Mourning While Traveling: Tragedy Back Home

December 06, 2010


walking the Great Wall in China

"Death is not the end. Death can never be the end. Death is the road. Life is the traveller. The Soul is the Guide." Sri Chinmoy 

Mourning a loved ones death from a distance while traveling is a painful process. You can't predict these things, nor should you not travel because of this fear. Do take time to discuss it before travel and consider plans of action. If you are doing long term travel, the chances that there might be a tragedy at home while you are away is increased, because life and death goes on, despite travel. Dealing with a very tight budget will also affect things.

Sometimes it is a very hard squeeze between obligations to older parents and a young child. As much as we love our parents, we felt our greater duty was to our young child and the unparalleled opportunities that come with world travel. We are grateful that we luckily had time to be together with family just before this happened. It was the hardest heart wrenching goodbye ever. We ended up spending most of our time in Auckland and Sydney on the phone with family members as that is where our heart was. You can not escape grief no matter where you are and in some ways it is harder while traveling and in some ways easier. Each person does it differently and ultimately it is an inner, solitary, unique journey.

"Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences that it is possible to have..The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one and to continue to treasure the memory of that loss is one of our noblest human traits" Shneidman

This is one of the hardest post I have ever written on this blog. I keep procratinating on it because it brings up more grief, hurting tummy and tears every time I go to write it and it is hard to put the feelings into words. The holiday season calls for upbeat, joyful posts, but as I'd mentioned in our Thanksgiving post, that is just not where we are right now. This is our second death of a cherish Dad and Grandfather in less than six months, so it takes a toll and adds stress to our travel and this already stressful season. I hope it can be valuable to others dealing with mourning this holiday season or those that might worry about or experience death at a distance while on the road.

"Thinking and talking about death need not be morbid; they may be quite the opposite. Ignorance and fear of death overshadow life, while knowing and accepting death erases this shadow" Lily Pincus

step dad

 I think I am still in shock to realize that our beloved Step Dad is no longer with us. Things will never be the same and we are in the midst of incredible change on many levels ( in a new place, learning a new language, the loss of our "rock" leaving us all on my side grieving and simultaneously forming new identities and ways). My mother is coming to visit us here in Penang this winter  and we will plan more ways to spend more time together this important upcoming year or two. Like my paralyzed arm for 11 months last winter, this tragedy sets us back, slows us down and makes us reevaluate life and our goals.

"He who had gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potet, nay, more present than the living man." Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My beloved step father had been doing better on our last call home, only the day before, but the internet connection was bad in Bora Bora, so one full day, there was (unusually) no access at all (DaVinci had gotten sick so we mainly slept, rested and meditated all day) and when I got through the next morning , we were stunned to hear that he was gone. All his kids (even the one from Hawaii) made it to his bedside the night before and my mom, his beloved wife, was at his side when he breathed his last breath around 6am as the new day dawned. My mom is the oldest of seven kids who are very close and I am grateful that her youngest sister who is a nurse happened to be staying the night with them so could help with the medicine and be a true comfort.

Of all my wonderful aunts (four of them are nurses and one uncle is a dentist), she is my favorite as she is only a few years older than I am. She lost her mom at 7, then a step mother at 12, and nursed their brother for several years, so learned early, the many hard lessons of grief and compassion. Dad had been an only child, so he enjoyed my mom's big, close knit family. Since he was diagonosed with cancer a few years ago, the "aunties" would drive the few hours south quite regularly with homemade soup and goodies. She just happended to be there to support them this fateful night.

There is a saying about a mother being only as happy as her unhappiest child and I think  perhaps that relates to all close loved ones. If they suffer, it impacts you. It is especially hard on my mother as they were like teenagers in love until the very end. I can't even imagine such a loss. Or how one forms a new identity and way of being at 83. My dear sweet sister who lives close by, was also practically raised by Dad as she was only 10 when he came into their lives, while I, as a young adult, lived at a far distance in New York City, Europe and Boston. Financially, things are different as well and there are many bureaucratic hoops to jump through when two become one as my mother takes on the mantle of widow.

Soulmates mom & step dad

Yet we must all go on and we will. Thankfully, it is easier today than ever to use free calls and webcam calls to stay in touch. Mourning is not an easy process at home or while traveling, but there is really no choice, but to just go through it the best one can. One of the keys to a happy long life is being able to process grief, mourning and adapting to change.

"Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows" Pope Paul VI

One of the greatest things we learn from death is that life is short and we must make the most of it. Our beloved Step Dad made the most of his life and set a great example for us all. He was a shy man in many ways, but he always had so many friends because he was so kind, giving and witty. He traveled to many places, had a rich life full of many unique experiences  and was an amazing husband & rock to all of his kids, including me. We miss him and there is a hole in our lives now. It will take time to heal, but we will never forget. Let me share a little about him from letters we wrote for his funeral. This is our little tribute to a great man.

