Have you ever feared losing a loved one during your travels? A nightmarish notion to some is a painful memory for others. Today on The Life in Another World Podcast, join me and my friend Anna Holder as we discuss how to deal with death from overseas, as well as the differences between a year abroad in school versus a year abroad just traveling.

What is the biggest fear you have that’s holding you back from attaining your dreams?

For me, when it came to traveling, my biggest fear was losing somebody that I loved. I didn’t think that I would be able to handle it if a family member or a friend wasn’t there when I came home. I knew I’d blame myself, feel like it was all my fault, and think that I didn’t deserve to enjoy my life when someone I cared so much about died.

That fear held me back for a long time, and it actually ended up becoming a fear I had to face and overcome.

I know I’m not alone in dealing with death from overseas, and with that, I invited my very dear friend Anna Holder on the show today to discuss dealing with the deal of our grandfathers. To avoid a completely morbid conversation, we also discussed the differences between traveling abroad for a year or traveling as an exchange program. More on the write-up for that can be found here.

If you’ve subscribed to the blog and downloaded your free report of “How to Drop Everything and Go (Without Losing Your Mind),” you may recognize Anna as the person who inadvertently convinced me not to travel for a long time. I experienced watching her lose her grandfather during her year in Australia, and watching her suffer through that instilled that same fear in me. For years, I let it hold me back, and although I had to overcome it in the end, I learned a lot about what I could deal with.

The Deaths of Elmer and Obie

The fear of losing someone is constant, whether you travel or not. The idea of losing someone during your travels, however, imprints a heavy mark on a trip that hasn’t even occurred yet. Any prospect of death is a terrifying notion that we immediately do our best to stamp to the side, but how do we face it when it occurs?

Anna, like myself and so many others, had the same fears before she left. Her grandfather, Obie, told her not to hold herself back. That she couldn’t live her life for someone else, and she needed to cherish the memories she had and live a life that created more.

Two days before I departed, on Easter 2015, my grandmother essentially told me goodbye. She didn’t think she or my grandfather would be around by the time I’d returned, and I embarked on my journey with the fear of their deaths gripping strong at my throat. At that, I hadn’t even been able to say a proper goodbye to anyone in my family because they’d all caught the flu.

For Anna, Obie’s death came close to the end of her trip. For me, I found out about my grandfather’s cancer two weeks into my trip  and had to carry that from the beginning. Six months into my year, I received word about my grandfather’s death.

To Funeral or Not to Funeral?

When a loved one dies, it is customary to then attend their funeral and pay your respects. When you’re on the other side of the world, however, and you’re looking at a 33-hour travel day and a $1400 round-trip ticket, the notion of attending the funeral becomes near impossible.

For Anna, her family encouraged her to stay where she was and not return home. If she had, she wouldn’t have had enough money to finish out her program. At that, in Obie’s dying breaths, he revealed how proud he was of Anna for doing what she was doing. Not many people are able to have the experiences Anna and I had, and we should be proud of what we’ve done.

Unlike Anna, however, my family opted to buy me a plane ticket home for the funeral. Like Anna’s family, mine told me not to blame myself if I didn’t make it — it wasn’t as though the “excuse” wasn’t valid. For me, I didn’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I passed on the opportunity, especially if I wasn’t the one paying for the ticket. 33 hours of travel to pay respects to my grandfather seemed like the smallest sacrifice in the world.

There’s no right or wrong answer in attending the funeral. Not going is something you carry, whether your family tells you to or not. Going, however, made it harder for me to come back and finish my journey. Anna had school to focus on, and a program she needed to finish. At that, she only had a couple of months left before she returned. As mine happened six months into the trip, boarding the plane after the funeral to finish what I’d started turned out to be harder than going in the first place.

The Misconceptions of Others

No matter what, when someone dies, the support of friends and family is what gets you through the experience.

When you’re on the other side of the world, things feel a little different. For both me and Anna, the impact of our losses affected us more than we’d anticipated. A certain vulnerability crept into our minds and brought forth waves of depression. We’d met friends and “had people” in our new countries, but there was no family there to ground us.

At that, talking to friends and family back home became just as hard as talking to strangers. The ones who love you so much think that just because you’re in a beautiful place, everything is love, cuddles, and paradise. Sometimes they overlook the fact that life still happens, regardless of how pretty or ugly the place you’re in is.

It’s hard enough to be a foreigner as it is, and although nobody outright says not to enjoy yourself, it’s much harder to deal with the five stages of grief when you’re isolated and 7,000 miles away from home.

Forcing Yourself to Take No Blame

See? If I didn’t go, he’d still be here. I knew I never should have left. If I had stayed, he’d still be here.

Has the little voice of blame ever possessed your mind? Just as you would when you’re not in a foreign country, you should never blame yourself for what happened.

For me, I went through many stages of blame.

If you’d have just gone when you wanted to, this wouldn’t have happened.

If you’d have just waited until he was dead, this wouldn’t have happened.

Don’t you see what your selfishness has caused?

Don’t you see how this is all your fault?

I never thought it would be as hard as it was to endure what I did, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned in life sprouted because of it:

You can’t wait for somebody to die to start living your own life.

What purpose did I have in blaming myself? Why did I think it was a better option to sit around and wait for everybody I cared about to die before I started living my own life?

In the end, it’s not about you. It’s an occurrence that is out of your control, one way or the other. If you experience death during your travels, know that it would have happened at that very time and date, with or without you. The only way forward is to honor the deceased by finishing what you started and continuing to enjoy your life.

In the process, don’t be afraid to mourn. Grieve, cry, lock yourself in your room for a week and do what you’ve got to do.

But don’t let it stop you.

Be thankful for the things you have and enjoy the people around you. Enjoying them while you have them is far better than waiting for them to die.

How Death Helps us Grow

Despite any topics of real death, when you leave your homeland for a year, a change occurs about six months in. It is then that you realize what you’ve given up, what you’re doing, and how your life has changed. The process is akin to become an adult, where the self-evolvement that occurs transforms you into a well-balanced human.

But how do you go back to your old life? How do you deal with the guilt of not wanting to go home when someone dies?

The truth is, the guilt will be there, and it will probably be something you carry for the rest of your life. No matter who tells you not to blame yourself, part of you always will.

But there’s a positive thing that comes with that guilt.

It’s the voice that reminds you this is just another obstacle you’ve overcome. You’ve faced an experience that tore at your soul, but it’s now become a part of who you are.

There’s nothing you can do when it’s time for your loved one to go. Death is merely a part of life, and although Anna and I, like many others, suffered this grief while abroad, we made our grandparents proud. We held our heads high and continued on in our lives, as they wished for us to do.

And through us carrying on, we carry them inside of us, alive within our hearts.

Life in Another World
Life in Another World
Andrew J. Stillman

Encouraging you to see it all