I hated to leave on my trip because it felt like I was leaving Larry behind, but traveling turned out to be the best thing I could have done. After three and a half weeks away visiting family and friends, I came back feeling lighter, more open to new possibilities. Traveling with grief was not easy, but distance and new surroundings created an opportunity for new perspectives.
It was a complicated trip and took weeks to plan, mostly because I was overwhelmed with indecision. My grief-addled brain is still not fully functional for executive tasks. I was going 5 different places but I started with booking just one flight. Days later, I booked another. And then another.
Figuring out how to fit my visit into other people’s busy lives, and into my kids’ homes evoked a sense of not belonging with anyone. Once I was away that feeling was heightened. I kept wanting to call home to report in, to share my daily experiences, but there was no one to call. No one at home to check in with. I even had several panic attacks of forgetting to do something, forgetting to take care of something (or someone.)
In spite of being with people all the time, I often felt lonely. I was reminded of a movie of an astronaut taking a space walk and losing the tether, being left to tumble through space entirely alone. I even had dreams about calling Larry to come home, and him telling me “I can’t come home. I have things I have to do.” My brain was still working on accepting that he is really gone.
Though traveling with grief, there were wonderful times. My grandson ran across the living room in the mornings with a big grin and wide open arms to hug me as he yelled “YaYa!” There was taking him to the zoo, and a children’s museum. Long walks by the Pacific, and putting my feet in Puget Sound. Going to meetings with my daughter at UCSF and to my son’s lab at UW, meeting his girlfriend, sharing dinners with them. Seeing my brother and his family, and taking my sister to lunch. Spending time with Larry’s son and his wife and daughter. I could see Larry alive in his son!
There were hard firsts that I expected, like our 23rd anniversary. And other firsts that snuck up and sucker punched me, like July 4th fireworks. We’d always enjoyed watching them together!!
I stayed for a week in the town where Larry and I lived for 20+ years before moving to Florida 3 years ago. On a gray day I walked by the house where we used to live, past another house in which my mother and stepfather lived. Felt the sadness of all the losses. Felt my own mortality.
I visited many friends we used to socialize with together. Some visits were delightful, others were harder. Some friends asked wonderful caring questions about how I was doing, and wrapped me in their arms when I cried. Others avoided Larry’s death and my grief completely – which felt SO weird.
Many people asked “where are you going to live?” “Will you stay in Florida?” “Will you move back?” Will you go back to work?”
I didn’t have answers, and at first was angered by the questions, by their assumption I had answers so soon. Perhaps I was angry with myself for not knowing. But as I traveled, I began to realize that I couldn’t go back anywhere, I had to move forward. I couldn’t fit myself into my old life, I had to find a new life. I couldn’t live my kids lives, I had to make my own life. I began to feel a little shiver of possibility.
I was worried about coming home to an empty house after so much time with people. But I walked in and felt the comfort of my home and the memories of Larry wrap around me. I felt so much lighter! As if a shift had happened through the process of being away for so long.
We’ll see how long this feeling lasts. I know enough now to expect that both the bad feelings and the good feelings are temporary. Yesterday, I woke with a momentary thought of wondering when Larry would be getting home. Today I miss him terribly!!!
Even though I’m home, I’m still traveling with grief.