Traveling While Grieving

By Michelle Gladu, LMSW, Bereavement Counselor

Summer often means travel for many people – family events such as reunions, graduations, or simply a vacation can take us away from our daily lives and responsibilities for a while. Usually, we look forward to trips like these, but after the death of someone close to us, the idea of traveling can feel very different. After the death of a spouse, for example, a surviving spouse may be fearful and sad at the prospect of traveling alone. A family who has lost a parent or child may be overwhelmed at the thought of traveling with an important family member missing. Taking a trip also involves planning and decision-making, both tasks that people find difficult after a loss. There may be concerns about cost, memories of past trips with loved ones and, especially if a trip was planned prior to a loved one’s death, feelings of guilt for enjoying something the loved one no longer can. The changes in routine and sense of “getting away” that was once so welcome can produce anxiety after a loss, heightening the sense of “aloneness” grieving people feel. Grievers worry “How will I feel when I get there? What if I want to leave?” For some the fear of coming home to an “empty” house or returning to all the reminders of how life has changed is daunting. Despite these concerns,  traveling can have many positive benefits for someone who is grieving – a chance to gain a new perspective and possibly receive the love and support of extended family and friends. 

Some tips:

Have realistic expectations: Our expectations for fun, closeness with family and relaxation that come with vacations or trips may look different this year. Be kind to yourself and know your limits.

Be open about your feelings: Letting those you are traveling with or going to see know ahead of time that it may be hard for you at times can prepare them to be supportive.  

Plan wisely: Try planning a shorter trip and/or one closer to home than you might otherwise consider.

Strike a balance: Try to find a balance between scheduled activities and quiet time when you can rest or be alone with your thoughts and emotions.

Find Meaning: Seeking ways to remember and honor your loved one on the trip or starting a new family tradition can help ease the pain of missing your special person. 

Don’t go it alone: Have someone travel with you if possible.

Coming home: Asking someone to pick you up at the airport, for example, or simply to be at your home when you get there, can make a big difference. 

I frequently hear from those who are grieving that anticipating a trip is often the hardest part and that once they go they are glad they did.