Alison Miller’s 24-year marriage was so passionate and fulfilling that after her husband’s sudden death, last spring from cancer, she felt so much grief that it spurred her to do things that few, even she, could have imagined. It spawned a courage to face challenges that previously she flatly ruled out. She felt compelled to leap out of her comfort zone in an effort to get as far away from the pain as she could, and there, on the road alone, she continues to feel the love and companionship of her “Handsome Husband”.
Her love-affair marriage with Chuck Dearing took an adventurous turn in 2009 when they sold their New Jersey home and everything in it and decided to travel the country. For four years they stayed at inexpensive hotels and military bases, because Chuck was retired from the Air Force, and loved being on the road. Escapees from “the rat race,” they called themselves “Happily Homeless”.
Then, on March 27, 2013, they were in southern California and discovered that Chuck’s cancer, which had been treated in 2011, had returned. It killed him four weeks later.
“Before he died,” Miller told the Good News Network, “I told him I would continue traveling on my own, and he asked me to revisit our favorite places and scatter his ‘cremains’.”
“Don’t mourn for me in black,” he told her in the end. “It isn’t your color: Mourn for me in pink.”
She suggested, “I’ll paint my car pink so you can find me out on the road.” (He smiled and said he’d be looking for her.)
After his death she drove to Arizona to be with two of their kids. She got a new car, fresh without memories and looked for someone to paint it.
“I told him our story of Happily Homeless and when I picked the car up, he’d created a beautiful shade of pink for me and named it, ‘Chuck’s Watching Over Me’, and it gave me courage to go back out on the road.”
She drove that pink car across the country to New Jersey where her beloved received a fitting memorial service, dignified with full military honors.
“The pink car did what I hoped it would do all along the way,” she told the Good News Network. “It brought people over to talk to me and kept me from being isolated. . . People smiled at me, waved, honked their horns — its’ been amazing.”
The grief was still so raw she didn’t dare travel like they used to. Being in the hotels and bases where they used to stay would have delivered a million cuts to her already aching heart. But she needed to stay on the road to fulfill his last wish: “The PinkMagic Odyssey of scattering Handsome Husband ‘s cremains in our favorite spots around the country.”
Here’s where the courage came in
Chuck had always wanted to travel in an RV or stay at campsites, to be out in the natural world, but Alison wanted no part of it. The only rough living she was going to accept was a hotel bed that sagged toward one side. She liked good books in comfy chairs. and writing in her travel blog, Happily Homeless.
Maybe while seated in a comfy chair, she hatched a survival plan because she knew she would go insane waking up in those same places every morning with him not there.
She bought a T@b trailer in October that she would tow with her car, and had it detailed in the same custom pink. She waded into a sea of new anxieties: How would she know which bridges the trailer would fit under, how do you hook up electricity, what if I need to back up the car, how do you empty the toilet, are there wild animals in these campsites? With so may internal challenges needing navigation, did she need a whole set of new issues? The logistics were keeping her awake and she hadn’t even picked up the trailer yet.
But she confirmed, “I needed to find a different way of being on the road, other than what Chuck and I had done.”
On December 1, she began her new life with her T@b teardrop trailer in tow, driving south with her fireman son, Nick from Connecticut along for the first leg. Key West was her first destination, where they found a secluded area of the beach and had a small ritual. Each of their kids would accompany her on different routes of The Pink Odyssey.
“I’m notifying each military base wherever I am, letting them know of my Odyssey of Love and that a veteran is passing through on his final travels,” she wrote in her blog. “I’m meeting so many loving, friendly, helpful people and hearing their stories as much as they hear mine.”
“So many tell me that I’m inspiring them to find a life after loss, but everyone along the road gives me that same inspiration.”
The pink clothing has a purpose on her travels.
“It is armor that reminds me to keep my heart open to the love coming my way. It reminds me that Handsome Husband loved me deeply and that the love he and I shared is still with me, carrying me through this devastation.”
During Chuck’s illness the family found a motto to live by, “Nothin’ But Love.” They answered anyone who asked how he was doing the same way. Mother and daughter decided on “Nothin’ But Love” for matching tattoos.
But, in the past weeks, as the 1-year anniversary of Chuck’s goodbye loomed, the author sheathed in pink knew that life for her was about one thing — choosing to allow that beefy love to coexist with the oily grief that stains her days.
“This me, who is living in a world without color (yes, in spite of all the pink), is not a me I recognize. I’m doing all these things, these huge things, because I have to make a life.” -October 22, 2013
“Let me drive this car, let me pull this T@b, let me learn how to be out there in life without him. Let me find some kind, any kind, of confidence in myself again. Let some of the pain ease just a little so that I can take a breath and not feel cut by glass each time.” – February 26, 2014
She hasn’t broken, that is obvious. Readers of Happily Homeless can sense the confident life returning. And on April 21, on the terrible anniversary of Happily Homeless being cut in two, she and her family and friends are planning a moving celebration to honor his beefy love on a big old mountain in Arizona.