April 13, 2024

Adventure Chronicles Forum

Navigating Travel Tales

Making Family Travel Memories After Death, Grief, and Loss

4 min read

I never imagined I would be in this position, orphaned in my 30s, and yet here I am. My father died (suddenly) when I was 12. He suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm on November 13, was declared brain dead on November 14, and passed—after his partner and spouse signed a DNR, or do not resuscitate order—on November 21. He was 39. My mother succumbed to an equally tragic and sudden death, passing in the spring of 2020. She was 65. And I was left to pick up the pieces. To try and make sense of it all and to explain to my children, now 10 and 5, why I cannot fill in the holes in our family tree.

Of course, grief is an interesting thing. It comes in waves, as anyone who has lost someone will tell you. It is untimely and unpredictable and permeates every aspect of your being. Of your life. It also impacts you in the most obscure and profound ways. I have found that, because of the loss of my father, I am superstitious about making it to my own 40th birthday—which is less than one month away. But perhaps the greatest impact their loss has had on me (and the loss of my past) is that it has made me persistently present. I feel I must be making Kodak-quality memories at all times. And for me, the best way to make memories is through travel. Why? Because those are the memories from my own childhood that are most marked. They are the moments that stand out in my own mind.

Admittedly, we should not travel as much as we do. We go somewhere most months because I get antsy. Because I worry something will happen and we won’t have that last instant. That last moment. That last family memory. I worry my children are missing out on joy and happiness. On laughs and love. And, well, I worry. I. Just. Worry. But travel provides an interesting and insightful vantage point into life. It gives us time to slow down—and catch up. Travel gives us time to connect with one another, and disconnect from the world. And travel gives us the chance to celebrate the little things we often take for granted, like shared meals (and jumping on furniture).  

So we go, when we can, to beaches and theme parks. We take family hikes and travel to different cities across the United States, and we do so on a fairly regular basis. We are season pass holders at Legoland New York, for example. We went to Orlando in October—and spent a week in the Poconos in July—and we do “touristy” things as well as some more off-the-grid type stuff. One of my favorite memories of this past year was pulling into an empty field in central Pennsylvania to watch a drive-in movie. I also take copious amounts of pictures, not for Facebook, Instagram, or social media but for me. Always for me. Because I want to capture the moment. I want to be able to remember it all.

It’s worth noting that many of my favorite spots are those that I visited as a child: Universal Studios, Knoebels, Walt Disney World. They are places that evoke emotion for me, despite their commercial appeal. And, as busy as they get, they feel comforting. It’s like going home. Because I can remember walking Main Street U.S.A. with my parents. I can still recall how the smell of Kettle Korn permeates the end of the Haunted Mansion, and yes, I remember standing atop my father’s shoes—and then crying my eyes out—when I failed to meet the height requirement for Disney’s Tower of Terror. But that is because these moments meant something to me, then and now. They mattered. 

You see, there is something special about travel. Something magical. It transcends time. And while my past is—in many ways—mingling with my present when I travel, I am making new memories. We are creating new moments to cherish. Going on new adventures together, even if we travel to some of the same places (and in some of the same spaces). And while every trip cannot be to the “most magical place on Earth,” I don’t discount the small ones—and you shouldn’t either. Road trips can be an adventure. Seemingly simple, overnight stays can be entertaining and fun. And day trips can be an inexplicably unique experience.

So while traveling every month is (for most) impractical—while booking a week-long vacation may be illogical and improbable—I encourage you, if you can, to take the drive. Book the hotel. And get in your family pictures. Because travel isn’t just about a destination, it is about a journey. It is about a trip. Travel is about a moment and memory waiting to happen. 

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