Labor Day weekend has always always been one of my favorites, full of traditions like camping with family and friends, sitting around the fire watching meat cook, playing games around the picnic table, and just enjoying time with people. I have spent every single Labor Day Weekend that I can remember (and many that I don’t remember) camped next to the banks of the Clear Fork River at River Run Family Campground in Loudonville, Ohio.

This year was going to be different. We had decided earlier this summer that we were going to probably stay home, because we would still be learning how to manage our new life as parents and taking care of what we had assumed would be a very young newborn. (If Alexander had been born on or near his due date, he would have only been about three weeks old.) We had planned to just spend the long weekend hanging out at home with our little family.

Well, obviously things don’t always go as planned.

As Labor Day weekend approached this year, we had some decisions to make. Would we spend the weekend camping like we always have before, almost as if our world hadn’t completely shattered; as if we weren’t now living in some parallel universe that doesn’t even feel like real life anymore? Would we intentionally do something completely different? Would we even want to function as human beings knowing that Labor Day itself would mark exactly two months since July 5, when we found out that Alexander’s heart was no longer beating? Is this what every holiday and every milestone will be like for the next year? For the rest of our lives?

There were lots of questions leading up to this weekend–a weekend for which I have never before in my life questioned my plans.

Well, here I am on the other side of that weekend. On the other side of two months since the world came crashing down around me. On the other side of all those questions. Alive. Breathing. Putting one foot in front of the other.

We decided to both stick with tradition and change things up, because that’s kind of how our lives feel these days. The same and not the same. In many ways, life looks eerily the same as it did a year ago, and yet it has changed. We have changed. Life is very much not the same.

So, we spent half of the holiday weekend camping with family on the banks of the Clear Fork River. We did the same things that we have always done–sitting around the fire, eating nothing but meat grilled over the fire and sugar, driving around small-town Ohio perusing local garage sales, and hanging out with family and friends. And yet, even in doing those same things, it was very much not the same. We got a few more hugs and had a few more heavy conversations. Everything seemed to carry a weight of “this isn’t how it is supposed to be.”

We knew going in that it wouldn’t quite be the same, so we let our plans for the weekend reflect that. We held loosely to a little bit of the same while at the same time embracing the not the same-ness of our lives.

For the first time I can remember, we came home early from a Labor Day weekend camping trip. We spent Sunday evening watching the epic Texas vs. Notre Dame college football game with some friends back home in Dayton. We spent the day Monday hanging out with some new friends from church who God has clearly brought into our lives in this season.

And so, while this weekend was a lot of the same as always, it was also very much not the same as it’s always been. It carried with it more heaviness, as do most days anymore. We missed out on sharing long-standing family traditions with Alexander. We missed and longed for what this weekend should have been. There were moments of settling into a new “normal,” and moments of deep longing for the normal that was supposed to be.

This is the reality of life after loss. The same and not the same.

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