” It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward” – Patti Davis
I am sure that most of us have found ourselves in the situation of having to travel during a time of loss. Whether it be to a city close by or across the country, or even across the world. Are we ever really prepared to make this journey? Our heart is heavy, we cry silent tears, the world will never be the same. We wonder, is it really possible to find beauty through grief travel?
NOTE: This article was originally published in 2019 and has since been updated in 2021
What is Grief
Grief is the feeling of intense sorrow. So think of grief as an oppressive, intense sorrow. We tend to associate grief with a loved one’s death, but it also applies to marriage break-ups, death of a pet, loss of a job, etc.
What is Grief Travel
Unfortunately there isn’t an “official” definition of the term “Grief Travel”. It is a term that I and others use to describe travel during a time of grief which helps us during the coping process for the days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years ahead.
How I Discovered Beauty Through Grief Travel
During the Christmas holidays, this is exactly what happened to me. The weekend before Christmas, I received the dreaded telephone call. My young niece of a mere 25 years had passed away quite unexpectedly. For the rest of the day and night, I was rendered immobile. I was in a complete state of shock. My heart broke for my brother and his wife, and for a young life taken too soon.
The following day I knew that I had to get it in gear as I only had two days to make arrangements to get to Kelowna, British Columbia (a 4.5 hour flight away), for my niece’s Celebration of Life. Panic time had now arrived, as the next day was Christmas and I was hosting my family Christmas on Boxing Day. That left me one day in which to get a flight, get packed, make arrangements for my puppy, and arrange a couple of extra days off of work.
So many things were going through my mind. Christmas is always the busiest time of year for airlines, transportation, and doggy daycare, not to mention the most expensive time to travel. I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to get a last minute flight.
Luckily for me, I am a frequent traveler and I have everybody on speed dial. I contacted Westjet directly rather than booking online or through my travel agent. When the agent learned my reason for having to travel, she did everything she possibly could to find me a flight out to Kelowna, and back, at a considerably reduced rate. It was still more expensive than usual given the time of year, but I did manage to get a reduced rate of around 35%.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself having to book a flight to attend a funeral or visit a critically ill family member, contact the airline directly for a bereavement rate
I eventually found doggy daycare for my puppy (out of the city). Arrangements were made for my transportation to and from the airport. I was able to arrange with work to have New Year’s Eve day off. Now to pack.
Because I am such a frequent traveler, I am usually prepared for last minute getaways. I typically keep my toiletries packed, and since I was only going to be gone for two days I didn’t have a lot that I had to pack. In less than 24 hours, all arrangements were made and puppy was at his daycare. I was exhausted, but I was reluctantly ready to take off.
On the day of travel I knew that it was necessary for me to get as much rest while travelling as I could. Even though the flight itself was only 4.5 hours, with layovers and commuting time I knew it was going to be a 12 hour day. I also knew that when I arrived at my brother’s house all hell would be breaking loose and people would be coming and going. I was totally dreading this trip!
As my flight was descending into Kelowna, my dread turned into complete awe. I was speechless. The vast mountain ranges and lakes which surround Kelowna were breathtaking. I had heard that Kelowna was a beautiful area, but I was not prepared for what was waiting for me! It was at this moment that I discovered that I could see beauty during grief.
Kelowna itself is an eclectic city located in the Okanagan Valley in Western Canada, situated along the eastern shores of Okanagan Lake. The city is surrounded by parks, lakes and vineyards and it is the perfect place to visit for the outdoor enthusiast, like me.
Kelowna is also the perfect place for artisans as well. In fact, my brother is an artist living in Kelowna and my sister-in-law owns the local art gallery, which displays artwork created by local residents, as well as artists worldwide.
In order to save money and to make it easier for me to help my brother and sister-in-law, I stayed at my brother’s house, which was located in an upscale subdivision high up in the mountains overlooking the city.
Lake Okanagan was also visible from his home. It truly was an oasis in the middle of the city, which surpassed any hotel or resort that I could have stayed at. Because of the mountainous location, many deer and other wildlife frequented the yard. They were so much fun to watch as they fed on my brother’s shrubs and lazed in the sunny yard. This brought a smile through my sadness. My brother wasn’t impressed that his shrubs were being destroyed lol.
The first full day in Kelowna was my niece’s Celebration of Life, which was held at my sister-in-law’s art gallery, Sopra Fine Arts. People from all across the globe flew to Kelowna to celebrate my niece’s life. While it was a time of mourning, it truly was a celebration of her love of life and adventurous spirit. The Kelowna people were full of love and the affection they felt for my niece was truly evident by their words and through their tears.
With my brother always being the ultimate host, on the Sunday after everybody had flown home, we grabbed a coffee from Starbuck’s and he took me on a tour of the area. We drove the steep hills higher up into the mountains where I felt like I was on top of the world standing mesmerized by my surroundings. We drove along Lake Okanagan which was partially frozen and sparkled like diamonds. We stopped at Mission Hill Winery and explored the sculptures scattered throughout the vineyard, while I marveled at the beauty of the surrounding lakes and mountains. For me, it doesn’t get much better than wine, lakes and mountains all in the same place. I was completely in my element.
They do say that the things you dread the most, usually turn out the best. Even though this last minute trip was heartbreaking, it was the best two day getaway I have ever had. I can’t wait to return to beautiful Kelowna when I can stay a little longer.
I returned home feeling at peace, with love and joy in my heart taking over my feeling of loss and sorrow.
How Grief Travel Helped Me See Beauty Again
This journey was truly a life altering experience for me. For the first time, I realized that it is possible to find true beauty even when being filled with extreme grief and sorrow.
Benefits of Grief Travel
I came to realize that even with the heaviest of hearts, grief travel had many benefits to offer:
- you escape the day to day routine of being at home
- Obligations are left behind
- you have the chance to explore and experience new things
- you meet and see the best in new people
- grief travel makes you realize that tomorrow is not promised, so you should be living in each and every moment of every day
- being away from your everyday day environment provides you with an entirely new perspective on things and the world around you
- you realize that all people are fighting some form of sadness
- you have a sense of freedom
- You become more adventurous
- exploring new things and meeting new people keeps your mind occupied
“Beauty is power, a smile is it’s sword”
I am certainly not saying that grief travel will heal your grief and take away your sorrow, as many times the sadness will be carried in your heart forever. I do know now that it is possible to find beauty again through grief travel which will help you as journey through grief in the coming days and years ahead. You just have to open your heart and your eyes to truly see and experience the beauty surrounding you.
Yours in Travel 🙂
NOTE: This article was originally written on the passing of my niece in 2018. Little did I know then that exactly 1 year later in 2019 I would be once again relying on grief travel to help me deal with the unexpected loss of my son. I have continued to rely on the lessons that I learned during my grief travel in this post. Has it helped? Yes. Has it healed my extreme sadness and loss? Absolutely not! But what it has helped me with is to realize that the world is in fact not full of darkness, that beauty is out there all around us, and I continue to look for it every day.
PIN TO HELP WITH YOUR GRIEF TRAVEL