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Saying goodbye to my grandmother and losing loved ones while traveling

I arrived in Quito yesterday after spending 4 days in the Galapagos Islands. It was a great experience and one that I’d like to repeat at some point in the future, but with a 500mm lens to do some proper wildlife photography. It was a great experience and I’ll be writing on it in more details when my photos are edited (which I hope to finish this week).

My mood was changed, however, when I found out later that night that my grandmother passed away. She was 90 years old and and suffered several bouts of ill health. This is one of the things that many people worry about when traveling: having a loved one pass away when you are gone.

This was an possibility I discussed with my parents before I began traveling in 2007. When you grandmother is in her upper 80’s, the possibility of her passing away while you are traveling is something you have to think about. My mother told me many times if something should happen I shouldn’t fly back home. If something did happen it would probably be sudden and by then it would be too late.

I did have to deal with this last year when my father passed away. I was in Spain when I heard he was hospitalized and I eventually made it back to Wisconsin after being delayed for a week by the volcano in Iceland. Thankfully, I was there for him for almost 2 months before he passed away.

I looked into getting flights back to Wisconsin from Quito but 1) there was no guarantee that I’d make it back in time for the funeral, and 2) it would have been prohibitively expensive. I have no problem paying the money, but my mother agreed that it was best to just stay put and I’d pay my respects when I return. It was a hard decision to make but it is probably for the best. I’m sure that is what my grandmother would want.

I am glad that I stopped by to pay her a visit before I left on this trip two weeks ago. When I last talked to her she seemed as in good of health as you can expect for being 90. There had been health scares in the past where we thought she wasn’t going to make it. One two separate occasions doctors told my mother and my aunts that she only had a day or two to live. In both cases, she kept right on going.

In talking to people who are thinking of traveling long term, this subject comes up more frequently than I would have expected. Many people are frightened about the idea of losing someone while they are away having fun. I understand the fears completely.

Everyone has to answer that problem in their own way. Obviously, if someone is in critical condition and something could happen soon, traveling might not be a great idea.

However, I don’t think you can live your life waiting for people to die. I know my grandmother was proud of me. She always asked my mother “Where is Gary?” and she enjoyed all the photos I showed which I took around the world. Even though she never read my site, she was aware of what I was doing. (Not only did she never own a computer, she still had a rotary phone in her house!)

It is tough losing someone who has been apart of your entire life. It is even tougher when you aren’t around to say goodbye.

This is the second time I’ve had say goodbye to a family member on this website. I hope I never have to do it again.

Grandma, I will miss you.

  • 21 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. FutureExpat says:

    So sorry for your loss, Gary. My grandparents are long gone, but I lost my mother earlier this summer and my Dad last year. They lived in upstate NY and I’m in FL, so even though I wasn’t traveling there was still no way I could be with them for their sudden passing.

    I don’t know whether my dad was really aware of our plans to move overseas, but just a few weeks before her death, my mother told me she was proud of me for being so forward thinking. She would certainly not have wanted me to hang around waiting for her to die. . .

  2. Sorry to hear this Gary, you have been hit with two major losses in the past year or two. It was losing my parents (and breaking up with my fiance) that inspired me to travel in the first place. Life is precious. The best way to honour our loved ones who have passed on is to enjoy life to the fullest.

  3. Stuart says:

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Like you say it is a very common occurence. I guess death is. Every year we travel we find ourselves torn by the demands of crises, illness and the like back home. In a way it’s part of the experience, dealing with this while you are away, figuring out whether the tug to go home is more important than the lure of continuing travel. It’s a hard call weighing up where is really most important to be in the big picture.

  4. Jillian says:

    So sorry for your loss Gary. I often worry about this as well. It is difficult when you have older grandparents and parents while traveling. But they wouldn’t want you to wait around for them. They want you to live your life! :)

  5. Sorry to hear about your loss Gary, hope your coping.
    I’m sure your grandma would want you to keep on living your dream. She might be buried in Wisconsin but she’ll always be watching over you wherever you are.

  6. Audrey says:

    Dan and I really very sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I hope your family is doing OK and remembering her spirit through memories. I like the image of her rotary phone.

    I lost my grandmother last year when we were in the Czech Republic. Like you, I had been able to spend time with her when we were in the States a few months before. She was able to come see one of our presentations about our journey and was able to better understand what we were doing and why. I’m so thankful for this.

