On Thursday, I woke up thinking it was any other day. I stayed in bed until late, made a cup of coffee, and toasted some bread in the frying pan.
I had plans to spend the day like I usually do. I’d buy fresh tortillas, work until mid-afternoon, then head to a cafe and walk around Oaxaca.
Instead, I packed up all my things, ditched my new apartment, and spent the following 24 hours traveling to my hometown of Tampa, including a 7-hour bus ride, a sleepless night in Mexico City’s airport, and a lengthy layover in Miami.
That morning, I got a phone call that turned my world upside down. One of my closest friends, who happens to be my grandmother, died of heart failure.
My grandma and I did not have a traditional grandparent/grandchild relationship. Despite our age difference, we were great friends. I called her regularly from the road. We always laughed, reminisced about old times, and updated each other about our lives. I confided in her with complete trust. She was one of my biggest supporters and was proud of me and the travel lifestyle I had adopted.
I have lost one of the most important people to me. Her passing has left a gaping hole in my life. I’m sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye and tell her how much she meant to me. It crushes me to think that she will never see me walk down the aisle, or meet my children, or share any other big moments with me.
Yet on my pilgrimage back to the US, during the deep period of introspection and reflection that a continuous journey like that elicits, I found myself smiling and giggling out loud. You see, the memory of my grandmother makes me happy, not sad. We spent so many great years together and shared so many special moments. I wouldn’t change a minute of my time with her.
In 2008, the two of us traveled to Italy together. Though she was born in the US, my grandma’s parents are immigrants from Italy. It had always been a dream of hers to see where her roots come from. Since I was a nomad and was so close to her, I threw out the idea of us going to Italy together, which she quickly accepted.
It proved to be the trip of a lifetime for both of us. We spent 10 days sightseeing in Rome, relaxing in Sorrento, taking a boat trip around the Amalfi coast, and laughing like teenage girls at a sleepover.
The last time I saw her was before my trip to Latin America. I gave her a tight hug as tears rolled down her face. She spoke aloud what we were both thinking: “I might never see you again.”
I could write 5000 words about all the ways that she was good to me. Yet I am just a drop in the ocean of people whose lives have been touched by her presence. My grandmother is one of the purest, most beautiful beings that I have ever known. She was the epitome of empathy, kindness, and selflessness. She oozed compassion and love. She was the best grandmother a girl could have asked for. I am so grateful to have known such a wonderful woman and hope I can have the same positive effect on others that she has.
Have you lost a loved one while traveling? What did you do and how did you get through it?