Mom & Step Dad in China


My grandpa is a giver. I love him very much. He was very sick, but he still wanted to give me something. He gave me 21 dollars and coins from around the world.

When my mom told me, I cried and didn't laugh or smile for the rest of the day and put on all black clothes. When we called Grandma she wasn't home so her answering machine came on and Grandpa's voice said "you have reached the house of Grandma and Grandpa X". It made me sad to know that there isn't a Grandpa X on earth anymore.

I will miss him for the rest of my life. He and my Grandma were a perfect match. He was so loving and kind and they deserved each other. I remember him making jokes about prunes on Skype when we were in Spain and I feel so sad because I will never get to say goodbye again.

But I know that someday I will be up there with him in heaven too and I will always have my good memories.


The first time I interacted with Jeanne's Step Dad is when he helped us move.
I think that will be part of his legacy, his willingness to always help someone.
Whether it was a friend or family he was always there, happy to make someone else's situation easier. I will miss his creative sense of humor and his quick wit. He would sometimes send me silly cards either for my birthday or just to be funny, it did not matter, he needed no excuse to have fun with life. He was a good father, a good husband and a good friend. Even though he was my step father in law, he and I had no barriers in our relationship, he treated me like a good friend and was always there. We would play practical jokes on one another and laugh about it later. He was a wonderful human being who had compassion and understood his purpose in life and loved sharing with everyone. I will miss him.


Helen Keller said:
"What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us." 

Thank you all for being here to celebrate the life of our beloved  Dad. There is nothing more important now than to tell all the stories and remember the good times of his life. I write this from Sydney, Australia and am with you all in spirit. We tried to change our round the world ticket, but it was impossible on such short notice. We heard the news in Bora Bora where we had little internet connection, so it was like a hard blow to the stomach for each of us as there is no way to prepare for this even when someone has been very sick for a long time. Just as Dad often seemed to do the impossible in his golf games sometimes over the years, he had an indomitable spirit and strength that made him rally back many times, so we began to almost expect that.

He was an absolutely amazing cancer warrior these last three and half years and I want to thoroughly acknowledge him here for that and my mother too for their bravery, courage, heart and most of all love that carried them through endless daily challenges. What a team and what an example they set for all of us, just being themselves, demonstrating for us ALL how to make the most of life, even during the most arduous days. Their love was so strong that it carried them through it all and that love will also help carry my mother through this new beginning.........for change, growth and transition is part of life.

Kahlil Gibran said:

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

"Delight" is a word that describes Dad well. Yes, my mom called him X in affection and it was hard for us not to follow suit as it was impossible to know handsome, kind. witty, generous, tenderhearted  Dad  and not love him. I am so grateful that in our recent visit when he was in the hospital I got a chance to tell him that I loved him and that the best decision my mom ever made was to marry him and how grateful I was for the love that he shared with her and the happiness that he gave her. I was an  adult when they married, but it was clear from the start that they had each met their soulmate and their happiness made all of us more content. Their endless love for each other and all of us........ always giving, caring and supportive became our rock and foundation.

But Dad was not a mushy type, he preferred humor, wit and games to show his affection.( I learned quickly to give my mom the mushy cards and always the funny joke ones to Dad).  He'd write clever, playful poems at the drop of a hat; when they had their seashell shop,  it was easy to spot what my mom bought for the store and what Dad bought, but both sold well; and he adored playing practical jokes with my husband  or anyone who was game. This past spring when they had to go through many hoops to send us some medicine to our home in Spain, my husband and child conned me into fooling them as they anxiously awaited news of delivery. I told them with a straight face that my husband was in customs in Spain because of the package they sent pull their leg. After we told them the truth, no one got a bigger kick out of it than Dad. It was right up his alley and the reason I did make him laugh. My daughter must have that same gene because she loves this kind of humor too and one of the things she shared with her Grandpa. He always threatened to send her prunes and that made her laugh for it was their running joke.

Dad was very beloved at the schools where he was a guidance councilor. He wasn't a touchy feel-y type, but he deeply touched so many young lives. I thought it was apt that just days before he passed over and while we were there, my sister in law in Texas sent him a large envelope of hand made cards and prayers for him made by her young students.  He enjoyed them and I thought it was symbolic for all the many young lives that his sweet heart had touched. As if they came through the eithers before he passed to remind him of that phase of his life.

Mencius said "The great man is he who does not lose his child's-heart. " and that is one of the reasons why Dad was a great man. He never lost the purity and strength of his child's heart.

There is also no one, more generous than Dad. His biggest delight was in giving. Even when he was in and out of consciousness near the end, it often seemed he came back to consciousness sometimes just to give some more. I was amazed that he was thinking about giving to my daughter when he was so sick and should have been thinking only about himself. There was nothing he liked better than finding and giving presents to people!

