Travelling with Grief

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Please note. This post details my own experience and choices of travelling following a bereavement. I understand that everyone’s experiences are different and respect points of view and experiences that may be different from my own, as I hope my readers will accept of mine.

In December 2018 I was looking forward to my first time travelling abroad during Christmas. I had recently got back in touch with a very old friend who invited me to meet them in Thailand where they would be travelling, and spend three weeks in the sun. I was very excited and had spent the two months preceding counting down the days and generally irritating all my friends and coworkers a great deal.

A week before I was due to get on the plane my father died very suddenly. My Dad had recently celebrated his 70th birthday and other than bit of a case of the flu in the two weeks prior had never been ill, so this was a massive shock to my entire family. The coroners office later determined he had suffered a heart attack.

My instant reaction was “I’m not going to Thailand”. I wanted to be with my family, especially my mum. Later that evening, my mum, two older brothers and I sat shell shocked in my mums living room and my Mum looked at me with a determined look on her face and said “you must go to Thailand, it’s what your Dad would have wanted”. I couldn’t even think about it at that point and said I would sleep on it before even starting to think about it. Of course I didn’t sleep a wink that night, none of us did, but as the next couple of days passed I thought about it more. My Mum is a strong woman and was coping well. She remained adamant I was going and was already telling people the funeral wouldn’t be until the middle of January as I was going away well before I had made a decision of my own. There was another reason the funeral would be delayed until then, not only would Christmas delay things anyway, but my oldest niece was expecting a baby on January 6th and we didn’t want to risk it clashing, so at least I knew if I did go I wouldn’t be holding up us being able to lay dad to rest.

I spoke to my brothers and asked them honestly what they thought I should do, and they both said they thought I should go. They said I was going to be miserable wherever I was, so I may as well be miserable in Thailand. I also felt Mum needed to get back into a routine and she couldn’t do it with me hanging round fussing as a constant reminder.

I decided to go ahead and spoke to my travelling companion who assured me the hotels we had booked had good Wi-Fi and I would be able to Skype Mum everyday. I don’t do well with other people’s pity and I knew I needed time away without the world staring at my and treating me like an invalid. It was Mum I was worried about, leaving her that soon and with Christmas just around the corner. My brothers were there though with their families and Christmas was not going to be cancelled.

Saying goodbye to Mum was the hardest thing, I made it swift, and then cried my heart out in my car. The train ride to the airport was rough, but after a good night sleep in a hotel and having spoken to Mum on the phone, I was feeling better as I boarded my plane.

Arriving in Bangkok was an immense relief and as the sun hit my face I could feel my heart feeling a little less broken immediately. Here no-one knew me or what had happened, other than my friend who I was meeting and I didn’t have to see sad faces at every turn. I knew my Dad was looking down on me and wouldn’t want me sitting at home missing my next adventure so I was determined not to let him down.

The next three weeks flew by, We spent a little over a week in Bangkok over Christmas and then travelled to Koh Samui for New Year where we stayed for nearly two weeks more. My explorations in Thailand can be read about in my other blogs.

I spoke to Mum everyday on Skype, and my niece’s baby arrived early on 23rd December which was a very welcome distraction for everyone back home. It was sad my Dad missed the birth of his first great-grandchild by just 10 days, but it gave my family reason to be happy and celebrate new life.

Leaving Thailand was hard, I cried the moment I got in my taxi to the airport back to Bangkok, and again as my plane took off. I knew what I was going home to and the reality hit me hard. I spent a good portion of my evening at my airport hotel in Bangkok crying, something I think I needed to get out of my system so I could be ready to support my Mum again. Arriving back in England was tough too. My Dad had been going to be meeting me at the airport as he usually did, and I knew he wouldn’t be there. My brother came with my Mum instead, I was glad to see them, but I missed seeing my Dad terribly.

Five days after arriving home we held my Dad’s funeral, in the cold and rain, a stark reality to the previous three week’s I had spent basking in 30 degree heat, but I felt I had used the time well to prepare myself, to remember my Dad, to celebrate his life and be grateful for him.

Top Tips

Don’t put yourself on pressure or make plans

On a normal long-haul holiday like this I would be out everyday, with a well planned schedule of things to do, places to visit and a fully prepared budget. This time however I just wanted to relax and take things slowly. This started at home, my original plan to just take my backpack and try and cram everything in went out the window and my large suitcase came out, far too many clothes were packed, toiletries remained undecanted into my usual travel pots and I threw in a load of snacks and treats in case I wanted a taste of home.

In Bangkok we avoided the temples as we knew there would be hassle there from street sellers and scammers, and lots of crowds. As this was my first week we wandered the streets, explored on the BTS and stuck to the main shopping areas. We ate well, relaxed in the bars and explored at our own pace.

We avoided busy restaurants and ate at food markets. The food is better and you get better service at these anyway, and all for a fraction of the price.

Take it easy but keep busy

Whilst taking it easy was definitely the way forward, don’t be tempted to do nothing, sitting around dwelling on your heartache will not do you any good, and if you are going to do that you may as well stay at home. Go out and walk, be active without overdoing it, because as I found out, grief is exhausting.

In Thailand a great destress was to get a Thai massage. In fact this is exactly what we did Christmas day morning, had a relaxing hour and a half massage in a lovely place near to our hotel.

Keep in contact

Teaching my Mum to use my Dad’s smartphone was quite the challenge, but we spoke everyday on Skype. It is rare these days to be in any large town or city in the world and not be able to get Wi-Fi, we had good signals at all five places we stayed, and most bars and restaurants had free Wi-Fi connections too. I could also keep in regular contact with my brother’s on Facebook and we all communicated as a family together on email. It eased my grief (and conscience) to know my mum was doing ok and I was still kept in the loop with funeral plans all the way.

Remember your loved one

While I was away I found it very easy to hide from my reality, to pretend that it was not happening and that actually my Dad was alive and well back home, of course I knew this not to be true and I spent a great deal of time thinking about my Dad and what he meant to me. I sat and wrote a tribute to my Dad to be read at his funeral from my brothers and I one day whilst sitting at the immigration office in Maenam waiting for my travel companions visa to be extended. This helped me remember my Dad, all the things I loved about him and put a lot of things in perspective for me about what a blessed life I have led.

On the last weekend before coming home I had a tattoo on my wrist of the tree of life for my Dad. The tree of life is a symbol of everlasting life, also as a woodwork teacher this had another meaning for my Dad. Whilst tattoos aren’t for everyone it now means I have an everlasting memorial to my Dad, and also my trip which I can remember every time I look at my wrist.

**Note: having a tattoo anywhere, but especially in another country where health and safety guidelines are different to the UK is always not without risk. If you are planning on getting a tattoo abroad do your research, read reviews online, talk to your chosen artist about what you want, have a look around the studio at their hygiene processes and ask to see examples of their previous work before booking an appointment.**

Rest in peace my lovely Dad xxx

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