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Grief is…on vacation

October 30, 20234 min read

Grief is…on vacation

At the 20 month mark, Kathleen and I went on vacation. We really needed it. We were off work and burned out and needing to get away. Doing things you would have done with the person you are grieving is really hard.

We had a vacation planned for our time off work which we ended up needing to change for all kinds of good reasons. I’ve never felt before like I needed to get away from my regular life but this time I did. We decided what we needed was a week at and all-inclusive where everything was taken care of and we could just relax in the sunshine. We booked last minute and within a month of changing our plan were away.

Everything about this vacation was unlike our normal travel pattern. I’ve always loved planning and booking our vacations but this time it felt overwhelming. Partly because of the complexities of travel with covid and partly because I still have grief brain and anything requiring multiple steps done in a certain order is still a challenge. We usually planned our next vacation as we were returning from the current one. We often planned big vacations around significant birthdays, some of them in the works for years. This one we booked with a travel agent for travel three weeks later. It felt almost surreal and yet was exactly what we needed to do to make it happen.

Getting ready to travel without Ben was just weird. The vacation we were going on was not one that would have been particularly appealing to him and that helped a little. Going to our favourite places without him will be a different kind of challenge. When we are ready, taking the vacation we had planned with him that was cancelled in spring of 2020 because of covid will be another kind of challenge. This time just planning, packing and going was challenge enough.

As we were planning, and as I’ve been reflecting on the trip, I realise I have rarely vacationed without my kids. It feels like that was the next step of their stepping into adulthood - us all travelling without each other more. I feel so lucky to have had adult children that still loved to travel with me and travelled with each other. We’ve had such fun and so many amazing adventures. Traveling more without each other is a natural progression that for us won’t happen naturally. It’s a transition that has happened suddenly and now needs to be navigated consciously. It’s a place where I feel so deeply how our trio is now down to two.

And we did it. Our Glennon Doyle penned mantra remains “we can do hard things” and we can. We don’t want to and we might resist but we can. In hindsight, this weird, out of pattern, unusual for us vacation was likely exactly right. I’ve done some firsts. I’ve packed without calling back and forth to Ben about what we might need. I’ve gone to the airport, through security and onto the plane without him following as a child or leading the way as a young man. I’ve made new, big memories without him which is the hardest of all and just feels so sad. Not making new memories feels sadder. And yes, through some of these moments I shed some tears and in all of them I thought of him.

The death of a child is a huge thing. It will always be a trajectory changing moment in my life. Other bereaved parents tell me it’s a wound that will never fully heal. It’s something I live WITH. I travel WITH. I make memories WITH. There is no getting over, through, or past this loss. There is moving forward WITH.

It took me a long time to post this after we got home because it felt incomplete somehow. It took me ages to realise there was more to the experience. Follow what came next in the next post – Grief is…coming home.

What can you do to help a griever with doing something big without their loved one?

Acknowledge what they’re doing is hard and that you see them.

Offer tangible specific support that’s appropriate to the situation:

Can I find you a travel agent?

Can I drive you?

Can I accompany you?

Check in with them during or after they’re done. Acknowledge and see them. Offer to listen to their experience if they would like to share.

Grief must be witnessed. It is lonely and isolating. The biggest gift you can give a griever is to see them without trying to fix them.

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