Reading: Growing Through Grief: Solo Travel and Finding Myself

Memoir

Growing Through Grief: Solo Travel and Finding Myself

My husband promised we'd see the world in retirement, but his life was cut short

By Angie Mangino

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 problems he was determined to keep his promise to me. We booked a New England cruise out of New York ending in Quebec, Canada. The itinerary was enticing, but we spent most of our cruise in the ship’s medical center, with the port excursion in Boston being my solo cab ride in the pouring rain to and from a pharmacy for the medication he needed not in supply on board. After a slight improvement with the new medication, he was able to go on a few non-strenuous excursions with me, with the ship’s crew helping with wheelchair assistance off and back onto the ship.

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 long awaited experience. As the ship inched along, a gentle spray hit my face, converging with the silent tears. The two months of torture I witnessed him experience in the hospital up to his death began to wash away. My husband’s presence embraced me.“Wow! Going through the Panama Canal like this is as awesome as you said,” I said aloud to him. I took one more step in this process called mourning into becoming the woman who today my children recognize I am.

  1. John Ruane

    This is a sad and heart-breaking story of a life cut short, ruining the travel plans at the end of the work tunnel, the great hope of enjoying retirement together as a couple. Very well told, very well written. And through it all, the children discover their mother, the woman, not just the mom. This is a generational story Baby Boomers will relate to strongly. I certainly did. And I wish Angie strength and courage and she continues through the mourning process, losing her husband too young, too early.

  2. Art Smukler

    Beautiful and inspiring. It takes courage to start a new life and to write about it in a moving way, touching others, and giving hope. Best wishes. Thank you. Art Smukler

  3. Nancy Werking Poling

    Angie,
    There are many approaches to healing. I’m grateful for your sharing one of them. Blessings.

  4. Ronny Herman de Jong

    Angie, I did not know your heart breaking story; thank you for sharing it. To me, it says many things: do things you want to do together when you can, because the trouble is that you think you have time; don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today; enjoy each day as it is given to you, suffer the disappointments but see a silver lining; cry when you have to; believe in miracles; look to the future with never ending hope that better days will come.

    I am quoting my mother, who suffered through 4 years of life in a Japanese concentration camp on Java with two little girls; whose story you may remember.

    I admire you for the decisions you made, Angie. Celebrate Life!

  5. Margaret Cahill

    Angie
    Good for you taking this cruise on your own. Gutsy and so cathartic. I admire your decision and for writing about your experience.
    Margaret

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