That holiday – that one which was – ‘just to have a holiday’ seems so long gone, disintegrated by trauma and the deepest of losses. When the two of us, along with more than eight million other Australians who embark on international trips made plans to travel we certainly held conversations about flights, hotels, tours and itineraries. Yes, we bought travel insurance but we did not and have never discussed prior to disembarkation the action we would take in the event of an emergency. Who would? Who wants to even think about an accident or illness befalling a loved one? Our trip was last-minute, relatively short – less than a full month. We could never have imaged three weeks after setting off across the globe that we would be frantically searching for extra flights, changing existing flights, abandoning a tour, forgetting to cancel hotel bookings and existing in a state of panic and distress every step of the very long way home.
Our story had the most heart wrenching ending, the passing of my husband’s mother, though 89 years of age, she was a force. Strong, with minimal health issues and a will power not easily matched, our future thoughts were always looking towards the cake of 100 candles. Shortly after arriving back in country we were relieved to be informed that she was showing all the signs of recovery and that our decisions made in panic may have been hasty. Agonisingly, the following hours brought a rapid but gentle decline. My husband was beside his mother as she passed and had the excruciating blessing of three days to support his siblings and provide strength and ease at the family death.
I have felt the burden of similar wrenching decisions. When my own father was ill in hospital our youngest daughter was days from traveling to the UK on a school netball tour. My Dad was insistent that she go and requested that specific details of his prognosis be kept private until her return. Life would not wait and nor would we have wanted the terrible pain he had to endure until his passing to be prolonged but sadly my Dad’s life ended in the days when she was making her way home. It was a difficult decision to make but I have never regretted honouring my father’s wishes. Our Mum would pass away more gently from heart failure just five weeks later and this time I would be days from returning after I had travelled home briefly whilst living at the most northern end of our big state.
We lived in the USA for the final two years of military life. Being on the east coast we could barely be further from our family and lived through the sad medical decline of my husband’s beautiful Dad, Harry. Though there was minimal leave on this post, when we did have those precious two weeks we used them to trek across the globe and have the most glorious visit with Harry whilst he was still living in his family home. That previous May when I had met my daughters in the UK for a two-week trip we had many discussions about possible plans as it became a heart wrenching time when Harry was gravely ill and not expected to regain health. Everywhere we stopped we found the village church and prayed for strength, recovery and ease. Each day as we waited on updates we had our plans in our minds. On that occasion we were truly blessed as against all medical odds, Harry made a thankful recovery.
On our return from the USA we finally made the decision to pass through Amsterdam for a few days. I say ‘finally’ as I was adamant that we needed to fly direct. By now my celtic superstitious nature which was understandably on overdrive had me convinced that being overseas brought uneasy karma to my world. We had a spectacular four days with unseasonal snowfall which blanketed the beautiful old streets and canals – a breathtaking sight and particularly one of life’s miraculous shows for Aussie east coasters. What we were unaware of during this time was that our youngest daughter was involved in a serious car accident. Whilst there were no injuries to either driver, her car was so badly damaged it was written off. Serious sibling discussion and input from two wonderful partners came to the conclusion that telling us would result (and it would have) in an over reaction and panic driven return travel. Ironically, on the first day back we ended up in the emergency department of our local hospital due to a slash to the bone on my husband’s leg and it was right in the middle of this that our daughter rang to tell us of the accident events! Our young ones made a measured decision centred on the fact that there were no injuries, no ramifications and with all the official aspects competently handled by our lawyer daughter they made the call to have us enjoy our few sensational days strolling the old town, galleries and canals of Amsterdam.
I truly believe you can honour a loved one from where ever you are and indeed my fear on those occasions of decision making was that the very act of long distance travel which takes away communication for extended stretches could in fact be the wrong choice at the wrong time. With the advent of miraculous communication options, it is a decision that has never been harder to make. Sadly, I know of circumstances where the time taken to travel has taken away the opportunity to be in contact with the loved one and family during those precious last hours. Many of us can recall our early travel when any form of communication could be weeks and indeed months apart. It was a time where circumstances took away any hope of final reunions.
A dear woman recently passed, years too young and the circumstances beyond tragic and painful for the family. I had known her best as a sweet young teen, full of plans and dreams. I could not be at the service but I took myself to the beach at that time, had braided my hair in the style she had patiently taught me and felt a peaceful yet strong connection in my private honouring. When I wrote to the family I told them of my private farewell and their collective response was truly heart warming.
To stay or go? It is a deeply personal decision unique for each individual and the circumstances of the moment. One would hope that such decisions are never based on possible perception nor ever held up for judgement. Deep regard and respect must also be given to those who have the most difficult position of relaying information between the medical fraternity and loved ones near and far.
My children have wings. They have been and will be travellers. I have already impressed upon them my heartfelt belief that they can honour a dear one from where ever they are. I tell them if ‘something happened’ I would not want them to rush in panic or put themselves on long, late roads and they remind me kindly though bluntly – that’s not my call. Indeed, I have the right to proactively aim for their ease but no, I don’t get to say.
And finally, especially to all the young travellers whose economic situations may force tough calls, I have told more than one – find repose and be peaceful, as you can honour your dear one from where ever you are geographically – love exists in heart and spirit thus your loved one is right there with you.