When you lose a loved one while on the road

When you lose a loved one while on the road

Two weeks ago Mom messaged me on Facebook to say my grandfather had fallen ill. I didn’t think much of it; my grandfather’s been ill several times over the past few years, but he’s tough as nails and hard to beat down.

Within a few hours she replied again: “Candice, he’s gone.”

I received the message while eating dinner in the hostel’s kitchen. Millie was talking to me but my heart had fallen down to my stomach where it laid beating like a jackhammer. “My grandfather died,” I blurted out. It rang out all silly-sounding. What words of comfort can anyone offer to someone who they’ve only known little over a week? I left my food and went to my room to be alone. Really, that’s all I could do.

My Pop was 94-years-old but I truly thought he’d live forever. He moved into the senior care home shortly after my grandmother passed nearly 20 years ago, and he stayed there ever since. He was the king of the place; he was a ladies’ man. Even when his legs started failing, he remained sharp-witted and quick-tongued. We were never close, exactly. But it’s been hard to imagine I won’t sit on the edge of his bed with him anymore. He with his suspenders taut, staring down at his clasped thumbs. His falling-apart-at-the-spine Bible tucked into his bed’s headboard. His shelves decorated in his grandchildren’s photos.

“You’re getting to be a big girl!” he’d say, and both Mom and I would pretend it didn’t mean I’d grown plump with beer and pastry consumption on my travels.


I didn’t know whether I should leave Greece and go home. Mom told me not to. If I did, my trip would come to an end and I wouldn’t be back. I decided to stay, obviously, but not without guilt. Dad had been away on the road as well, so it left only Mom and Adam at home (and of course, our entire and massive extensive family).

So I didn’t. And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the last of my grandparents. And when you have an entire family of 12 aunts and uncles and their spouses and their offspring and their cousins and in-laws it makes you feel terribly lonely to be on the other side of the world left to mourn your grandfather’s death inside a cave on Santorini Island.

The problem is that I’m not so sure I “mourned.” Writing this blog is about as close as it gets, because finally I sit here crying and missing home, missing my parents and brother, missing my family. And the next time I go home, I won’t be going to see my grandfather at the senior care home, and I won’t be lamenting the awkward stares from the other seniors, and life won’t feel entirely different until I realize he’s not there. No more little grannies or grandpas to love me. We’ve lost another part of Newfoundland. A thread to the past that keeps unraveling until the spool eventually spins out.

The day before Pop’s funeral, I hiked a mountain to Ancient Thera. It was hard to forget about my family paying their final respects to a great patriarch inside the teeny Morrisville church – a place of baptisms and burials and marriages for most of the Kendell clan. And it was easy to ignore that he’d be coming to rest next to my grandmother, Sadie, one of the most important role models in my life, even in the short seven years I knew her.

I climbed over loose gravel and ancient stairs and a makeshift route carved out by generations and generations of Greeks. Halfway up the mountain I came across a typical white-walled Santorini church, its cross painted white against the rock-face. While my friends Ami and Inbal took photos from the lookout, I pushed a tentative nudge against the blue door. It opened.

A church along Ancient Thera

Inside: a two-room place of worship with a burning candle and images of the Mother Mary. A collection plate for donations. A dozen half-burned candles. A church even tinier than Morrisville’s Ascension Anglican Church.

So I picked up a candle, and fumbled around for a lighter. Lit the candle’s crooked fuse, and placed it burning in the golden offering. I am not a girl of prayer; instead, I offered Pop my thanks. Thank you, Pop, for loving my grandmother and creating my wonderful, sensitive, comical, family. Thank you, Pop, for giving me my loving mother. Thank you, Pop, for being an integral part of the domino effect that led me to pursuing my dreams in Greece.


  • March 13 2014

    I know this feeling all too well. My maternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents, passed away while I was in South Korea almost a year ago now. It’s a terrible feeling to see those horrible words in a text message and not have any family or friends nearby to run to for comfort. I was lucky that my boyfriend was there at least. I still felt guilt over not going home even though I don’t think Nan would’ve wanted me to cancel the trip. It really didn’t feel real until I came home and visited Carbonear and could feel her presence missing from the house. Grieving, delayed.

    • March 24 2014

      Crazy we had such a similar experience, Melissa! Not quite the same, but my childhood dogs passed while I was at university and when I go home nowadays I STILL expect to see them running up to the car. Oy. But you’re right, I doubt they’d want us to stop.

  • March 13 2014

    One of the most lovely pieces of writing I have ever read! RIP and you keep going girl, keep writing, keep traveling and expressing yourself.

  • March 13 2014

    So sorry for your loss. It feels terrible to lose someone when you’re far away. I expect I’ll have a similar situation – we are on the road indefinitely, and my grandfather (the last of my grandparents) is 92 and not doing so well. It’s a terrible feeling, and I hope you take care over the next weeks– Katie

    • March 24 2014

      Thank you, Kate! There’s not much to be done, huh? Incredible to think they’ve lived such long lives.

  • March 14 2014

    thank you Candice. a beautiful tribute to dad.

  • March 14 2014
    Elsie Barrett

    Your Article is beautifully written showing love and respect for Pop and all the family. I stayed with your Mom and Adam that week ;we were thinking about you as we knew you’d find it difficult being so far away. I think it’s wonderful that you found the little church in the mountains and at such a time too. When Pop said “You’re getting to be a big girl now”, it was his way of telling you that “you’re all grown up”……Hugs.

    • March 24 2014

      Thank you Aunt Elsie!! Just reading this comment makes me teary eyed! Lol. I missed you all so much. Hope I get to see you in July.

  • March 14 2014
    Kelly Dunning

    This is beautifully written and it gave me a lump in my throat. I’m so sorry for the loss of your grandfather, he sounds like he was a wonderful man. *hugs*

  • March 15 2014

    This is beautifully written Candice. I also was there the whole week at well and I had your bed for one night. Very comfy. There was so much respect and kindness shown to all of our family, it was amazing.

    • March 24 2014

      Thank you, Aunt Loretta! Mom was telling me about some of it. Makes me really appreciate growing up with a community like Morrisville. Incredible group of people.

  • March 15 2014

    I’m so sorry for your loss. He lived a wonderful life and how lovely is it for him to have gotten the chance to see you live your dreams and become successful at it.

    Beautifully put, Candice. My thoughts go out to you and your family.

  • March 16 2014

    Oh, I’m sorry for your loss Candice. What a lovely tribute you did for him. I would have done the same in your shoes.

  • March 17 2014

    Touching, simply touching. Thanks for sharing Candice. My deepest condolances

  • March 17 2014

    Thank you so much for writing this. My grandmother passed away while I was in Japan last year and it was so strange not being around family or being able to get to them. Interestingly enough I hiked Mt. Misen and lit a candle for her in a temple the next day. Funny how no matter where you are in the world you can find small ways to try to connect to the spiritual side. I hope lighting your candle offered you some small sense of comfort.

    • March 24 2014

      I LOVE that we both did the same thing. I’m not religious by any means, but there’s something calming about the inside of a chapel/temple. That candle did a lot for me.

  • March 18 2014

    I’m sorry for your loss. I grew up in the US, but my paternal grandfather lived in Finland. He passed in 1992 and I did not return to Finland until 2009. It was a difficult trip, as I had not realized I never truly, fully mourned him and I felt his absence every moment I was there. I wish you peace and comfort.

  • March 20 2014

    Beautifully written, Candice. Very special and important travel article.

  • April 01 2014

    very well written! Im sorry for your loss. Im sure he will never be forgotten.

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