Category Archives: Life, Death, Grief

Travelling with Grief

Anyone who’s lived through the loss of a loved one knows how truly challenging it can be to live with grief. While everyone experiences loss differently, it can often be a roller coaster of confusing and complicated emotions. Especially if your loved one had a big impact on your day to day life. From sadness to anger to a desperation, keeping up with the emotional fallout can be completely exhausting. Especially while trying to keep up with the ever-changing world that continues to buzz on around you.

Unfortunately, life has a way of moving on from loss faster than you do. For a while, friends and family do their best to help you through your tough transition. But, naturally, there comes a time when friends return to their lives, jobs expect you back at the office, and even your dog requires your return to daily rituals. While the world keeps on chugging forward, you feel frozen in your grief – stuck mourning your loss and trying to figure out how to start living again. Losing a loved one can change your life forever, and at times, it can feel like the rest of the world just doesn’t give a crap.

A few months after my mother’s passing, the world had already moved on. My friends assumed I was getting back on track, my extended family returned to their own lives, and the pressures of the post-grad job search started closing in on me. While life continued to happen around me, inside, I was nowhere near ready to start living again. So, overwhelmed, scared, and eager to escape the pressure to move on, I decided to pack up and run away to Europe for my first backpacking adventure.

Spain, 2012

Travelling is great for the soul no matter what state that soul is in. The experience of getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new, and challenging your status quo can be incredibly liberating and enlightening for just about anyone. But travel can be especially fulfilling – and even therapeutic – for people going through serious life changes. Whether it’s a breakup, a loss of direction, or the loss of a loved one, travel allows you to grow and find yourself in a compact, approachable way. And when you bring your grief along for the ride, truly great things can happen.

The first thing I learned while travelling with grief – and it didn’t take long to learn it – was that no matter how far you go, you can’t run from your pain. It will always be there waiting for you whenever you have a moment of downtime. At your hostel, on a train, even at the top of a mountain. There is no escaping your grief. Luckily, I also learned why I shouldn’t try. When you travel with grief…

1. You give yourself time to transition

One of the more challenging aspects of recovering from loss is living with the ghost of your loved one. When someone close to you passes, they can leave a massive hole in your life, reminding you of their absence over and over again. Attempting to live on like nothing has changed is near impossible with this constant reminder. Travelling can act as a sort of pallet cleanser after a loss, helping you transition from your old life with your loved one, to your new one without them. Think of it as an emotional buffer, allowing you to step out of your day-to-day just long enough to get some distance and clarity, then return to your new situation as a new person.

2.  You escape external pressures

After a loss, it can feel like your life has stopped, but the world continues whipping around you at high speed. The expectations, responsibilities, and pressures to move on can add anxiety and confusion to an already challenging time in your life. When you travel, you strip all of that away, allowing yourself some time and space to focus on your pain – free of all the other emotional noise. Travelling allows you a chance to feel a more purified, distilled version of grief that can be hugely beneficial to your overall healing process. Sometimes, you just need the space to truly feel.

3.  You find yourself

If you were close to your loved on, their disappearance from your life can have you questioning who you are without them. Redefining yourself and rediscovering your certainty after loss is no small task. While it may take a long time to settle into the new you, travel can help you kick-start the process. You can learn a lot about yourself when you hit the road for distant lands. Experiencing new things and encountering new challenges can help you discover your likes and dislikes while diving deeper into what drives you and helps you feel alive.

4. You rediscover your self-confidence

Overcoming the challenges of navigating a foreign country can help you find the confidence you need to believe you can live on without your loved one. You will find the proof you need in your capabilities and self-reliance while you explore incredible new worlds.

5. Finally, you learn to embrace your grief

When my mother died, I literally fled to another continent in an attempt to escape my pain. I never expected that the resulting adventure would change the direction of my entire life. From that trip on, I learned that instead of fighting my grief, I could use it to fuel my adventurous spirit, letting it take me to places I never thought I’d go. I would never have gotten on that plane had it not been for my grief. Now, I have a long and exciting bucket list that I’m slowly chipping away at, taking the memory of my mother with me everywhere I go. A lot of good can come from loss when you learn to embrace it and let it lead you to new adventures.

You may never truly move on from your loss. But it doesn’t need to be a burden on your back. On my most recent hike of the Tour Du Mont Blanc, four and a half years after my first grief vacation to Europe, I found myself at the Grand Col Ferret, 2,537 feet above sea level, struggling to get to the peak. I had sprained my ankle and was exhausted from carrying my 40-pound backpack up the steep incline to the border between Italy and Switzerland. It was an incredible view, and the crisp mountain air helped push me forward. But that day, I was not on top of my game. The night before, I’d had a dream about my late mother, and while I always enjoy a surprise appearance from my mom in my dreams, the emotional distraction made my climb that day much more challenging. Nearing the end of my emotional rope, my resolve broken, I started to cry. So I stopped and took a few deep breaths. For just a moment, I stared out at the mountain, and I shared a moment with my mom. I showed her the view, shared a few anecdotes from my adventure so far, and asked her if she was proud of me. Though I knew I wouldn’t receive any kind of real response, I knew that she was. And with her support in my heart, I was able to pick myself up again and finish the trek to the top of the Col – an accomplishment I will always cherish.

Grand Col Ferret

There will never be a time when I don’t miss my mom, but I know that she will always be with me, cheering me on from the sidelines.

