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Here’s how I know that my heart’s blisters are starting to heal a little bit. Last night, I had a dream that my dad wasn’t in. My husband, my mom and I were in a woodworking studio (no idea why) and we were trying to figure out where to eat dinner. We all knew that my dad was dead, and we were just doing the normal thing of figuring out where the three of us wanted to go. That’s it. So simple, but it’s the first night in a long time that my dad hasn’t been present in the dream with some stage of dementia. He was in our thoughts, but just as a reality of someone who used to be with us but no longer was. It felt so normal, and I woke up comforted.

My mom and I are preparing for a trip together. Over the last year of Dad’s life, we agreed that neither of us should go out of the country because more emergencies were arising with him. My parents had always said they’d travel when they both retired, but Dad got dementia before that could happen. But Mom still wants to see the world. She has done a couple of those Viking River Cruises, and really enjoyed them, but the women who had gone with her no longer feel capable of traveling. A deal popped up that was basically a 2-for-1 deal, so she asked if I’d like to go with her (on her dime, no less). It’s the slowest time of year at the studio, we don’t need to be nearby for Dad anymore, so there was really nothing to stop me from going. So on Saturday, we’re off to cruise the Danube. I’ll likely be the youngest person on the boat, so I plan on pretending I’m a wealthy retiree. I’m considering getting a top hat and a monocle.

While seeing cities I’ve never been to excites me, what I’m most looking forward to is making new, happy memories with my mom. I’m looking forward to spending time with her away from the city where every building, restaurant, tree, or person, reminds me of my dad. We’ll get to be together, exploring, seeking out joy in this mad world of ours. We’ll be moving past just supporting each other as co-caregivers, to celebrating our friendship.

I think this trip is part of what caused that dream. It’s starting to feel more normal that my dad is no longer here physically. It still hurts like hell. The blisters on my heart are still there, and they refill periodically and at the strangest of moments, but I feel like maybe there are fewer of them. I feel like we are creeping toward normalcy.