Grief Travel: Seeing The World Helped Me Cope With Losing My Mother

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On Jan. 22, 2022, at 6:47 a.m., my world collapsed; my mother died. After a four-month battle with pancreatic cancer, I lost the closest person to me. Suddenly, my life as a caregiver was over. I had no one to advocate for, uplift, or connect with. The confusing chaos that is grief had me questioning everything, including my profession. After owning a public relations agency for over 10 years, I lost the spark for helping others, especially after losing the person I wanted to help the most.

Through my attempt to “work it away,” I found a new joy in writing, specifically travel journalism. Connecting with people through words and uncovering stories of unknown places became a welcomed distraction. Initially, receiving the “oohs and ahhs” from my Instagram Stories when I posted a byline was a thrill, but it shortly became about something much bigger. I was unlocking a new way to heal.

My mother, Zelda, was an extraordinary woman. Her funeral service’s massive attendance and the never-ending deliveries of floral arrangements proved as much. She was revered by her family, friends and co-workers and remembered for her smile that lit up a room and her ability to put everyone at ease. However, I wouldn’t call my mother the most adventurous woman regarding travel. Destinations with museums or aquariums were ideal; she was not touching anybody’s zip line, chain restaurants were just fine because too much garlic ruined everything, and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was the bane of her existence (sorry, Atlanta!). Although she never turned down a good trip, personal reservations and fears kept her from seeing the world. So when I got the chance, I took it in her honor.

My first press trip was to review a newly-opened luxury hotel in Atlanta. While the ATL is a place I’m no stranger to, reminiscing about my mother’s complaints while boarding the second train to the UBER pick-up location made me laugh.

The trip occurred in 2023, a few days after Mother’s Day, and I cried a lot. Although my mom had transitioned more than a year prior, seeing a “World’s Best Mom” balloon was triggering. Instead of sobbing in a complimentary hotel room, I decided to do something that honored her. I took the opportunity to visit the nearby mall and continue my Mother’s Day tradition of purchasing her favorite perfume, Eternity by Calvin Klein. 

Bringing a gift home for her brought me a sense of peace. I knew she would never physically use this bottle, but I could only imagine how happy she would be to receive it.

My next trip took me to Cincinnati, Ohio, where I had the chance to interview one of her favorite music artists, Bootsy Collins, and hear Al Green sing “Love & Happiness” live. After enjoying a three-day music festival from a corporate skybox, I returned to the complimentary hotel room and cried a lot. However, this time, it wasn’t because of a holiday; I realized I couldn’t call her and rave about singing “As We Lay” with Shirley Murdock on a red carpet. I couldn’t laugh about reaching peak “auntie” status because I went crazy for Babyface and Jodeci.

Soon after, I began to gain momentum as a travel journalist. The airport became my second home; at this point, TSA agents recognized me. The itineraries were great distractions, but not enough as small instances would pull me into a whirlpool of sadness. But a slight alleviation would come from buying a postcard or a letter “Z” keychain that I could bring back home to make my mom a part of my trip.

During this time, the internal battle with the idea of closing the business I had built for 10 years and pivoting to life as a full-time travel writer rang constantly in my head. My answer came in the form of a boarding pass.

For my first international trip doing this work, I found myself in Prague, interviewing the creatives behind one of Amazon Prime’s top original series. I walked around the capital of the Czech Republic, was ushered through filming sets, and committed to eating things I couldn’t pronounce.

And, just as I had done before, I returned to the complimentary hotel room and cried-you guessed it-a lot. This time, it wasn’t because I couldn’t call my mom and tell her I met the director of one of her favorite movies or laugh about failing my foodie mission and ending up at McDonald’s.

I cried because I began to find my purpose again. I remembered my mother’s notes and just-because cards ending in the quote, “Use your voice,” and realized I was doing just that. I was the only Black journalist on this trip, represented a Black media outlet, and spoke to a Black female director about dominating a space where we are not the norm.

Solo travel can be an isolating experience in many ways. It leaves you alone with your thoughts and memories, and when those are laced with grief, it doesn’t make for the best social media content. The notion of travel being a great way to heal is nothing new, but it’s accurate and can be a trying journey. The ironic twist is you find a way to reconnect while existing far away.

What I thought I lost when my mom died, I found again in traveling the world and getting to write about it. Now, my form of advocacy looks like writing about the descendants of Harriet Tubman, who have been forgotten by the upstate New York city she chose as her home. My ability to uplift was now personified by telling the story of the street in New Orleans that boasts nothing but Black-owned businesses. My connection was rebuilt when I had the chance to visit areas my mother loved while attending college in the DMV.

Travel journalism has allowed me to experience the world, not only through my eyes but my mother’s as well. I’ve been to places she lived, places she loved, and places she probably didn’t know existed. 

Sure, I still cry a lot. But I’ve realized that the tears dry faster while I prepare for take-off, on my way to the next destination.

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