Allison Miller has logged a lot of miles on her pink T@b trailer since her last visit to San Antonio in January of 2014. Her “odyssey of love” has taken her up and down the coasts and across the American heartland, connecting to numerous other pilgrims, as well as her own children.
“There are people everywhere who come to talk to us,” Miller said.
She’s discovered networks of widows on similar journeys to her own, criss crossing the country in trailers and campers. She discovered “curbing,” the mobile camper version of couch surfing. Her story resonates in the military and hospice community, but also with adventurers on more varied quests. She’s connected with groups like Sisters on the Fly that encourage women to embrace the empowerment of outdoor adventure.
When I last saw Miller, she was new to solo life on the road, still getting acquainted her pink rig. The love of her life, Sgt. Chuck Dearing had recently passed away from an aggressive form of sarcoma, and her grief was less than a year old.
Now, returning to San Antonio for her son’s graduation from Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Miller’s personal odyssey is as fresh as the day it started, even if she’s become a seasoned pro on the road.
Grief is still a constant companion, but the many months on the road have also unveiled a daily sense of guidance that has kept her going. She attributes the serendipitous encounters to her “Handsome Husband” who promised to find her along her journey after his passing.
“There have been no coincidences,” Miller said.
This most recent stop in San Antonio was particularly poignant, as her son followed in the footsteps of his dad. He graduated wearing Dearing’s tie with his dress blues, stepping into his own future with a tangible reminder of the man who inspired him.
“I know that every step of those eight weeks his dad was on his mind,” Miller said.
By her side on this visit sat her daughter Rachael Aganad, a yoga instructor and mystic of sorts. Aganad’s role in the odyssey began shortly after Miller left San Antonio last year. Her mother picked her up from her home in Phoenix and from there the two continued the journey, loosely shaped by the task of sprinkling Dearing's ashes at Crater Lake, Crazy Horse, and Little Big Horn, places he specified in the brief three weeks of his illness. Reaching those destinations to fulfill her husband's wishes served as a guiding light in the early fog of loss.
“He was an Air Force man. He knew that what you do, is you give someone a mission,” Miller said.
In the six months Aganad spent with her mother, dwelling in close contact with her grief and growth, she stepped into her father’s role of “space maker,” creating a calm and stable place for her mother to fully experience the emotions along her path.
The two grew less like mother and daughter and more like sisters out on the road. They have unique practical and emotional strengths that edify the other. In the six months away from her husband she was able to catch momentary glimpses into the depth of her mother’s loss.
Both women demonstrate expansive spirituality, particularly in the grieving and healing process. They have joined their missions to create Moonstruck Rising, a manifestation of their journey that provides classes, workshops, and “magical moon gatherings.” Their hope is that others will feel compelled to bring their own pain, joy, grief and triumph into the experiences and emerge stronger.
On the road, Aganad used her experience to help ritualize the memorial aspect of the trip. When it came time to spread the ashes, either at one of Dearing’s specified stops or along the way in an inspired place where Miller could feel his presence, Aganad would step in to create a sacred moment.
Arrival at the last of Dearing’s chosen sites, Crazy Horse, was particularly weighty. This would be the last of Dearing’s road map.
Aganad sensed the need for ceremony, but unfortunately the Crazy Horse monument doesn’t allow visitors to get as close as they would need to be for the kind of experience worthy of the occasion. However, a tribal group was performing a dance on the accessible grounds. They explained that the dance was “for those who cannot dance for themselves.”
Aganad instantly knew what to do. She sprinkled some of the ashes under the feet of the dancers.
From there, Miller would have to let her next destinations reveal themselves almost daily. For her, this means a constant exercise in openness. Allowing strangers to offer direction and encouragement.
One of the first encounters on this new phase of the journey came shortly after the women left Crazy Horse. They passed the bike rally in Sturgis, S. D., and Miller felt that it would be an appropriate place to get a new tattoo to add to her collection of inspirational inscriptions.
The tattoo artist priced her request at far more than Miller could afford. They worked to modify the design, and compromise on the price until they reached an impasse that was still outside Miller’s budget. A nearby biker who had heard Allison’s story stepped in to cover the difference. The odyssey of love had struck a cord within him, and he wanted to contribute to the magic.
Allison had the words “I will sing you to me,” tattooed onto her leg. From here on, she would find new ways to connect to her Handsome Husband, but she had no doubt that they would reveal themselves as she drove.
Her son’s graduation was one of those moments, a place where the circumstances of life provided a space to connect with her beloved.
“It was intensely emotional,” Miller said.
Miller keeps some of the cremains set aside to “ride shotgun” with her, adventuring across the country much like they did for the four years before Dearing’s death. They lived on the road together, and so for Miller, the road is her connection to his spirit. The custom pink color of her trailer is called “Chuck’s Watchin’ Over Me,” and Miller is deeply assured of this as truth.
Miller’s next challenge will be finding a way to continually finance life on the road. After six years on the road, she feels she’s hardly well-suited for an office job. Her compassion for the human experience has grown too large, and her “BS-meter” has grown too sensitive for the corporate workplace. She hopes that opportunities to speak and write will continue steadily enough to fund her journey.
Miller also hopes to find a way to make a documentary about the many widows like herself, who found the courage to set out on the road to fulfill their husbands last wishes, and in the process begin a new life. While these networks find strong connections among themselves, they are virtually unknown to the public.
She knows that some will wonder why she too doesn’t keep such a personal process to herself. But for Miller, the love and the grief are simply spilling out. They are so big, that they have become public.
“I can’t do it any way but big,” Miller said.
This story was originally published on Oct. 10, 2015.
*Top Image: Allison Miller sits in her pink T@B trailer as she looks at photographs of herself with her late husband. Photo by Scott Ball.