How does grief in time of travel feel?
It feels sad, a scary lonely place you wouldn’t wish on anyone. There’s panic and the feeling that your life will never be the same again.
While this is not a “sob” or “pity-party” post, this is a subject I’m somewhat acquainted with. I’ve lost my dad and my brother whilst miles away. It was incredibly hard. I recently lost my mum, but I’m grateful I managed to come in time before her demise, which was completely unexpected as she seemed strong, and getting better…then suddenly, one morning she was gone.
I see a number of travelers in travel groups I belong to, discussing what to do..when they are miles away, and a loved one is either suddenly stricken by a condition and has little time to live, or they are aware of a longstanding condition the loved one has, that isn’t responding to treatment. My take on the situation and decisions to make follow below.
1) If one is able to make it to be with the loved one, then by all means go and be by their side. You may regret not being there when departed ones leave. You may go through many seasons of “I should, coulda, woulda,” but it will be too late for regret. I am glad that I made it in time to be with mum, and offered support as she lay in hospital. We prayed so hard for her to recover, not quite imagining the absence of our matriarch. She was a strong lady, and knew she was checking out but didn’t reveal weakness or share what it was like to us. I feel she didn’t want to burden us or cause us to worry. I would advise people in this predicament to make snap decisions and just go and be with your loved one. Indecision will lead to unease and regret.
2) If it is impossible to do so because of commitments and inability to travel at the time, it is important to communicate this with family and close friends. My family was quite supportive when my dad passed and I was unable to be there for him, or to say my goodbyes. I was constantly on phone with the family after dad’s demise and in the days leading up to the burial. As there are gatherings where folks come to offer their condolences, I got to talk to longtime friends and offer my financial contributions towards the funeral. *(Sidenote: Funerals can get costly and because in my birth country Kenya, people get ansty about writing wills or taking out funeral and burial insurance; the whole community of people one has worked with, family, friends and neighbours, come together to offer support and funds to cover funeral-related costs.)
3) This point is related to the second point above. Remember the good times you spent together, and promise yourself when you’re able to travel, you will pay your respects and lay flowers at the graveside.
I had good memories of dad, and celebrated his life. I wrote about our relationship and about his work and legacy. We were so close that many times we went to functions together, when the rest of the family couldn’t make it. When I came home and had talks with family, they describe how sickness made him lose weight, I couldn’t imagine that, as I had always viewed him as healthy, having a great appetite and being so mobile as he walked fast and drove even faster.
3) Acknowledge your dearly departed loved ones are irreplaceable and they have crossed over to the next realm. A shift has taken place, there’s a huge gap and you may have to learn to live with their absence and most likely you’ll feel like reaching out but will be unable to do so. Grief is a lengthy process, and you may go through all the stages, or not. Cry when you feel sorrow, reach out to friends and family. Remember the funny and good times you had with the departed ones. Gaze at old photos. Travel to new places or places they had traveled to or told you about. If need be, see a grief counselor.
In my case, I had to take a prolonged trip to Kenya just to sufficiently process my grief. I lived in my late mum’s house, covered myself with her blankets, drank tea from her beautiful cups, and even attended the church she belonged to; somewhat to firmly grasp that memory of her. It helped. The verse in Isaiah helped some more, “Jesus has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.” As well, coming to an acceptance that my loved ones are in another realm that is free of earthly hardships.
4) Keep their memories alive. For the new kids born into our family that never met their gramps, we tell them stories. You wish that dad was here to meet all of them. My dad loved to crack jokes and laugh all the time, and I sometimes feel he would have been a great grandad to all his grandchildren. He made time to share humourous stories of his days as a medical student, and his life growing up in the village. These are stories we share with his grandchildren. Many people have built mausoleums, set up bookshops and libraries in memory of a departed loved one. It can be a great idea to set up a foundation to continue in the legacy of a loved one.