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When Your Parent Dies While You're Traveling

by Katie Karambelas Dec 19, 2016

It’s a strange feeling to be thousands of miles away when your world comes stumbling to a halt. You feel the ground shake, but instead of the big earthquake you expect it to be, it’s more of a small vibration, that only you can feel. Because you aren’t home. You aren’t where the rocks are falling off of cliffs. Instead, you’re in a land that has no idea you’re breaking. You’re too far away for anyone to care that just sitting there, in a restaurant drinking a beer, is the hardest damn thing you’ve ever had to do.

In my time I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve always felt the term Fernweh, which is a German word described as “away-sickness” far too often. I always felt more at home when I was going, moving, getting onward. But when you get the phone call that your mom has died and you’re away, you have homesickness, something everyone else always had but you never knew actually existed. And this debilitating kind of homesickness is one that would never actually be cured by going home, because you know that home isn’t the same as you’ve left it. Not that it ever really is once you come home from traveling.

So you put on your rain boots and you trek out to the Cliffs of Moher, or you drive the Ring of Kerry, and each time it rains and a new rainbow appears, you tell yourself it’s just mom saying hi. It’s just her saying everything is going to be okay. You tell yourself that this is a totally possible thing, even though you aren’t really sure that these places like Heaven and Hell really actually exist. If they do, then your heart will be comforted. But how do we ever really know? So you push on, telling yourself that the rainbow is mom, and you’ll be okay.

But there are times where people are laughing and chatting at the bar, a cold Guinness in their hand, and all you want to do, for the love of God, is slap that damn beer out of their hand and shake their shoulders and scream, “My mom just fucking died, you twit! She is gone, forever. She doesn’t exist and you’re laughing! You’re fine! and I’m not. And it isn’t fair.” But you don’t. Because their world hasn’t shattered. It’s only you. And you’re alone, even though you’re surrounded by a million faces.

I got engaged the day before my mom passed. It’s a whirlwind of emotions in 24 hours to receive some of the best news of your life, and then turn it on its head and get the worst. You want to celebrate, and then you want to hurl. You want to scream and yell and give up. Because how can life be so cruel? How can you get everything you wanted and then have it ripped away the very next day?

There are plane rides and car rides and bus and taxi rides to go on. There are sights to see. There are new people to meet. But each journey seems to bring you farther and farther away from the person you were, the person who had a mom. And you begin to wonder, as people talk about their own family, when you’ll ever be able to bring up your parent again in conversation without shaking, or a burning sensation in the back of your eyelids. You hope it will be soon, but at the same time you don’t, because that means that you really don’t have a mom. That means it’s a real thing, and at least while you’re away, maybe you can hold on to a small bit of hope that you’re just living a nightmare inside a dream.

But you know that you aren’t. This is real. And you have two more weeks before the traveling is over and life sets back in. So you cling to the alleyways, and the darkness of your bedroom at night; you drink too much booze and end up with your face in the toilet. You even coexist with your travel mates, but are never really there. Because your heart and your mind are back home, even though you know your parent would want you to enjoy this, that they waited until you got on that damn plane before they let go. But you expected them to be there when you got home. You expected to tell them stories and show them pictures of all the marvelous sights and experiences.

So you hope to God that the things people tell you are true. You hope that she really is there with you. That she is traveling with you.

And you cry, a lot. But you also live, too. Because that’s what they didn’t get to do, and you know that traveling is a gift, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

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