A decade back, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” followed by the movie. To be brutally honest, I wondered if the woman in grief found a way to “escape” her issues and was not bold enough to face them. I kept my opinion to myself, knowing what a best seller / blockbuster it was. Last year I read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and realized why she did the Pacific crest trail after losing her mother to cancer. I had evolved as a person in the ten years of reading the two books. Both authors went on to travel when they were stricken with loss.. one to divorce and the other to death. Both authors sought refuge in traveling away from where they were – to come to terms with what ailed their heart. Little did I know that we as a family would be facing a similar circumstance when we lost my father in law to cancer last month. No matter what one may say of his passing away being peaceful and how he is free of bodily pains, as children and as family there are times when the overwhelming emptiness encompasses each of us at different times of the day. As primary care takers, my husband and I miss him in different ways and we continue to endure the void left by him. It was then when we decided that our family should take the trip we had been planning for. Customary as it may sound, we always go on a vacation in the month of May/ June. This year too our plans were fixed till my father in law passed away suddenly. The first instinct was to cancel everything. As time moved on, the family realized that perhaps it would still be a good idea to go ahead with the trip. I was in sheer dilemma. My husband, in all fairness, was not in the mood. Is it ok to go on to have “fun” when we were supposedly “grieving?” The debate went in my head and I knew it was a sensitive situation. My heart went back to the two books I had read and had been influenced subconsciously. I told my husband that taking the trip would do him good. He was reluctant but later relented. It was one of the best decisions we have taken as a family. And here is how it helped.
A trip is a distraction. We take trips to explore with an agenda, with a plan. While at grief, the distraction helps. It helps to put your mind away from the mundane of back home and do things that are new. It distracts but it doesn’t mean you forget. There were instances when walking in the alleys of Tallin, I mentioned my father in law in jest and how he would respond to a situation. We had a good laugh for a moment till we realized he wasn’t there anymore. But what did the moment do to us? It made us remember him of his good days – not his ailing time and it was then we knew that it was these kind of memories we had to keep.
2. Coping with loneliness
Trust me when I say this: even if we are together as a family, we tend to grieve alone. It’s in the bed when all the lights are off, or in an empty house when thoughts take over and tears roll down involuntarily. I have caught every person of my family going through this. Travel breaks down the loneliness big time. You are huddled together physically – in the plane, in the hotel, at the walking trails. You just cannot escape each other no matter what… like it or not.. that’s like “compulsory non lonely” opportunity!!! Also being honest, the three of us would get into squabbles at times and then had no choice but to get together again. I think it helped us bond better and learn that small tiffs made us more cohesive!!
3. Nature heals grief
There is no refuting the fact why nature is called Mother! Nature has healing properties that have now become therapeutic for everyone. Take any article on the same it will tell you why and how being close to nature helps. We experienced the same when we took a 5 km trail inside the Nuuksio National Park in Finland. It was an easy trail and in the middle of the forest, when we could just hear birds and the whistling of the wind. We came so close to ourselves that we stopped talking to each other. Three of us experienced therapy in different ways. We came out healed at many levels.
4. Embrace the void
The void left by the departed is never going to fill. This is the first thing we learnt on our trip. However, this was not all that we learnt. We learnt that the void had to be embraced like a friend and we need to fill it in with memories that can make it not seem like one. A close friend of mine sent me a video by Sadhguru, on death and grief. Watching it the first time was painful but when I carefully heard what he said, it struck me that all he is asking to do is embrace the void. Acceptance is not easy and everyone takes time and that is perfectly fine!
Travel helped us evolve from grieving family to an accepting family. The grief that brings loneliness, sadness, depression is dealt with differently by different people. We accepted that. I cannot put a finger to how I think we evolved but I can tell you the moments when we were at peace. We had no clue about the “night of the churches” in Riga. They were just open this one evening where we could experience the organ playing. We went to some and the music overwhelmed us. We were in the Lord’s house and tears ran down my cheeks, but there was a calm. Honestly, I did not want to see what my husband or my daughter were feeling. It was my peace. A similar thing happened post midnight when we both were watching the lake at old town Porvoo in Finland. The sky turned scarlet lighting up the lake. It was a message from the beyond.The same peace engulfed me!
Grief-cation is not wrong. It is not being disrespectful to the departed and it is definitely not escaping from grief. In fact, as a travel hungry family it was therapeutic to explore countries that were rich in nature and I don’t have to say how powerful nature is to cure physical and mental pains. Notwithstanding that the mourning period is considered a year in my religion, we broke a stereotype and went on to celebrate life as my Papaji would have liked to. We paid tribute to his ever traveling soul by going to places he would have loved to visit. We took him with us and the best part is that he will always be with us. I know that life will move on, I know that routines will take over but remember this that going away to another place on a trip or on a holiday will always make every soul – yours and the departed one – more peaceful and calm.