Saturday, August 22, 2009

Travel and home

I've never traveled sad before.

It was more like living the life of a manic depressive, rather than a grief-stricken traveler. In some ways, instead of visiting Panama, I felt like I visited crazy.

Some days, I was ecstatic, driven to travel long distances with a two-year old for the possible glimpse of a hummingbird, or totally jazzed to hit the fisherman's beach to bargain for some fresh catch. I tweeked on some self-motivated high, bouncing on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands like a motivational speaker. "Come on, people, those monkeys aren't throwing poop at themselves. We've got a jungle to trek." Other days, I could barely muster a walk out of the bedroom. I woke up several times during the night thinking about Jack the dog at my sister's house, dissecting our last phone conversation. I was wracked with guilt, and overwhelming anxiety that her husband was put-out by watching the dog. THE DOG! My anxiety ruined my sleep. In all, my lows were...dark. I felt so far away, so alone, so so sad. Lucy's death seemed so small and far away, like a dot I saw on the tarmac of Newark as our plane arched toward Central America. Oh, but I packed her death. It ached in my every joint, in every inch of my being. Some days, every activity seemed rather pointless or overwhelming or both. "Eh, I'd rather be watching Dora the explorer in Spanish with Beatrice."

And I remained cold. Eight degrees off the equator, and sister is shivering. I wore my sweater most nights, and during the day, I laid in the sun without breaking a sweat. I couldn't get warm. It's been like this since Lucy died, not being able to feel warmth. Maybe in some ways, I carry a bit of winter solstice in my body now.


Our vacation was sandwiched between two incredibly trying flying experiences. Let's just say, on our way there, we arrived at Newark International at 1pm, we arrived in the beach house in Panama at 5am. Beatrice feel asleep for the first time at 3am. I was the lady in the back of the plane holding her screaming child and thinking, "Why did I do this to her? Why am I so fucking selfish? What is wrong with you, Angie? Now you have to go back the same way. You have to repeat this experience in ten days." The way home all I can say is two words. Hurricane Bill. I cried during very chaotic turbulence, because what I didn't dare speak before my trip, or during, was that I was convinced I was not coming home from Central America. Riptide. Hanta virus. Panamanian drivers. Mud slide. Pool accident. Infected finger. Lightning. Freak machete accident. The ways in which one can die on a vacation are surprisingly varied, interesting and around every corner. The pilot actually came on the loud speaker on our return flight to say that we may have to make an "emergency fuel landing." This is it, I thought. I was the one with tears in my eyes and hand raised. "Uh, is that emergency landing because we have no fuel? Or is that a landing to get fuel? Could you just clarify the emergency part?"

Once you are on the shitty end of statistics, you know, you think that is your homeland. A shitty small land where no death scenario is too far-fetched, wild, or out of the realm of possibility and everyone's last name is Murphy. I even imagined different ways to be imprisoned in a Panamanian jail for being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a drive on a desolate piece of highway. None of this is easy to explain to people who don't live their day to day life with two people raising a curious, adventurous two year old while also mired in grief because their youngest child died for no apparent reason. My mother lost patience, thought I was crazy, is possibly writing her own post about her batshit fucking crazy daughter and son-in-law on a blog I do not know about.

Sometimes I just cried, not because I saw Beatrice's imminent drowning, but because I wanted Lucy to be in the pool with her sister and her father, bouncing and just was supposed to be different. I hate seeing Beatrice without her sister. My husband without his daughter. The world without a little giggling girl.


There was part of me that imagined this trip as something healing, something different than it was. I tried not to build it up or imagine it being a vacation from my grief. But I admit part of me felt like maybe a change of scenery would change my grief, a respite from the exhausting heavy weight of it. Maybe like Atlas passing the world to Heracles for a brief minute just to stretch the shoulders. How could I not be happy in such a beautiful place? But the anxiety, the pure exhausting nature of grief, it sort of felt amplified because of the harsh juxtaposition. Lush green. Grief. I could look out of our room onto the expanse of the Pacific, and still, I was sad, so fucking sad. It's easier to be sad in New Jersey. You are supposed to be sad in New Jersey. You aren't supposed to be sad in paradise.

The other part involves this deep fantasy of my youth. One where this large Panamanian family of women like the best parts of my mother would rally around me during my time of need, where I would be in the center of this great knot of women supporting me, grieving with me, holding me close, loving me. Like this community, except with a bunch of women that look like me. Thirty some cousins (three aunts) came over for a day, and not one person mentioned Lucia. They berated me for my horrible Spanish (One of those things upon which my grief wreaked havoc. I couldn't think in another language. I just wanted to cry during most conversations where I had to translate.) They talked about how beautiful Bea's eyes are, and Sam's height. They lectured me about how I need to teach her Spanish before she gets too old. But I felt so fucking alone. So very Other. No one approached me, unless I held Beatrice. One cousin who I have been closest to asked me what I do all day, you know, for work.

