After the sudden death of our dear friend, Tom, we decided to return to Colorado.
Below are a bunch of pics from the trip.
But first, some background:
Our youngest three kids haven’t been back since we moved away in 2016 and they not only wanted to attend Tom’s memorial, but connect with old friends and sites.
So less than a week ago, Jennifer baked up a mess of bread and prepared tons of snacks to cut down on road trip expense and we loaded up the van, leaving on a Wednesday, arriving in Colorado Thursday night, and departing for home Sunday after Mass and arriving — road weary — on Monday night. So we were only gone 5 nights and traveled over 3000 miles.
We recorded two full-length podcasts during the trek home, recounting all of the blessings and amazing experiences including:
- A visit with our friends Paul and Karen Camarata (longtime Catholic podcast listeners will remember Paul from his SaintCast podcast),
- A trip to Benedictine College (where Ben will begin his studies in mechanical engineering this fall),
- A visit to our old neighborhood (where Lily was reunited with a dear friend and we discovered a McDonald’s under construction in our backyard),
- An encounter with holy relics,
- Lunch with my old boss,
- And more over the next few days and even on the way home
And while you’ll hear all this on upcoming shows (next week we have the interview scheduled with Bishop Strickland, so these will launch after that), consider the photos below a preview of coming attractions.
The two road-casts (where we talk about many of the things you’ll see in these photos) will launch on August 2 and August 9.
Days One and Two – Wednesday and Thursday
We got on the road just after 5AM and worked our way to Kansas City where we stayed the night with our friends, Paul and Karen.
The next morning was another early start as we drove northeast to Atchison, Kansas where our son Ben will attend Benedictine College this fall. It was our first time on campus and it was amazing!
After a quick guided tour and meeting with the college president, we were back on the road by noon to finish our trek to Colorado. Upon our arrival, we recreated a family photo in front of the iconic welcome sign (minus Sam and Walter this time), and were greeted by an unbelievable Colorado sunset as approached Denver.
Day Three – Friday
Friday was devoted to seeing old sights and visiting old friends.
Our first stop was our old neighborhood where we discovered with horror (but not really surprise) that the enormous field directly behind our former house has recently been excavated in preparation for a new gas station and McDonald’s. Had we stayed, our kids would have probably loved that. Jennifer and I, however, would have been miserable.
While in our old cul de sac, Lily was reunited with her buddy, Mr. Nick. In the nearly four years we lived there, Nick was eternally patient as Lily (then 4-8 years old) followed him around his yard and garage, constantly asking questions and engaging him endless games of tic-tac-toe using chalk on his driveway. We lost touch with each other and Nick and his wife said they regularly wonder where Lily is and how she’s doing. It was a tearful reunion for them both. Afterward, Jennifer, Lily and I walked up the hill near the kid’s former school. This was the hill I always ended my walks on every day back in 2015 when I lost a bunch of weight. It’s also the hill of the infamous coyote incident.
After visiting our old neighborhood we headed for lunch with Msgr. Fryar, the former vicar general for the Archdiocese of Denver and the priest responsible for bringing us to Colorado.
One of the most amazing parts of our visit was having the opportunity to venerate his parish’s collection of holy relics, including relics from the veil of Mary, the robe of St. Joseph, and a splinter from the true cross of Jesus Christ.
After lunch we stopped for food supplies at the local King Sooper’s (Colorado’s equivalent of the east coast’s Krogers). I know it sounds weird to want to stop at a grocery store, but given the countless hours we stopped here, even this was sentimental for us. Especially Jennifer 😉
Finally, we ended the night by visiting our dear friend, June, the wife of our friend Tom who died. This was our first time to see her since Tom’s passing, and we wanted to see her before the busyness of his memorial the next day.
Before we left June’s house, Jennifer asked if we could walk around. Even though we’d been in their house many times before, we just wanted to feel Tom’s presence. I would never have asked to do this, but I’m so glad Jennifer did. Right away, June walked us into their bedroom and I was stopped in my tracks. Hanging on their bedroom wall was a painting of roses that I had done years ago and completely forgot all about. I was completely taken aback by the place of honor that painting has had in their bedroom over all these years. What’s more, June pointed out another painting I did that I’d forgotten all about that hung in their kitchen.
Day Four – Saturday
We had no idea what to expect for Saturday, the day of Tom’s memorial. But what a day of blessings it was.
Just before we left Colorado, Tom truly began living his life for Christ and he and June became heavily involved in a local Church. As a Catholic, I’ve only been to a handful of non-Catholic funerals, but Pastor Rob and the team at Summit Church did an amazing job not only eulogizing Tom, but truly inviting people into accepting Jesus Christ into their lives. It was a reminder to me that Protestants and Catholics still have much we can learn from each other.
After the service we continued to celebrate Tom’s life with a fantastic BBQ held at the beautiful home of someone who knew Tom and June and made that space available for the celebration. The woman in the red shirt in the pictures below is June. She and our son Ben always had a special connection, and I think it was particularly good for the two of them to reconnect. We also had a chance to spend time with other former neighbors including Laura and Mike (I got to ask Mike if he still has the punching bag I passed onto him when we moved) and Chris and Stephanie (seen in the photo below with me and Jennifer). Chris often joined me and Tom on our front porch for drinks. We had tons of laughs together. Two of the best next door neighbors ever.
Day Five – Sunday
After several days that passed in the blink of an eye, we woke early (again) and went to 7:30 AM Mass at the new parish of our friend, Fr. Daniel. We met Fr. Daniel literally one week to the day after we moved into our Colorado house. He was still a seminarian at the time and frequently came over to our house for dinner and eventually our son Walter asked him to be his confirmation sponsor. Right before we left he was ordained a transitional deacon and a year later was ordained a priest. This was just his second week at his new parish assignment so it was special to briefly catch up with him.
We then (quickly) drove through the parking lot of the Archdiocese of Denver and then headed east.
As soon as we hit Kansas (literally at the sign announcing the state line) we were forced over for the first of four times as we were bombarded with a torrential hail storm that stopped traffic in all directions and delayed us for at least an hour.
Since Kansas is 424 miles long, after a few hours we started looking for distractions. A sign for the “Basilica of the Plains” caught our attention and we made the split second decision to get off at an exit and investigate. We’re so glad we did as we discovered the Cathedral of St. Fidelis in Victoria, Kansas.
Given that this trip from the beginning felt more like a pilgrimage than a vacation, it made sense that our last major stop would be to give thanks.
Day Six – Monday
We stayed in a hotel in Columbia, Missouri for less than six hours Sunday night. I woke up around 4:30 and wanted to beat morning rush hour traffic in St. Louis so I rousted everyone up and we pounded through the next eleven hours, getting home sometime after five.
We brought with us a gift given to us by June before we left her house for the last time on Saturday.
After Tom died last a few weeks ago, she’s received many plants and flowers, one of which was a Magnolia tree sapling.
“This won’t survive being planted in Colorado,” June told us, so she entrusted it to us.
We’re not sure how long you can keep a magnolia in pots before it needs a permanent home in the ground. But we also suspect that in six years or so, once Lily graduates high school, that we’ll be ready to downsize once more. Given this connection to our friends Tom and June, we’d like to see this tree grow into fruition.
I doubt June realizes how much this sapling means to us.
But hopefully she knows after this trip how much SHE means to us, too.