Being here in the United States on my own this week has been a very enlightening experience. I have had moments of feeling vulnerable and isolated and also moments of incredible confidence, like I can take on the world. After my husband died it's been a struggle to adjust to being alone again. I know I can do things without him - I just don't want to. Travelling to America was at the top of the list of things we were excited to do together and it was a pretty big deal for me to book this trip without him, it was always going to be a tough one.
When I started making plans for this trip to Camp Widow I was initially going to be heading over with another widow from Australia and was really glad to have a buddy with me. To be honest, I don't think I'd have had the courage to book this holiday if I knew I'd be coming on my own. But about a month out my friend had to cancel due to some financial issues and for me it was too late to turn back.
I'm a fairly capable person and certainly comfortable in my own company, so I figured, 'thats ok - I will be fine. I'm a big girl, I've lived in London and travelled to countries that don't even speak English... I've got this' however I neglected to realise that I always had a friend with me on these previous adventures. Yes these adventures were challenging but there was always someone to watch my luggage when I needed to visit the restroom; or weight in on decisions about where to eat or what direction we thought the bus/hotel was when lost; or turn to and say 'wow - look at that!' when I discovered something beautiful or saw an iconic land mark for the first time.
When I touched down at LAX at 6:30am on Monday morning the reality of travelling alone hit me pretty quickly. For a start, I couldn't find the shuttle bus I'd pre-booked and had to work that one out for myself without turning to a companion and saying 'what should we do/where should we look?' (I finally spotted the sign on the curb after wandering around for a bit).
Secondly I saw all the palm trees and realised I was FINALLY in California and felt excitement bubble up inside me and a big goofy grin appear on my face. I had the urge to turn to someone and say 'I'm here!'. But there was no one. The bored-looking shuttle bus driver didn't care, I couldn't call or text anyone because everyone in Australia was asleep and the international call would cost a bomb, I didn't know a soul in the USA and I couldn't even check in on facebook and post a picture (my default method of communication when I'm bored or lonely) because I had no access to internet. So I just sat in the moment and absorbed it, which was actually really nice.
Over the course of this past week I realised, I COULD do this. I started trusting myself again, listening to my instincts and learning to read my own thoughts and feelings - what did I WANT to do next? What did I FEEL like eating. When I got lost, I had to pick a direction, back myself and walk. If it ended up being the wrong way, I simply turned around and walked back the other way. Granted, sight seeing isn't as fun without someone to share the excitement with, but in general I've actually liked spending time alone - it's made me more in tune with myself.
I also haven't felt concerned for my personal safety, but knowing I'm here in this country alone with no one to call for help or bail me out has brought up some scary thoughts around what I would do if I hurt myself. Or what would happen to me if I were to die suddenly. This one has been on my mind a lot - to the point where I've written a note in my purse with my family's contact details back in Australia should I get hit by a car or suffer a sudden heart attack. I know it's pretty morbid to think and talk this way (sorry to my mum who reads this, I promise I'm doing my best to make sure I come home safe and sound!) but for us widows and widowers, it's a reality that we will never escape.
Having been faced with Dan's sudden and unexpected death, I now have a sense of my own mortality in a way that wasn't quite real before. Obviously I KNEW we would all die one day but I truly believed it was something I wouldn't have to deal with until I was much older and wiser and better equipped to handle the harsh realities of life.
I think a lot, not only about my own death, but those close to me. The thought that I could lose someone else I love is almost too much to bear. I know that it's inevitable but I am not ready to feel that kind of pain again. I was laying awake at 3am this morning thinking about this (wondering if I had a blood clot, from the 13-hour flight, slowly making my way to my heart) and realised the thought of my own death didn't scare me as much half as much as it used to. For a start, I'd get to go and be with my darling Dan - where ever that is - and secondly I wouldn't be aware of what I was missing. In a weird way, I think that of all the people devastated about Dan's death, he's not at the top of the list.
The thing that scares me is the affect my death would have on those who love me. I never want my sister, my parents or my closest friends to feel the pain that ripped through me when Dan died. I don't want them to have to make decisions about my funeral and my possessions, I don't want them to miss me at celebrations and on holidays, I don't want them to grieve. I wouldn't wish that agony on anyone.
Unfortunately Dan and I weren't blessed with enough time to try for a family but I can't even imagine how those of you as sole parents with children handle that fear. I can't even bring myself to write about it because I couldn't pretend to do it justice. But I feel for you.
On that note, I am going to stop thinking about death for now and enjoy this magical view on the train ride to San Diego (I am actually writing on Thursday because I know once I hit Camp Widow tomorrow I might have trouble finding some spare time and focusing!).