Later after everyone left, I asked my mother if everyone knew about Lucia's death, if they knew I was grieving. And she said impatiently, "Everyone has their own losses to deal with, Angie." And she proceeded to list everyone in our family who has died in the last two years. Okay, I fucking get it. I'm a selfish asshole as well as grieving. Everyone suffers. Suck it up, kid.

On one day, during a particularly difficult scene in HP7, which I finished during my trip, I was weeping. Not a tear, but a deluge. A full-on sob. No one else probably wept at this, but when Mrs. Weasley begins fighting Bellatrix...screaming...yeah, for those who have read it, you know, she was protecting her children. She was screaming at her, releasing her anger. I freaking lost it. And Beatrice, who had been coloring, got up, and ran out of the room. Back she came with my mother in tow, repeating, "Ita, look Mommy crying. Look, Mommy crying." For fuck's sake, it is Harry Potter, and my mother is trying to comfort me.


To say I didn't have a good time is not true. It was beautiful, and some highs were incredibly amazing. To be present. Have your breath taken away by a moss covered wall and a waterfall. To eat up a view. To delight in twenty hummingbirds flying around your daughter and you. To just have a few hours swimming with your family, without a thought of cellulite or bills. Well, we did. We had some amazing days. But right now, late into the night, after a long flight, and staring for fifteen uninterrupted minutes at a heartbreakingly small urn, all I can say, I missed home.

(PS: I'm trying to catch up on email and blogs. 259 in my reader. Holy shit. I thought about all y'all a lot.)


  1. I just have so much to say Angie. I think we had very similar experiences this past week, trying to find beauty amongst all our pain.
    I need to gather my thoughts to blog something coherent about it. I hope I can be as eloquent as this.
    Missed you so much and felt your love while I was away.

  2. I am so sorry that your family did not acknowledge your sweet Lucy. It is so painful for others to ignore our children, I wish they would have at least told you they were so sorry. I am glad you were able to find some moments of joy in your time in paradise. xx

  3. "Everyone has their own losses to deal with."

    WFF? I hate people who say that. Why do they say that? It's a sure way to put my back up every time. And I know they don't mean to be disparaging, but somehow they are, every single time.

    I'm sorry your trip was stressful. I understand. My trips since Freyja died and then Kees died have been like that. It's like there's a part of me which is terrified of "something bad" happening which stops me from letting go and having fun.

    Welome home.

  4. I am sorry that parts of your trip were not what you wanted/expected. We have tried to go on a few trips ourselves and have always been a little disappointed with them in the end.

    I too, cried while reading HP7. I read it before all of this happened so it was at different parts at the time. I am afraid to read it again. I am sure I would have an entirely different reaction to it this time around.

    Glad you are back - you were missed!

  5. ah, Angie.. I'm sorry the vacation wasn't everything you hoped for. Glad you had some good times too though. I hear ya on the statistics.. I used to think they were my friend... but now I think they suck! It's not so easy when we find ourselves on the wrong side, right?

  6. Welcome back Angie. There's so much I want to say but I can't find the words. I'm just pleased you're back safe.

  7. I am SO glad you're back! I missed you so much. I'm so sorry that your family didn't acknowledge Lucia. Reality can be so much less than what we lovingly imagine.
    I imagine that the hummingbirds swarming around you guys was surreal and beautiful. Just the thought of it makes me smile.

    Did I mention that I missed you..

  8. Boy, did I miss you. Thought about you every day. I'm glad you're home. Much more than that to say, but I'll save it for a long email.

    For what it's worth, though, I read HP7 over a year ago- and that scene had me in a puddle even then.

  9. I feel the gravity and truth of what you learned, the range of your experience; from humor to beauty, you hold a lot within you. It reminds me a little of Emerson's rather jaded view of travel (written years after the death of his first wife): "Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go."

  10. I'm glad that you had those moments of beauty on your trip. I'm sorry that some parts of it weren't quite as you had imagined they might be. I'm sorry that your family didn't seem able to talk about Lucia, that must have been very painful. And about the cold, that made me feel so sad.

    I feel as though, since she died, nothing lives up to my expectations of it, everything falls short. Perhaps simply because my daughter is not there. No matter how many miles I travel or corners I turn.

    I'm so sorry that your little giggling girl isn't here with her sister. The world missed out on that one, I feel certain. It would be a richer place if your Lucia was in it, for all that she would have been now and all that she would have become. I'm sorry. xx

  11. You are beautiful - you are not selfish.

    We all acknowledge Lucy Angie. i know its not the same as family though but we are all her for you and we love and cry with you.

