Tressa is a yoga instructor, office manager, writer and mom of three daughters. She began writing her blog, Down to the River, after the tragic drowning of her 22-year-old eldest daughter, Abigael. Through her words, she explores the profound impact of grief, trauma, loss and love in navigating day-to day life, in hopes of cultivating empathy and compassion for all those whose lives have been shattered. Tressa also began a scholarship to honor Abigael’s passion for travel, multi-culturalism and tolerance. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughters, relentlessly picking up the pieces and seeking the beauty in this world.
The four of us desperately needed a change of scenery. Getting through the daily grind while emotionally struggling is exhausting. So, we snuck away to the beach as soon as the school year ended, as we have done as a family of five for many years.
For so many years, I would carefully make lists, pack games and crafts, travel activities and every snack imaginable, and arrive at our beach house, exhausted, frazzled and frustrated, deeply questioning WHY I would put myself through so much headache and work for the kids to play in a giant sandbox for a week. I recognize now the foundation we were building. By taking that time and pouring that energy into those annual beach trips, our three girls recognized the need for our little party of five to separate from our mundane routine for the sole purpose of being together, united in truly enjoying this world, this gift of life. We were teaching them that the moments matter—that first step onto the hot sand, the sun-kissed skin, the PBJ’s that taste like magic after playing in the surf, the buckets full of tiny sea critters, the walks down the beach to nowhere.
On this most recent trip, the four of us had some beautiful moments, joyful moments, hilarious moments. We had dance parties, vicious games of Uno, quiet reflective conversations sitting in the surf. We don’t take a single moment for granted. All of those wonderful family moments still occur, just as they did in previous years, only now they are commingled with the grief that still feels raw and consuming. We look like any other laughing, happy family at the beach. Other beachgoers tell us what a beautiful family we are. And we ARE—we have a deep love and connection and reverence for the importance of family moments. We laugh. We smile. We enjoy the beautiful earth around us and marvel at our existence in it. We really cherish spending time together, even the moments when we bicker and fight because…what would a family vacation be without THAT?!
While we are creating these wonderful memories together, we are acutely aware that these moments don’t include Abigael and that truth hurts. Eventually our stockpile of collected moments will contain more memories without her than with her. All of the happiness, laughter, joy, pride, and love in our family can not ease the knowledge that one of us is missing. Four is not five.
We live with the constant presence of absence. And yet, we chase down light, we seek out joy, we carve out time and space to feel less burdened by the mundane. We relentlessly pursue and protect love in our midst. We are broken people in a broken circle, yet somehow we continue to be knitted even more tightly together. I can only attribute that weaving and strengthening to Abigael. Her love for us, and our love for her is a force strong enough to keep us together, even when we feel like we are individually falling apart.
Four is not five; and nothing will ever be the same for us, even vacations. But, perhaps that recognition is another gift from Abigael. Because of her life and her death, the foundation of moments that we built has been fortified so that it will never be diminished. Because of Abigael, her presence and now her absence in our lives, we are constantly reminded that moments matter. Life is fleeting and unpredictable and tenuous, and the moments that live on in our hearts are a gift, never to be taken for granted.