Peripatetic: Stepping Outside, Alone

6 minute read - 7 months ago - Full Size Images

Peripatetic /ˌperəpəˈtedik/ to travel from place to place, in particular working or based in various places for relatively short periods.

Today was my second day abroad after I left Australia for a multi-month trip around the world, starting in South America, through to Africa, before ending in Europe. Having lived in Canberra for over 10 years, it's become the home I never thought I'd find after growing up as a child of global expat parents in Asia - and it'll be a refreshing change to explore parts of the world I've never seen before.

As I start this journey, I wanted to reflect on why overseas travel, or even just getting away to a nearby town, may be beneficial to people who have suffered a devastating loss. When things already feel so surreal, being in a foreign country with just a few personal items feels somehow less intimidating.

Hiking somewhere in Australia

Most people I've discussed my plans with were exhilarated - pumped to hear I'm throwing myself out there in the face of adversity. Others were nervous and hesitant, quietly asking if this too much for me to manage at such a difficult time in my life. On both sides of the coin, it's something that has typically started a longer conversation around balancing fear, comfort and facing your demons in life.

So, to both sides of the table, I wanted to discuss why I thought now was the right time to travel for me. In a loosely scientific way, I hope that in doing so I can reflect at the end of my adventures to see if my theories about tackling grief were right, or if this has just reduced me to even more of a mess. My core reasons to start are:

  1. Masquerading normality in the face of a devastating loss feels like the greatest disservice to the vastness of your loved one's existence.
  2. Exploiting renewed openness and perspectives towards the world, and experimenting with novelty to fill the spaces left behind
  3. Getting away from the constant reminders of the life that was, and entering a transitory space to find what will be.

(Sidenote) The Gear

I've taken a laptop, a camera and whatever else I could squabble into a carry-on sized backpack. I've reduced my needs to a subset of my day-to-day possessions, without compromising on comfort and practicality along the lines of a One Bag model. My backpack holds:

  • 4x t-shirts
  • 2x pants
  • 2x shorts
  • 3x pairs of underwear
  • 3x pairs of socks
  • 1x patagonia puffer jacket
  • thongs
  • runners
  • 2x lenses (Fujifilm prime 35mm and 18mm)
  • 1x Fujifilm X-T5
  • GoPro (Scuba case and all)
  • My laptop (MacBook Pro 14")
  • All my travel adapters and chargers
  • A bunch of my medication (including malaria tablets for 8 weeks)
  • All my travel toiletries
Laptop included off screen

I've gone one bag to attempt to improve my mobility in transit, minimise dependency on "stuff" and isolate what I actually need to be comfortable as a personal experiment. After building a life with Aaron it's been shocking going through all of our possessions and realising how little of it has any semblance of significance after death. If I can find comfort in less things (minimalism) perhaps upon my return  to Sydney in 2024 I can apply the same principles as I find a new home.

Some Random Carpark in Miami, South Beach, Florida, United States of America on Day One

The Clown Mask

When you have monumental shifts in perspective, it's important to step back and reflect on what parts of you have changed because you wanted them to, and what parts are because you were forced to. It's similar to coming out, where you go through a period of self-discovery in identifying who you presented to the world out of survival instincts in order to fit in, and later on, discovering and identifying what parts of you truly are you.

After being Aaron's carer, I found that I had poured so much into somebody else, that behind him a vacuum had formed which was sucking in whatever was around it. I found myself replacing: companionship, with an endless schedule of seeing friends and family; an intense desire for intimacy, with new friends (turns out this is completely normal), the conversations I had with Aaron, with writing online; and the enduring silence, with constant music.

When so much is being let in, like sand settling around rocks in a jar, I've found there is an opportunity to make a decision around what is being put into your jar in the first place. Is it healthy to replace silence with music? Yes, but is it always healthy to replace the loneliness with a jam packed social agenda as an introvert? Perhaps.

In the face of a devastating loss, it's easy to forget the degree of control you have over the way you respond to situations. It really honed in a similar notion that we all have complete responsibility for our own responses to situations. You can't blame your partner for dying and putting you into this mess, so you're forced to re-establish control of your own emotions in order to survive. I note that this principle of stoicism, I think anyway, should apply to every single relationship you have.

Something that has helped me profoundly is making salient that the way we respond to the world is largely chemically driven, which has enabled me to attempt to isolate my emotions in making decisions. I'm not suggesting we never incorporate emotions into our decision making processes, otherwise we would lack empathy; but to be aware of the circumstances driving the way we feel can help to determine what it is that we need that is ephemeral, and what it is we need that is enduring. It follows along the same principles as disregarding things that might seem important today, but are less so next week.

A treehouse at a ranch a close friend of mine built

Rewriting the Tapestry

When Aaron died and in the months that have followed, I have been drowning in a sea of emotions and decisions. A few weeks after he died, I returned to work and found a great deal of joy in the stability that restored to my life. Doing so made me reflect that in continuing down that track of restoring routine is to wipe away an opportunity to answer questions about myself and what I'm capable of doing. I realised I had an opportunity to assess what was going back into my jar, and whether the jar itself was even shaped in the way I wanted it to be - or if all that is left and is reforming is homeostasis of a life built before, one that was built under different circumstances.

To pay respects to my husband is to place the life I built with him alongside an episode of discovery that catalyses not just observing, but living and breathing the vastness of experience that life brings. Something, anything, needs to grow from the ground around our loved one's life. Otherwise, all that remains is loss. But before we plant the seeds of the new life we've been given, I reckon it's a good time to wander around for a while and see if there's a spot with a better view...

So alas, here I am in Miami. Tomorrow Texas. Next week, Mexico.

South Beach, Miami, United States of America