Grief and Travel
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
BY: Mindy Stewart, LPC
PUBLICATION: About Grief
The days are longer, a summer breeze is in the air, songbirds are singing, and grief continues to hang on even through the transition of seasons. It seems as though one ought to have an opportunity to escape grief just as people vacation from work or the busyness of life. Some may even think if they could just get away and focus on their grief, they'll "get over it faster," or be better able to handle the variability of its emotions.
Planning your first family vacation or personal get-away while living in this season of grief may feel just as daunting or heart-wrenching as planning a funeral. Emotions and opinions of how to handle past traditions of travel can vary just as much as the details of the trip itself. Grief also is a journey—emotionally and sometimes physically.
Traveling and purposefully placing oneself in a new setting can help break up the routine of mourning. Getting away can provide the time for emotional healing to occur. Depending on the months or days leading up to the death of a loved one, physical rest may be in order before any attention can be given to the emotional aspects of healing. However, burying your feet in the sand, literally, hugging a tree, submersing yourself in the language, people and traditions of a different culture, or feeling water lap up against your toes can bring restoration of the soul that only the act of travel can provide. Whether you're ready to pack your bags tomorrow, or still feel as though some time needs to pass before traveling, here are a few tips:
- Visit a familiar location or explore some place brand new. If you can't bear the thought of returning to you and your loved one's favorite vacation spot, it's okay to try some place new. This does not mean you are "moving on and leaving your beloved behind," it just means you're in a new season of life, and traveling to a new place can be an outward representation of exploring different emotions and feelings.
- Go for a month or go for a day. Just as there is no timeline with grief, there is no set time frame for traveling. If flight arrangements or hotel reservations need to be made, planning ahead is necessary. But going to a museum and immersing yourself in a different cultural exhibit for a day can also provide a welcome "vacation" from grief.
- Travel with a fellow companion or go alone. If you are grieving the death of your beloved travel companion, the thought of traveling with someone different or even alone may be stressful. It is okay to grieve this loss and create new memories with others you know or meet new people along your journey.
- Consider a way to honor your loved one. Honoring someone can be as simple as going to a restaurant that serves your loved one's favorite food – or releasing a balloon with a message. If you travel to a familiar location, create some sort of memorial site you can enjoy on future visits.
The analogy of "grief as a journey" may get old sometimes, but there is truth behind the colloquialism. Packing for, and going on, a journey provides unique challenges and perspectives, and can be helpful in navigating your grief.