How a year on the road saved my life and helped me grieve

Guest post by MaryCake

Original drawing by MaryCake
Original drawing by MaryCake
I’ve known my fiancé since we were kids in our very small town. I was the quiet art weirdo, and he was the smart funny guy who made socializing seem effortless. He has always loved travel, and was saving up for a year-long road trip cross-country, to take with his brother after he finished grad school, and his brother got out of the army.

When his brother passed away in Afghanistan in 2010, our lives were shattered pretty completely. He was one of those guys who knew everyone, who everyone was friends with. His death impacted everything, and left us in the center of this desolate vortex of grief.

Not knowing how else to proceed, we kept moving and decided to still take the trip together. We saved up money for a year and pretty much sleepwalked our way to the departure date. Looking back now, to some degree, I was a little scared of this great unknown — but nothing could be worse than the stagnant sadness we felt at home.

So on a hot sweltering day in July, we packed the Volvo and drove off.

The road trip brought life back into our hearts. We began to feel joyful about things, we woke up excited about the next experience. We stopped being ghosts to each other and just trying to survive the day. It gave us quiet time to talk, and listen, and revel in the freedom of anonymity in a new place.

My time on the road with my partner taught me that sometimes your backpacking tent will feel more like home than any other place in the world.

It taught me that I am so much tougher and stronger than I thought I was.

It taught us what our breaking points are, and when to push through and when to call it a day.

We learned that spicy Thai food, a pitcher of beer, and a second-run movie theater can cure any degree of road fatigue.

I learned my passion for bear safety, and that I don’t need a shower that often.

The road trip taught me that happiness can be simple and unburdened.

In time we realized that we could look to the future with joy instead of more sadness. Grief isn’t something that goes away; like a properly balanced pack, you learn its weight and how to move with it through your day.

Life is fairly normal since our return to our home. We still get the itch every now and then, to hop in the car, to disappear for a few days. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we just put another log in the wood stove and curl up on the couch.

Comments on How a year on the road saved my life and helped me grieve

  1. This is beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing your story. There is some kind of power in the hum of tires on the road or quiet footsteps on paths.

  2. This gave me chills! I read it to my boyfriend as well and he stopped mid working and listened until the end and exclaimed “that was beautiful.” I’d have to agree. You have channeled your grief into wonderful memories with your fiancé and seem to have come out the other end stronger emotionally. I wish you love and light as you continue your healing process.

  3. Lovely. When my husband and I were dating we took a roadtrip across the Us, from San Francisco to New York, down to Florida and back. It was truly the most amazing experience and let us know that if we could handle that, we could handle anything!

  4. I am so sorry for your and your family’s loss. It’s unfair. I’m glad you two found healing through the open road – it can be so cathartic.

    I can also relate to the traveling while grieving. We lost our first baby in March 2010, and in June 2010 we loaded up our best friend’s Westy and went east to the ocean for a month. By experiencing life again it helped us as a couple shake off the worst of the grief and allowed us to start to heal. This summer we hope to add to our east coast memories by bringing our two subsequent kids on another road trip. Life keeps moving and so shall we.

  5. thank you! It’s heartwarming to hear that our story has touched other people’s hearts and that others have had similar experiences healing through travel. This offbeat community is a beautiful place

  6. “In time we realized that we could look to the future with joy instead of more sadness. Grief isn’t something that goes away; like a properly balanced pack, you learn its weight and how to move with it through your day.” God, isn’t this so true?? Beautiful.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    Are there places that stood out to you on your trip, that you’d recommend to others who are contemplating a road trip but don’t have as much time to spend? Next year my partner will finish school and I’m planning to switch careers…we’ve talked about taking a month or so for ourselves, but we don’t know where we’d go on a road trip. I love the idea of using travel as a means for processing major life changes.

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