Dealing with loss while on the road

On loss, while travelling

This guest post comes from my friend, Nathalie. Her story really hits home as my Uncle Kevin passed away two weeks ago due to cancer and I wasn’t there to pay my final respects. Enjoy — many of you can probably relate.

It’s weird how you can be in a place for months and not notice the small details, until the day you leave, like me leaving Maui today.

On the drive to the airport, I notice everything. Every ray of sunshine through the canopy of trees, the individual dried blades of grass swaying in the wind driving through Kaupo, the black cows, the Maui rock tucked away in the curves leading up to Ulupalakua Ranch, the long cane grass taking over the road heading towards Kula. The crickets, the birds, the chill in the evening air announcing our arrival in Kula, the kids playing in the park, oblivious to how cruel life can get and then the smell of eucalyptus slaps me in the face. The sun going down behind the angry looking storm clouds. The ocean below, the exhaust from the car in front, the sugar cane bending under the force of the strong wind, going down the Haleakala Highway, propeller planes landing with a wobble up ahead.

It feels like my arm is being ripped off my body when I say goodbye to my husband. I don’t want to leave but the text message said “you need to come home now.”

In the airport I see and hear everything as I type this, each foot step, each scream directed at an unruly child, The Thomas the Train rolly bag going by once, twice, three times. The man walking from arrivals, carrying a bunch of bamboo mats (aren’t those just a few bucks a piece down the street?). It’s like trying to hold on to something that’s fleeting; I want to remember everything so I can recreate it in my mind. I can’t help but wonder if this is how it feels like when you‘re dying. If your senses become hyper-sensitive.

I’m looking around and wondering how many other people in the airport aren’t traveling for leisure or business, heading back or coming to a tragedy.

I feel lost, I have to remind myself why I’m sitting alone at the airport flying off of Maui, my safe place, my paradise. I’m so pumped full of adrenaline, gravol and ativan, if it wasn’t for the constant announcements I might just fall asleep out here on the bench.

Mosquitoes are bitting at my ankles like angry chihuahuas, leaving itchy welts. More rolly bags, more kids, more screaming. I hope they’re not on my flight; I just want to watch movies and fall asleep. Forget what’s waiting for me back home, if only for a little while.

The text came around 3 pm. When I read it, I completely lost all reasoning. I ran to my computer to see what time I could fly out, 11:30 pm, I booked the flight and printed out the boarding pass. I told my husband he needed to drive me to the airport. I’d need to pack some things, have a shower, text someone to pick me up when I arrive. We’d need to leave very soon — it was a two hour drive on a treacherous road and I didn’t want him driving back in the dark.

I grab a bag and start throwing a few things in. I have no idea how long I’ll be away, a week maybe two, 3 pairs of underwear, shorts, a skirt, two t-shirts, toothbrush and paste, meds, my laptop and a bag of prunes.

The flight, from Maui to Vancouver and then on to Ottawa was long but uneventful. I arrive around 6pm the following day. One of my sisters waiting to drive me to the hospital.

When I walk into the room, she’s frail but smiling and I can tell she’s close to giving up. My sister, the “Martha Stewart” of the family. They gave her two years and she was about to start her fourth when she contracted an infection.

When she found out, three years ago, she started living her life as though she was nearing the end of her vacation, packing in as much as possible. She went to Italy, France, Portugal, Costa Rica. Any time she felt well enough she flew off somewhere and when she was too sick to travel, she’d plan her getaways.

I gave her a hug. She asked me how long I was staying and I told her, until she was released from the hospital and back home. I hoped she’d be able to fight off the infection but while she was trying her damnedest, the cancer was taking over.

Five days after I arrived she decided to stop all treatment and to head home. The doctor gave her two days. We took her home and cared for her, making her comfortable. We got her a kitten that quickly fell asleep at her side. She sat at the table with us, had a rum and coke and listened to our stories, there were a lot of laughs and love in the house.

And when she was ready, she fell sleep.

It’s been two and a half months and I still have to remind myself each day that she’s really gone.

Nathalie Harris and her husband blog at A Cook Not Mad.
  • October 16 2015

    My grandmother passed away while I was in South Korea back in 2013. It was really hard to get that news via a text message and then to not be there with family to say my goodbyes. It’s one of those times when travelling isn’t as good as being home.
    Melissa recently posted…Rooftop to Underground: Two Places to Drink in SoHo

    • October 25 2015

      I remember you telling me about that, actually. I’ve had this experience twice now and it’s awful. But like I mentioned to someone else, we can’t sit around not living our lives. Difficult decisions. :(

    • November 04 2015

      I can’t imagine having to deal with something like that without the support of family. Hope you were able to find peace with it.

  • October 16 2015

    Raw and beautifully written – so sorry to hear of your loss.
    Michelle recently posted…Find Budget (or FREE!) Accommodation Anywhere

  • October 16 2015

    Brought tears to my eyes. Powerful of Nathalie to share something that you don’t often see on blogs of shiny happy beaches and whatnot. Condolences to both of you and your families.

  • October 17 2015

    Thank you for sharing this. I don’t often write about it, but I started traveling after my mother died six years ago. I felt like I was taking her with me everywhere I went. I’m very sorry for your loss.
    Travelerette recently posted…Approximately Twenty Five of the Best Frozen Desserts of the World

    • October 25 2015

      So sorry to hear about that. Did you ever write about the experience?

  • October 19 2015

    Beautifully written, and really struck a chord. I was travelling around Australia when I found out that my dad had terminal cancer – so made the decision to come back to the UK. I feel so grateful to have had some time with my dad before he died, but I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t upset to come home too. Tough all round!

    • October 25 2015

      So sorry for your loss, Lucy! Now that I live abroad I worry about my parents constantly. But we can’t stop living our lives.

  • October 19 2015

    Thanks for bringing us this great emotional post by Nathalie.And yes, I can relate. And one day more of us will.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted…Cat Town Cafe In Oakland, Ca

    • October 25 2015

      It’s nice to hear so much support from fellow travellers. We’re not alone in this, at all.

  • October 21 2015

    Wow – what a beautiful written yet absolutely tragic post. Couldn’t help but cry, reading this in my office. I recently lost someone I love myself and I know how it feels. I recognise the hyper-sensitivity. Everything suddenly seems removed and you become an onlooker of your life. Every detail stands out in stark contrast. I am terribly sorry for the loss of your sister. I can’t even imagine losing mine.

    • October 25 2015

      I’m so sorry you have to go through that, Katharina. <3

  • October 31 2015

    Beautifully written. Years ago I got on a plane shortly after my father’s sudden death. I was heading to a then communist country where I didn’t speak any of the language and staying with people I had never met before (it was in the days of penpals, how quaint). An irrational fear that my mother and sister would die while I was gone told hold and I was in tears even before the plane took off. I’ll never forget the kindness of the man beside me (who gave me his window seat) and the flight attendant, or the reality-check that kicked-in when I landed in Prague, but my luggage when to Orly.

    • November 02 2015

      I can’t even imagine. The main thing is that you did it, right? Two weeks ago I was agonizing over being away from my parents. I actually considered throwing in the towel over moving abroad and heading back home to my parents. It took me some time to realize that I was just reacting to my uncle’s death, and the guilt. I figure we can’t stop living our lives out of fear, right? But man, it’s still scary

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