In my mind, bags are packed for a summer trek to the northeast with my five sisters. One year ago we set dates for a summer sister week during an online happy hour with no guarantee it would ever happen.

At that time making plans gave us hope even though states were on lockdown, a coronavirus vaccine was still in development and people were doing everything they could to avoid getting the highly contagious infectious disease COVID-19. We gambled on a hopeful date in summer 2021 and won.

Last week’s news from the Centers for Disease Control that allows vaccinated people to resume activities without wearing a mask and social distancing delivered even more confidence as I plan to embark on this 10-day summer journey. I’ve never been more excited about a trip to see family! Seriously, who chooses to travel over 1,700 miles to stay 10 days with relatives? Will the experience of sharing fun and life with sisters Rowena, DeAnna, Kylena, Priscilla and Mytyl, live up to the bottled anticipation left by the 15-month pandemic?

It might come as a surprise, but my sisters and I had never previously developed the concept of “group travel.” Never. With an age span of 16 years from oldest to youngest and a geographical span of more than 2,000 miles, getting together for lunch was impossible. Traveling to a sister’s cabin in Maine won’t be a picnic, either. It will take two plane rides, (meet-up with two sisters en route at the airport), a night’s stay at a bed and breakfast and then another 180 miles by car.

Planning this time together sans brothers, sisters-in-law and adult children almost makes me feel guilty. I’m grateful to be alive and well after months of wearing protective masks and gloves, washing hands and social distancing. I look forward to the promised scenery, historical sites, food (lobster, anyone?), conversations and laughter that will be shared with the people who know me best, who see me least.

I’ll never forget the grief and economic struggle our collective society experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As each day brings me closer to 10 days with my sisters, I’m acutely aware of the family and friends of the more than 583,074 people who died of coronavirus who had the same anticipation we had a year ago — to gather again to experience life together even for one more day.

Jessica Lamker is a 23-year resident of Savage and a Community Voices columnist.

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