Don’t mourn in black, travel well

Alison Miller, widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, sits in her pink painted vehicle as military memorabilia is displayed on the passenger seat during a travel break Jan. 16, 2014, at the Keesler Air Force Base camp site, Biloxi, Miss. Prior to the death of her husband, Miller told him that her intent was to continue traveling in a pink painted car so that he could find her while out on the road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)

In her deep blue eyes, you not only see the sadness, you can feel the grief of her soul. The agony within her comes from losing her husband to cancer last year. A moment later, those blue eyes dance and what you see isn’t that grief, but love — intense, raw love.

This love from within has recently started Alison Miller, the widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, on a trek across the United States — revisiting places she and Chuck visited together.

She is on a journey to spread his ashes, but also take in the beauty of what is happening around her — something she calls magic.

“He wasn’t a war hero, but he served with such dedication and honor,” Alison said of her late husband. “And by God, if it is the last thing I do, everybody is going to know about him and know about our love story.”

With a plan to share their story of love and commitment, Alison set out on a tour of remembrance in her pink SUV and attached pink teardrop trailer, both displaying her slogan decal “Happily Homeless.”

Chuck’s cremains and flag sit in the passenger seat next to her.

Her journey to happy homelessness had its beginning with a simple idea. A little less than five years ago, Chuck and Alison sold all of their possessions and their house in New Jersey after they decided to hit the road. At first, the pair thought they would move to a different state, so the first three months consisted of a lot of driving. Both felt they had to get somewhere, Alison said.

One day on their journey, Chuck looked at Alison and said, “Why do we want to stop doing this? We are having the time of our lives.”

Together they decided to travel the open roads and stay primarily in affordable, military lodging. Though it sounds like something people only talk of, Alison said they were living their dream.

Alison Miller, widow of retired Master Sgt. Chuck Dearing, sits in the doorway of her pink painted teardrop trailer during a travel break Jan. 16, 2014, at the Keesler Air Force Base camp site, Biloxi, Miss. Following Dearing’s retirement, the couple sold their home and belongings and traveled the country for four years staying primarily in base lodgings. Prior to the death of her husband, Miller told him that her intent was to continue traveling in a pink painted car so that he could find her while out on the road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)

“He was my home and I was his,” Alison said, struggling with emotion. “We didn’t have anywhere else, and that was OK — I reveled in that. He was everything to me in the most wonderful way.” People always wondered how the two could stand being together all the time, but Allison said they loved every moment of it.

“It was an ordinary marriage, but we were so deeply in love,” she said. “We had a passionate and romantic marriage. One friend used to comment, ‘When Chuck walks into a room, your eyes just light up and when you guys say goodbye to each other it is like you are never going to see each other again.’

“He would look at me across the room and just wink,” she said with a giggle.

Finding Chuck was unexpected, Alison said. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she said she was certain she would never meet any man again, especially since she had three children.

But Chuck changed all her views on love, she said.

The two were married in 1990 and blended their families, his daughter and her three children.

“It wasn’t easy by any means, but we made it work,” she added.

There were ‘whopperdoodle’ fights, but mainly there was love, Alison said. The strong bond of love played an important role in getting Chuck through cancer the first time.

In September 2010, they found out about his diagnosis, but with aggressive treatment, he beat the cancer.

Even after five surgeries, the couple would not let the disease stop their life. They planned to have the car packed and ready to go after Chuck’s post-operation appointments.

“We would wait to get to Kansas and open the moon roof, turn on Willie Nelson and blast ‘On the Road Again,’” Alison said. “We would see those wide open blue skies and say ‘OK, it’s behind us again.’”

The moon roof she shared with Chuck is the reason she was so adamant about having a moon roof in her new vehicle, which is painted in a special customized color — Chuck’s-watchin’-over-me pink, to give Alison courage to go back on the road again, she said.

The reason for all the pink in her life is that Chuck told her not to mourn for him in black — it wasn’t her color. Instead, he told her to wear pink in his honor. Before Chuck passed away, Alison told him she would continue to travel and would paint her vehicle pink so that he could find her on the open road.

In what she calls Pink Magic, her SUV and trailer combo, she is a woman on a mission and has received an outpouring of love from those she meets.

“There’s something happening here,” she said. “I use the words magical, but I don’t know what it is. Chuck is connecting with me and putting signs in my path.”

Alison speaks of those signs coming from every direction. One man, who she calls her Highway to Heaven Angel, told her, “Chuck wants me to tell you he wouldn’t leave you without a road map.” After all, Chuck was a flight engineer and his nickname was Pathfinder.

“Chuck is leading me because that is what he did in my life, he supported and loved me and encouraged me,” she said. ”He told me to find my dreams and he would help me make them happen. And, he is doing that now in a way where he is not physically present.”

The things that keep the blue-eyed woman with the short blonde hair going is not only Chuck’s love and magic, but the memories they had together.

One of her favorite memories with Chuck is their Death Valley dance. The sun was setting on the desert as they drove and it was the time just before dusk when the beauty of the day shines through brightly, she said. The song “Inspiration” by the band Chicago came on and Alison knew she wanted to mark the moment.

She looked at her Chuck and said, “Let’s get out and dance.”

Due to his health problems, she said Chuck didn’t think he could dance, but she asked him to try and he did. Alison pulled to the side of the road and turned up the music. The duo got out of their vehicle and met at the front and danced. For a split moment, Alison almost didn’t pull over because she thought it might be silly, she said.

Chuck ended that dance with a dip like he always did because, “I told him right from the first time we danced that I thought that to be the height of romance,” Alison recalled.

She said she is eternally grateful because it would end up being her last dance with Chuck.

“I will always have that last dance,” she said. “Chuck was always romantic. We never took a moment for granted; we made it count.”

Those lasting moments were vital when Chuck was in hospice care. Alison remembered her final conversation with her husband.

“My last conversation with him was saying goodbye and telling him I would be OK,” she said. “I thanked him for being in my life, for loving me and showing me how to trust again. I told him I would always remember him.

“He told me, ‘You know, I love our children so much and it is hard to say goodbye to them, but it is hardest of all to say goodbye to you. It’s hard to say goodbye to us,’” she recalled.

Dealing with the loss of her husband hasn’t been easy, but Alison said she discovered her own fearlessness.

“I have no fear anymore,” she said. “After losing this man and watching him die in front of me, there is nothing left to fear.”

Alison has expressed this to her children as well and her wish is for them not to worry.

“When the time comes and I die, what I want you to picture in your heads and in your hearts … is that I have no fear, and I am picturing myself lying on the bed wherever I am,” she told them. “Chuck is going to walk across the room like he always used to and hold out his hand for me to dance and he is going to take my hand and pull me up, and we are going to dance.”

Until that final dance with her beloved, Alison continues sharing their story to those who listen.

You can follow Allison on her journey by visiting her blog here.


Don’t mourn in black, travel well