Round and round the baggage carousel turned, swarmed by the passengers from our flight to Tampa, all anxiously awaiting their luggage. My husband, Doug, leaned in and focused on the ramp where suitcases thumped and banged onto the conveyor belt. The bright red roller belonging to our son’s fiancée tumbled out, but Doug couldn’t grab it as it whizzed past. Several more bags passed before he managed to wrestle his own off the belt and dragged it over. That’s when we all noticed… the zipper of the front pocket was open. Doug ran his hand inside.
“Chris’s hat is gone,” he said.
Hadn’t we lost enough? We were here to embark on a Christmas cruise, to help us heal, help us move on from the tragedy that had upended our lives just five months earlier. Our son, Chris, had died suddenly from an undetected heart condition. He was only 29, engaged to be married to his fiancée, Lauren, that August. In the aftermath of Chris’s death, Lauren, Doug and I wanted to spend Christmas together, but none of us wanted to spend the holiday at home. We debated whether or not going away would be any better.
It was Doug who’d found the hat. A Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Chris had worn it often, but it had gone missing after his death. Then Doug took Chris’s suitcase out of storage and discovered the cap in the front pocket. To us, it was a sort of sign. We’d go on the cruise with Lauren, and bring a piece of our son with us.
Now we had lost it.
I tried my best to keep it together. Maybe the hat was still on the plane, somewhere in the cargo bay. But still, losing it, even for a little while, brought so much grief back up to the surface. I could see it all over Lauren’s face.
Her expression suddenly changed. A look of confusion. Then disbelief. Then a smile. She ran to the edge of the conveyor belt. What did she see? I followed after her.
It was her red suitcase, the one Doug had missed the first time around. Except this time, perched directly on top, like someone had placed it there, was Chris’s baseball cap.
“My baby wanted to come on this cruise with us,” Lauren said.
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