Loss is something that is personal to everyone, and there are many ways to cope with it in your life. But if you have a few weeks and some cash to spare, my advice is to pack up your emotional baggage and hit the road. You will not regret it. I promise.

Throwback to Europe, 2012 – the trip that changed my life

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Why I Am and Why I Do

This is going to be hard for me.

I tend to be a relatively private person. I’ve even struggled with keeping blogs going in the past as I generally prefer to keep to myself. Opening up isn’t something I’ve ever excelled at. However, it’s time to take the step I’ve been trying to take for years. After much soul searching and growth, I’m finally ready to share my experiences and open the door for good.

Sometimes in life, we encounter pivotal moments that have a way of changing everything. Moments that redirect our entire life’s path and make us question every step we’ve ever taken and every step we’re planning to take. For me, that moment was on April 8th, 2012: the night my mother died.

It was around 11 pm on Easter Monday about four years ago. I had just gotten back to college after a glutinous weekend of food and family in my hometown. Just as I was getting ready to go to bed, my phone rang. Confused about who could possibly be calling so late on a weeknight, I reached over and glanced at the caller ID. It was my father, and I instantly knew something was wrong. I answered the phone, and he said the words I’d been waiting for since I was a child. “Mom’s gone.”

I remember my gasp. I remember my confusion. I remember being completely unable to process anything my Dad was telling me. I had seen my mother less than five hours earlier, waving goodbye to me in the driveway of my childhood home. It didn’t seem real. In just one moment, my whole life had changed, and it would never be the same again.

My mother was my whole world. She was also an alcoholic. I had spent the majority of my first 20 years of life deeply involved in her bumpy road to sobriety – an end goal she would tragically never reach. My mother was a loving, wonderful woman who left a mark on everyone she knew. But she was conflicted. Her greatest weakness was her inability to love herself, and that self-loathing is what ultimately drove her to an early grave with a bottle in her hand.

The family she left behind was more broken than we even knew was possible, more dysfunctional than we had even been while in the throes of her addiction. Through the decades of sadness and conflict, we had never noticed that she had become the centre of our family. She was the beating heart and soul, and without her, we all fell apart. My father, my brother and I all went our separate ways, and things have never been the same since. I had wanted nothing more than for us to come together and learn to be the healthy family I always dreamed we could be. But we weren’t healthy. We were broken and we didn’t know how to be a family without her. So I was left with no comfort, no direction, and only my cluster of conflicting emotions to tear at my mind day in and day out for the next several years. Only within the last couple years has that started to change.

My journey has been a challenging one. You see, I was young when I learned of my mother’s addiction, and somewhere in my little mind, I  believed I could fix it. I really thought I could save her life if I tried hard enough. So I dedicated much of my developing years to spending time with her, keeping an eye on her, and trying desperately to help her feel like she was loved. Most of all, I spent my childhood try to keep her sober. I would search her bags, learn all her hiding places, and confront her with the bottles I found. I believed that if I kept it up, if I fought her addiction with her, she would eventually kick it for good and we could all live happily ever after. Finally, the way it was meant to be.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as happily ever after.

That night, on Easter weekend in 2012, I learned that awful, painful truth. My mother was gone, and I had failed at the only goal I had ever had; saving her life. I was about to graduate college with no idea who I was and what I was supposed to do without her. I, Kay Benedek, didn’t exist as a whole person outside of the alcoholic situation. I had put all my own goals and desires aside to focus on her and her addiction. So when she died, I suddenly found myself, at 22 years old, with no idea what it meant to be me. Just me. So I grieved. I grieved for her, and I grieved for the version of myself that died with her. I was a blank slate. And that was almost as terrifying as facing life without her.

That was four years ago, and since that day, I’ve been on an unstoppable journey of self-discovery.

It has been anything but easy, and there have been days where it felt like I just couldn’t go on. It would be so easy to just give up and disappear forever. Just dissolve into nothingness. So many days I spent wishing I could do just that… but I couldn’t. My mother’s death had ignited in me a desire to live. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t die with the same regrets she had. I wouldn’t live a life of fear and doubt like she had. I would figure out who I was, and I would live – for both of us. Ultimately, I know that’s what she would want me to do.

So, here I am, years down the road with more miles on my soul than I can express, learning to make that work for me. Though my pain has been there with me through all of my adventures and experiences, I find myself being thankful for it. I have seen amazing things, been to beautiful places, and made lifelong friends. My struggles with my mother’s life and death have made me stronger, braver, and more determined than I ever knew I could be. And with her love and support never leaving my heart, I know that nothing can stop me from living my life to the fullest.

I am no less lost now than I was that day. I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but I do know that my journey is nowhere near complete. I’m scared and I’m hurt. I’ve been through a lot, learned a lot about myself, and I know I still have some things to work through. But in my pain and grief, I find the drive I need to keep pushing, healing through every new adventure. That is what brings me to this very step. This is the next stage in that growth.

Everyone has a cross to bear. Everyone is working through something. This blog is my attempt to embrace my complicated past, celebrate my incredible accomplishments, and inspire others to do the same. Together, we can all be a bunch of dysfunctional folks, living for every new day and every new adventure.

I am Wander Woman Kay Benedek, and I will never stop.

Mom – this one, and every one after it, is for you.