From her life to her funeral, Lorraine Wagner had always been a planner. So it was no surprise to her husband, Chuck Wagner, when she left him a specific set of instructions for her family to embark on a multi-leg memorial trip in the wake of her death.
“We were never apart for the next 48 years, 11 months,” Chuck, of Arizona, told WISC of the cherished decades after they married. “It’s just been a great life, and I just wish she was still with me to share it.”
Lorraine became sick a few years ago and suffered from a disease that made it difficult for her to eat, Chuck told the station. She was taken to a local hospital one night and died within three days in May 2018.
“Lorraine’s love lives forever, and I think that’s the way it is,” the 71-year-old told WISC. “And I was blessed to find her.”
With her instructions in hand, Chuck set off on the massive memorial trip a month after her death, with his children often joining him, according to the Chicago Tribune. So far he’s traveled some 11,000 miles from Arizona to South Carolina, Alabama, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and more. Each destination has marked a special memory to Lorraine or a meaningful spot from her life with Chuck.
“This is extremely cathartic for me,” Chuck told the Tribune. “It’s keeping me engaged. She’s been gone for 14 months, and I’ve been traveling probably four of those months. Like I told the kids, ‘This is keeping mom with me.’ “
The family’s first stop was Hawaii, where Chuck and Lorraine met in July 1968 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, according to the Tribune. Chuck was stationed at the Hickam Air Force Base while Lorraine was on vacation from her teaching job in Florida. They were married less than a year later.
“I’ve got those memories,” he said. “Nobody’s going to take that from me.”
He’d return to the location decades later with his children, Steve and Laura, and Laura’s children for a two-hour boat ride, he told the publication. They sprinkled some of Lorraine’s ashes into the Pacific Ocean and marked the spot so his children could one day deposit his ashes there too.
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Chuck has visited places where Lorraine grew up, where she worked as a teacher and her old college stomping ground. He’s even reconnected with old friends, CNN reported. Alongside his son Steve, Chuck stopped at an Iowa City pub called the Airliner.
“I haven’t had a drink since 1983, but I had a beer at the Airliner bar because she told me I had to do that,” he said, according to CNN. “I firmly believe that when we went through some of these things we’ve gone through on these journeys, she’s guided us in a way.”
Chuck is on the last leg of the trip, exploring his hometown and the church where they were married.
“I love what I’m doing right now,” he said, according to CNN.
He added to the Tribune: “She did this for us. Her love for our family is never-ending. And we’re following it to a T.”