  7. Chris says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss. My grandmother passed away while I was in China, and I was not able to make it back. I know how you feel, and I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers.

  8. Erik says:

    Sorry for your loss. I’m sure she had great pride in all you’ve accomplished, and, like most grandparents, she probably enjoyed telling people about all of your adventures.

  9. RoseAllen says:

    This is very tough and much more that you can’t make it to the funeral but everything happens for a reason and wither you have been there with here or not she will always be a great part of you which what is important and what matters most.

  10. Manny says:

    My sympathies to you and to your loved ones. Your grandma’s one of the fortunate ones who lived long fruitful lives. My mom died in 1995 and I was also traveling when it happened. She was ok when I left but when I finally made contact with my sister after the hotel clerk handed me the telegram, they were getting ready for her funeral. Life is short, death could come “like a thief in the night.” We have a limited time to be happy and to do good on this earth.

  11. jeanne says:

    Sorry for your loss Gary. I am new to this bloging thing. I am also from Wisconsin and i am going solo this year. First stop the galapagos. I worry about my parents they are in there 80s. I never take a phone on a trip. I pray they are there when i return.

  12. Mica says:

    So sorry to learn of your loss Gary. The best thing is that you were able to see her before you left on your trip. Also, hearing about your travels probably made her very proud of you.

  13. Liv says:

    It always leaves you feeling so still and empty when you get news like this from loved ones at home. You are lucky to have seen each other recently and should hold onto that memory. My father died last year delaying my trip abroad, but I wouldn’t have been anywhere but by his side.

  14. charmine says:

    Very sorry for your loss Gary. While it’s sad you didn’t get to say goodbye,at least you met and spoke to grandma a few weeks ago.I hope you find solace in the fact she knew you loved travel and was proud of what you do.

  15. Deepest condolensces, Gary. This is one of my fears also. Most of the time I live far from home and it’s been getting progressively farther. My grandfather passed away when I was on a whirlwind tour of Europe and my parents didn’t want to break the news to me. When I got back, a pile of postcards I’d sent to him were there unread.

    When there’s a death and you’re away, this can’t be helped. Had you been there, there’s no guarantee you might have still not been able to say goodbye. Your grandmother knew you loved her and were concerned about her. This was enough. She would’ve wanted you to continue to live your dream. So live it for her. Live it with passion and life!

  16. Darren Alff says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing. I too have been in a situation where I was away from home during the passing of a loved one, but I actually found it easier to deal with on the road. In other words, I was glad I wasn’t at home with everyone else.

  17. Donna Hull says:

    My sympathies to you and your family, Gary. Going home or staying on the road? That’s a hard decision to make. You just do your best. My dad only lived 3 hours away by plane but I still didn’t make it in time to say goodbye to him before he passed on. But I told him in my heart. He knew. So does your grandma.

  18. My deepest condolences Gary.

    We had to make a similar decision – only about whether to leave or stay – earlier this summer. There are no easy answers – but I hope you find comfort knowing your grandmother understood your love of travel and was so very proud of you.

  19. t hartwig says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Gary. I’m glad you got to see here recently.

  20. Crissy says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss.

    This is something that I’ve thought of over the years, but never really thought too hard about until thus Spring. I was on a Med cruise in June, mom had gotten a hip replacement 3 weeks before I left. While I was away she developed MRSA infection, had emergency surgery to remove her hip and was in isolation in the hospital. My family didn’t tell me until the night before I came home and even then downplayed it. I’m thankfully I didn’t know any sooner, it was stressful enough flying home. The only worse flight I had was flying on the day of a plane crash after saying goodbye to someone I loved. 4 months later we still have to wait another month for her to get a hip. It’s been a long road, and a reminder that you need to live life and that you can’t stop it waiting for something bad to happen, life will let you know when it does.

  21. Kimberly says:

    Gary I am so sorry for your loss and, in a sence know how you feel. My Grandmother passed away almost eight years ago and I never got to say goodbye. She lived in California and I was living in Alabama and didn’t have the money to travel. She use to call me begging me to come and get her, I didn’t have the money and still feel very guilty after all this time. My situation was very diferent from yours but, I still understand about not being able to say goodbye.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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