Navigating the Sandwich
Growing Through Grief: Solo Travel and Finding Myself
My husband promised we'd see the world in retirement, but his life was cut short
Opening the front door, I smiled when the carrier handed me the flowers. I placed the vase on the table before reading the attached card.
“Happy Mother’s Day to the best Mom! We would be lost without you. Thanks for everything you do and for who you are. Love always, your kids and grandkids.”
When I paused to reread, tears formed. I was used to the familiar “for everything you do,” but this time the “for who you are” was new, a cherished addition.
Before my husband died he asked our three adult children to always take care of me. At first they went to the extreme, worrying I might not be able to function alone, thinking they were all destined to become my caretakers after my role as caretaker for their father ended.
The sentiment was sweet, but did my children know me?
Each person’s journey after the death of a loved one is unique. My path confused my family, but now it looks like they’re beginning to comprehend it.
My late husband’s job at the New York Stock Exchange required extensive travel when the children were growing up.
“Don’t worry,” he would comfort me when my extra tasks because of his travel would overwhelm me. “We’ll take some family vacations together, and with the kids grown, when I retire we’ll travel the world.”
Who expected premature retirement from disability?
Even with health
Feeling frustrated by his health limiting this cruise, he wanted to compensate for the disappointment.
“When I’m better we’ll take another cruise,” he told me. “This time it’ll be through the Panama Canal. I’ve heard it’s spectacular going through the locks, and something I’ve always wanted to do. I know you’ll love it!”
Only he didn’t get better, just progressively worse.
He never did see the Panama Canal, but in the days before his death he talked of it, apologizing for not being able to travel with me, imploring me to go on my own. Two years later I decided to take that cruise, despite my children’s apprehension when I chose to go alone.
As the ship pulled into Oranjestad, Aruba, I buried the anniversary date of his death into the recesses of my mind. Going ashore, I boarded the bus for an excursion to what the cruise billed as “One Happy Island.” Yes, it’s time for happy memories!
The drive included the California Lighthouse, the ruins of a landmark natural bridge, the Casibari Rock Formations, and the Alto Vista Chapel, the first Catholic church built on the island in 1750. We drove across the island with fascinating views of cacti, divi-divi trees, iguanas, and wild goats.
It was at the stop at the bright yellow Alto Vista Chapel, however, where the full impact of the date hit me. I placed a lit candle on the altar. Mourning includes tears, but my previous allocation was only private ones. The bus driver called us back to the bus, but then saw me with the tears streaming down my face as I prayed.
“Don’t worry. Take as long as you need,” he advised.
The catharsis of letting out all the tears I had restricted to measured amounts was healing. When I joined the group on the bus a smile replaced the grief as I thanked the driver for his consideration. On the way back to the ship we passed the Aruba Marriott Resort, where we had stayed with our three children on a family vacation. My smile grew stronger with the memories.
The Pirates of the Caribbean Casino Night welcomed me back on board complete with free raffle tickets for various prizes. Joining into the festivities I took the next step in my healing process. I had formed a quick connection to a young casino worker from South Africa the first night of the cruise. When one of my tickets declared me the winner of an exquisite blue Bella Perlina bracelet, she hugged me whispering “Your sweetie sent you an anniversary gift.”
Four days later passing through the locks at Gatun Lake, Panama, the light rain that hit the deck couldn’t keep me from the