In this article, I can be honest and tell you that you won’t find a list of the best tips to deal with one of the scariest aspects of travel. This is only a testimony about my own life experience. The truth is, whether we like it or not, life ends, we lose loved ones, and it’s never planned. Sometimes it even happens just as you decided to Shut Up and Go (thousands of kilometers away from your loved ones).
15th of February 2020
It has always been one of my biggest fear to lose someone that I love while being abroad. Especially because I usually leave for a considerable amount of time: I Shut Up and Go, to fully immerse myself in another country’s culture and to get to understand what makes us different and so similar to each other at the same time. That doesn’t happen overnight. So I find myself gone for months at a time. And unfortunately, sometimes my biggest fear becomes a reality.
So how to deal with this kind of event? I’m still not sure, even though I’ve lived this situation once and I’m experiencing it right now for a second time.
The first time it happened, I wasn’t only thousands of kilometers away but also seven hours away from what was happening in my family. I had been there for two months and had four more months to be in Japan when I got the news. I woke up and saw a missed call and a text from my mom: “Mamie est morte” – “Grandma passed away”. I was still sleepy and my vision was a bit blurred because of the daylight. It was one of those moments when the difference between dream and reality is not very clear. I felt a heavyweight in my stomach and didn’t know what to answer, so I called her back. I had to hear a voice saying it to me, so it could become real. My mom was crying on the phone but I couldn’t, it wasn’t real enough for me, even after the call.
It’s a strange feeling because you’re away. You don’t really witness it with your own eyes and senses. You don’t live the tragedy with your relatives, you don’t experience the heavy atmosphere, you don’t see everybody’s pale faces around you and you don’t go to the funeral. It feels like a nightmare because the humanity you’re usually given isn’t capable when you’re an ocean away.
Depending on your beliefs and the way you deal with grief, it can be a good or a bad thing. In my case, two years after the event, I’d say that it’s a good thing that I was away. Because today, I still picture my grandmother with the last remembrance I have from her and it’s a great one. It’s a memory of her, talking to me in her living room while playing cards and smiling, being proud of what I’ve achieved and being supportive of my future plans. In my mind, she didn’t die, she’s gone on an eternal journey. I still don’t know if it’s a healthy state of mind, but it’s the one that makes me the happiest right now.
2 years later, I’ve left France again for a 7 months trip. It’s February 2020 and I’m typing this article with my phone on the side, video calling. My 16 y/o dog is dying slowly. If you’ve ever experienced growing up with an animal who’s considered as a family member, you might be able to understand what I’m feeling right now. I low-key knew that this moment was about to come, I just didn’t know exactly when. She’s sleeping right now and she’s hardly breathing – it looks a lot like the end I’ve imagined for her and the one I was hoping for: being surrounded by her family, not suffering and at a great age for a dog.
Cameras don’t capture feelings the way we can.
I tried to get ready as much as possible for her departure before mine. I spent time with her and tried to remember the frames as if my mind were a film roll.
I did that with my mom as well, and my grandma, and my uncle, my cousins, my friends: everybody. Sometimes I close my eyes, and see them laughing at a joke, react to a beautiful view or their favorite food, I see myself playing fetch with my dog in the south of France…
The ability to time travel through memory is such a gift we have as a species. You can purchase the most expensive camera, and microphone to capture a moment, but nothing compares to the image that the human brain can project. Cameras don’t capture feelings the way we can.
Right now, the only thing I can do is talk to my dog with my mom’s phone on speaker, and watch her react to one of the voices she’s heard her whole life. Physical presence is one thing, but don’t think that it’s the only way to be with someone.
Seize the day, but seize it as there will never be another opportunity to do so.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking. Once you’ve Shut Up and Go(ne) and managed to break the money and time co-dependency: what’s next? How do you make the love you have for your relatives and your love for traveling coexist if being far means being scared of not being with them?
Asking myself this question made me realize that, maybe assuring your loved ones’ happiness and yours shouldn’t be depending on the fact that you are together or not. That kind of love should transcend physical presence, and reach a spiritual level. I’m happy because my family and my friends are with me in ways that nothing and nobody can take them away. They have intimately linked to me thanks to the feelings and memories I’ve collected with them during my life. If I miss my mum, I’ll just close my eyes and remember making her happy and proud, if I miss my friends, I’ll remember helping them and supporting them during the hardest times, if I miss my dog, I’ll remember every ounce of joy I could bring to her since I was a kid. And the other way around, every piece that my entourage have added is something that cannot die as long as I’m breathing and able to feel and remember.
I’m all about that carpe diem mindset but I’d be a fool to not be all about that memento mori – (“Remember you must die”) expression. Seize the day, but seize it as there will never be another opportunity to do so.
This is definitely something we should think about. Even if you’re not planning to travel, thinking about it might help you to have an overview of what’s important for you, what makes you want to wake up every morning and what will truly matter when you’ll reach the end of the lifetime trip. Once you’ve done that, devote yourself to these things to age with the least amount of regrets.
29th of March 2020
It’s been more than a month since I’ve written the first part of this article. I’ve been waiting to publish it, I’m not sure why maybe I could feel in my guts that something was missing.
In one month the whole world has changed. One month ago, we were living like we were immortal. One month later, we are all in self-quarantine because people are dying way too fast and the scare of losing our loved ones has never been stronger.
…being far and being afraid to lose someone you love can be unrelated.
I’m staying in Mexico right now, and my mom visited me for 15 days. Even though we had an amazing time, I’ve never been so stressed in my whole life, and it’s the proof that being far and being afraid to lose someone you love can be unrelated. It’s funny how I can stress more with her by my side than when she’s an ocean away.
I’m getting to the age where reverse-parenting happens. I became a parent to my mom at some point after the age of 25. So even while on vacation with her, I somehow stress to keep her safe from anything that can harm her. It’s what you do when you love someone. I had to find the balance between getting her to enjoy one of her few travels, and keeping her safe from getting contaminated, which is something you can hardly control when you’re taking buses, visit crowded places and interact with a bunch of persons on a daily basis. Now that she’s back to her apartment in France, I know she’s safe, and my anxiety went down from 100 to 1 – yeah it never really reach 0.
Even if this pandemic might be terrifying, it’s something unique that we are experiencing right now and something that might change the way we value our world, our lives, our dreams, and goals. I see it as a second chance, but maybe also as a last one.
And I’m thinking: since we can’t go outside, shouldn’t we try to explore our inner self?
How do you deal with the fear of losing your loved ones?
What is life teaching you about yourself right now?