Grief and Travelling ?
This is a travel blog. Yet more than half of today’s article is set, not on the road or in some far flung, exotic destination, but in the humdrum, English town where I was born. However, let us remember that a road only even exists to link one person’s home town with another and that all who walk upon it do so either because they are looking for something or because they are fleeing from something. Today I’m sharing a difficult but essential part of my personal story that silently yet fundamentally underpins every single tale or experience that I have thus far recounted within this blog; understand it and you may understand me a little bit better.
I Walk Alone
My regular readers should know by now that I always travel solo. Whilst I do make friendships and alliances along the way, I remain ultimately alone; a party of one. Many people have remarked to me that they could never do this, that they would be frightened and lonely and would prefer to travel with friends or as a tour group. To these people I always reply with a degree of assured nonchalance “but solo is the only way to travel”. I cite benefits such as being able do whatever you want without compromise and I point out that even the best of friends will come to annoy the hell out of each other after a few too many bus rides together. I also aver that only by travelling alone can you quite fully escape home and find the freedom to be or find yourself and moreover, that only in being on your own are you driven to meet other people. Some of whom will become your friends for life.
And when I say all of this I absolutely mean it.
But I would because in reality, whether I like it or not, whether at home or on the road am at all material times completely alone and utterly lonely. I have been this way since 20th November 2013; the day on which the love of my life passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was 28.
It was devastating. Life lost all colour and all meaning. Birds ceased to sing and flowers ceased to smell. So rather than attempt to continue with my normal life without her (the single, grounding element that made it all worthwhile) in it I decided to change it. I no longer wanted it without her, I no longer wanted to be in that town, in that house surrounded by those possessions and so I decided that everything must go. I realised that as I had no particularly place to be I may as well be anywhere; anywhere but here.
I resolved that I would go and see the world; that I would do it for myself but also for her and that I would be doing and seeing everything for two.
The first place I went to was Marrakech in Morocco. It was a place we had once talked about visiting but never gotten around to. She was a real hippy at heart and when I got there I knew she would have loved exploring the souks and petting the stray cats. Whilst I was glad to be there, everything seemed to remind me of her making the loss all the more acute. I was also plagued by the regret that we had never made it here together, that for the sake of £300 and a 3 hour flight we had let the opportunity escape us. Over the summer I visited Amsterdam, Prague and Vienna, all places we had discussed and intended to visit but delayed and put off until it was too late.
Over the next year I crossed frontiers, oceans and continents. I saw natural wonders, man-made masterpieces and discovered new cuisines. At all times I remembered to offer up the experience like some offer up prayers; “this one’s for you baby” I would say as the morning dew breathed life into the Sierra Nevada. As long as my legs and money would sustain me I wandered upon the earth carrying my life inside my backpack, her memory in my heart and an almost tangible, profound grief deep in my innermost being. Whilst I missed her and wanted her to be able to share the journey I was also aware of the paradox that had she not gone then I probably wouldn’t have been there at all. The conflict was sometimes hard to reconcile.
I did meet women on the road. I met some amazing, beautiful women who I cared for and who cared for me and whilst I took comfort and learned lessons, nothing ever came close to my lost love, the bond and the friendship we had shared. Maybe it was just too soon or maybe it’s that you only get one shot at true love and I had had mine.
Travelling helped me to deal with the grief. It showed me that there was still beauty in the world, that there were still experiences worth living and people worth meeting. It was in Bologna, in the open air cinema on a summer night surrounded by young lovers that I decided that I would try to open up my heart to love again one day. It was on a bus between Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia I had the feeling of her “presence” beside me, like just for a minute she was with me again; it brought tears, which mixed joy with sadness, to my eyes.
I could sign this article off by saying “Travel resolved my grief!”. Doing so would make a great title and might get me quite a few shares but it would be a lie. The truth is that I am still grieving. I still miss her and in some ways now more than ever as the memory of her physical existence, her voice, scent and feel begins to fade.
But travel did show me that life goes on and that there is a place in it for me. That I don’t have to be left behind condemned as some poor soul forever stuck in a moment but that I can continue to live and grow, to find new passions, see new sights and make new friends. In all honesty this is all I could have ever asked for from travelling and as anybody who has ever experienced this kind of loss will tell you, sometimes this realisation can make all the difference between finding the strength to go on and not doing.
To travel, I owe not only some cool stories, some neat scars and some impressive photographs; I maybe even owe it my very life.