    "I carry a bit of winter solstice in my body now." I have been trying to work out a way to explain that feeling for so long now. It is so true Angie. We all do.


    Glad your home.

  12. I cried during that same part in Harry Potter.

    I'm glad you are back. :)

  13. I'm pretty shocked by your mom's comment, to be honest, Angie. I know everyone has losses, but still. It's all so complicated, but it just seems to hurt more when it's family that says these things.

    Your experience sounds tough and stressful, with some bits of beauty, and I hope returning home will bring some peace. I'm glad you're back safe and sound. xo

  14. sorry your trip to see family was less than fulfilling.

    Family doesn't really do it for me, either. I don't know why, but you would think...

  15. Angie,
    I am sorry that on top of all that you are going through, you have to deal with other peoples' opinions and judgements. I know how you feel, the conflicted senses that vacation brings. My parents took us on a cruise earlier this year because "all you do is sit in your house and cry" there were some beautiful moments. there were some moments where I couldn't hold it together. Life after loss is just shitty sometimes and the things that trigger our lowest moments (HP7 for you) seem to at times come out of nowhere. I'm sorry that Lucy, and all the ways that you are missing her, was not understood by your family. I know that we are not the same as family, but us other babyloss mommas, we get it, how different you wish each of these moments were, how you wish that she was included. Sending you hugs and glad to hear you are home safely.

  16. Missed you so very much Angie and so glad to 'hear' you again and that you are safely home.

    Sending you much love.

  17. Welcome back, Angie.

    Ahh, the glories of looking at your grief through the lens of another place/space/country/culture. I think it's just a beautiful and helpful thing to do, and would recommend it to anyone. Look at how awesome it was for you to be somewhere foreign, and give you a chance to think about your own home-reality through an entirely different prism!

    You know, four months after my kiddo Zach's dirth, K and I did a backpack trip in Ecuador. And six months after that, a 5-week bike trip in eastern Europe. Two very different trips, but same thing: characterized by crying and thinking, imagining and wondering, looking at Ecuadorian families with their gobs of women and children in tow and viewing myself a bit differently as a result.

    To me, it sounds like a wholly enriching - sure not entirely la-la vacation resort happy, but enriching experience nonetheless.

    Oh, and I hope you got to use corn husks as toilet paper at least once. I did that in Panama and it was totally awesome.

  18. Repeat after me: I am not selfish. You aren't. Sure, everyone does have their losses. But that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to grieve. 8 months is not a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things. And grieving a grandparent or parent is entirely different than grieving a child. I know from experience.

    I wish it was more peaceful for you. I am glad you are back so I can devour your posts! I missed them. And remember, you aren't selfish.

  19. This is an amazing post - there's so much here and I'll be returning to it for a while, I think. I wish you'd found more support in your family, that it were actually possible to set grief aside (just for a little while) to stretch and recover.

  20. Glad to have you back, Angie.
    I was wondering how your faraway family would react to your situation and grief. I assume (perhaps wrong) that there are some cultural differences surrounding death and grief.

    I had to giggle when I heard you were berated for your "bad" spanish. I remember hearing that when I would travel with my ex to see his family in mexico. Being a guerita,they were fine with my bad spanish.

    I'm glad you did have some beautiful moments on this trip.

  21. Love what you write.

    Came by to say that I've awarded you the "Honest Scrap" award. OK, that just sounds so pretentious to say. . .. well if you go to my blog you'll see the "rules."


  22. Just found your blog. Thinking of you, your Beatrice, and of course your Lucia. I don't think you're selfish. Why is it people want to hurry our grief away???? I love your honesty.

  23. Angie, so, so glad to have you back! Traveling sad is so fucking wierd, right? And everyone expects us to just pretend to be okay, even if we're not. I don't have any amazing insights about how to handle all that but I can validate that it makes you feel screwy when you're in a beautiful place away from home. I'm glad the beauty slipped in sometimes though.

  24. i totally get this. i packed my baby's death too when we went to panama. and i take it almost everywhere else. but being in what is supposed to be paradise, 6 months after the loss of a baby, is almost impossible to enjoy.

    sounds like it was a tough time all around, and i'm sorry to hear that. i imagine that you found beauty and peace for at least a moment every day but i'm sure the rest of it overshadowed that part.

    its hard to leave the grief when its wrapped around us so tight. its with our every step.

    glad you are home safe with your little beatrice. i hope though that you and sam were able to reconnect.


  25. Loss is tough. I hope time eases some of the hurt.


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