be amazing, but not as life- changing as it ended up being. Rwanda changed me- of that I have no doubt. The woman who flew home was not the same woman who flew there.
Almost nightly visions of the beautiful country of Rwanda have become commonplace since being back in the states. The only difference from last night is that my mom was in my dream this time.
I have been home from my trip for two weeks now, and I find myself trying to hold on to every detail of Rwanda. I’m afraid of losing it in my memory, so I find myself grasping for even the minute details of smells, colors, and names. This trip opened my eyes and changed me so deeply, that I think this is why I have dreamed of it almost every night since I have been back.
It’s interesting to me that mom would be in my dream last night as well for a few reasons. I still am grappling to hold onto memories of her since she passed. I think of her voice, her laugh, her smell, and even how her hands felt . Today also happens to be her birthday.
I woke up this morning with an oh-so-familiar dull ache in my heart for her. She’s always in my heart, but on the special days like birthdays or holidays it gets hard to bear that she’s gone. The good thing about holding on to her memory, much like my trip to Rwanda, is that it keeps her alive to me. That helps me keep going on the hard days.
On our third leg to Africa I found myself on an 8 hour flight from Doha, Qatar to Kigali, Rwanda. I was seated in between my sister and my grandpa, DeVon. Aly had a terrible allergic reaction and was knocked out from Benadryl I had given her, and DeVon had attempted to watch the same movie for the third time now and was asleep in 5 minutes. This became quite a joke on our trip that if you had trouble sleeping to just simply watch this clearly riveting show.
Ten years ago I would not have ever guessed that here I would be on my way to Africa with my biological grandfather. The fact that we all found one another still astounds me, but it has been such a blessing to me to have them. I leaned my head back to try and get some sleep myself, and had to smile over at DeVon before I nodded off. I am so happy to have him in my life.
As our trip continued, it was solidified even more so just how amazing of a man he is. DeVon has devoted so much of his life to helping others as an infectious disease doctor. This was his 37th trip to Africa since the 1980’s, and at 76 years old here he was making the journey again. Not only is his work inspiring, but he truly accepts and loves all people. I got to witness him talking and making friends with complete strangers everywhere we went, and he did it with such an ease. His genuine love for others definitely rubs off on you, and makes you want to be like him.
On a more relaxed day in Kibuye right on the gorgeous Lake Kivu on the border of the Congo, Aly and I spent the day with him while the rest of our party went into town. We traveled to Napoleon Island to see the 5 million fruit bats who live there, and when we got back had a nice lunch at our hotel.
While we ate, we began to have a deep discussion which continued that night when we had dinner as well. DeVon told us in detail about how hard it was for him when Sherri, his oldest child and our biological mother, decided it was best to put us up for adoption. The emotions were high as we spoke, and I know he was truly heartbroken for both what his daughter was going through, and to have his first grandchildren not be in his life.
When I was ready to know about Sherri, even though at the time we didn’t know her name, my mom handed Aly and I two folders (which we both still have today). On each was taped a colored ribbon which was in our hair at the hospital, and inside were ultrasound photos, some birth records, two letters, and a journal. The journal was from Sherri which she wrote out to each of us during her whole pregnancy and right after we were born. The letters were from her parents, Diane and DeVon, but they were signed “your biological grandpa” and “your biological grandma”.
DeVon’s letter in particular really struck me, and through his words I could feel just how deeply we were loved, and how deeply our missing presence in his life would be felt.
As I sat with him in Rwanda talking about this same subject, a thought occurred to me while I held back tears that for him, a lifetime of heartbreak was healed when we found them. His broken heart was able to be made whole when his first two grandchildren that he mourned for were back in his life. Aly and I were these missing puzzle pieces that had finally been found.
We spent two weeks on our trip to Rwanda with DeVon, and I am grateful for every moment. He is such a loving presence in my life now, and I want to soak up every moment I can with him now that I have him. So, when the day comes that he too passes from this earthly life, that I can then hold on to every detail of him like I continue to do with our trip, and I continue to do for my mom.
So today, being mom’s birthday, I will tell the kids stories about her like I always do. We will do something meaningful to celebrate her special day, and I will keep her memory alive with my children as well.
These small details we hold onto of the important people, places, and experiences in our lives are like the breadcrumbs that can lead us back to them when we need to remember. When we need to feel that burning in our chest, and have tears fill our eyes because we are re-experiencing the joy and the love of this beautiful crazy life we live.
The Raw Brunette