Hans Christian Andersen said "A human life is a story told by God" and this story told by God,Our Dad is a great story that was all about love, generosity, creativity, wit, fun and of course, lots of golfing and nature. To visit the enchanting home he created with my mom  with redwoods, ocean, creek, melodious clock and beauty or to see all of these full- of- life pictures, it's easy to see this was a LOVE story. Let us celebrate his life,  be jubillant  upon his graduation of this school of life as he transitions to the other side surrounded by healing angels and be ever so grateful for the time we got to share this earth with him. Thank you Dad for all that you gave to us!

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die" - Campbell



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Amy @ The Q Family

I'm so sorry for your loss!!! It's heartbreaking reading your post. Each one of you had written such a beautiful eulogy for him. I hope time will heal your wound!

Lisa Bergren

I'm so sorry, friend, for your pain.


Send you good thinkings

Take care



My condolences go out to you and your family. This happened to me a little over a month ago.

My cousin died, likely from a seizure in his sleep aged 22. I didn't find out until 5 days after his death. Ironically, the day that he died (10.25.2010) is the same day that I became sick with a nasty cold that lasted for a little over 2 weeks and kept me out of work. I was looking forward to seeing him during Xmas season because I hadn't seen him since he was a kid, and it would've been nice to hang out with him as an adult. Since I'm so far away and currency exchange is really bad now, I couldn't afford to go home for his funeral. I stayed home from work (I was still sick anyway) and cried.

When I go home for Xmas, I'm hoping I can visit his mother and, as a final farewell, his resting place.

Wishing you the best.

James Shannon

Having lost my grandfather on the first day of me being overseas, I share your grief ...

Your father sounds like he was a real stand-up guy ... may he rest in peace.


Wow. Touching post, Jeanne. I don't think I could have written something like that without being a weepy mess.

My prayers go out for you and your family as you continue to grieve and heal. Take care.


You're right, this is something we must all consider when planning long term travel. In the end, I know my family would have been happy I was leading a fulfilled, happy life. We were lucky to not have to face such tragedy. I'm sorry for your loss and wish you comfort in your family and your memories.

April Thompson

My condolences to you and your family.

This article is quite apropos as I recently lost an aunt while travelling. I was only only a short flight away, but I found solace is remembering the good times and that her spirit lives on!


My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Jeanne.



That's a lot of losses in a year, particularly with the struggle to adapt to a new culture, a new language and the like.

And I guess the loss of a parent each, and the struggles of your mother can make travel feel a little like homelessness, rootlessness...

It must be tough not to have one place where you can just rest up at a time like this, I think.

Just to say, I hope you all get through this, and your mom gets the time with you she needs.

If you like to walk, there's a beautiful national park at the end of the island, a very tranquil place to go and wander.

Margaret Sch.

Very, very sorry that you and DaVinci both lost a dad this year. I'm sure Mozart was a bright light in both of their lives and they must have both been so proud of her and happy for all that she is experiencing out there in the beautiful world. I lost my own father 8 years ago, and still feel like it was yesterday. But I agree with the very insightful quote of Antoine de Saint-Exupery above. What a great legacy, for your dad (in your heart, obviously, no step) to be remembered by all for his love of life, love for your mom and love for everyone in his life. What greater legacy is that. Your mom must know how blessed she was. And she has a long journey ahead to recover a sense of "normal," if that is even possible. Again, Mozart will bring joy to her heart and comfort her, along with all of you. Thank you so much for sharing these very touching, though painful, places of your heart. I am thinking of Jesus' exhortation to "let the dead bury the dead." Sounds harsh but he spoke it in the context of calling followers to "come" with him -- and go out and love others. Following the way we are meant to go carries a price and also great rewards. Hugs to you all and I hope you feel better with each passing day -- while also finding ways to honor this beloved man's memory. (P.S. It also says a lot about you that you could have great love for a parent figure that came into your life during your adulthood. It shows me that you have kept your heart open -- and the amazing life experiences that you are sharing with Mozart during her formative years are all part of that openness.) This special man's spirit lives on in part through Mozart's zest for living.


Although I did not lose a family member, I lost a close friend while leading a youth choir tour in the UK.

The saving grace for me was an opportunity (while the choir was working with the staff at Westminster Abbey) to kneel in the little chapel and grieve. A woman came in and knelt beside me. After a while she laid her hand on mine, never saying a word.

It was an amazing moment of peace - almost like Gail was there telling me it was okay.

The woman left soon after without a word. Leaving me with a calmer heart in the midst of my sadness.

My condolences to you and your family. May the spirit of peace and love envelope you as those around you reach out to comfort you.


My thoughts are with you all. My 5 yo told me today mum you will always be with me, right? even when you are dead. You will be in my heart forever and ever and ever and ever. As I read your beautiful eulogies I can only think of her words, your dad, granddad will be with you forever and ever and ever and ever........



I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking and praying for your family.


so sorry to read this, my condolences to you and family. Death is not easy, Life just goes on with the good memories.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thank you all sooo much for your kind words, support and sharing your own stories.

It really means a lot and is so appreciated.


So sorry to read your sad news. Losing a parent at any age is a crushing blow. Take good care of yourselves.

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