Only a traveler would try to heal from two years’ worth of taking care of a cancer patient followed by that patient’s death by going to, say, South America. But less than a month after mom passed away, that is what I did. I went along with my husband on a trip of his to Chile.
I didn’t go with delusions that I wouldn’t be sad there. I’m not that dumb- you can’t outrun grief, that’s for sure. In fact, I cried for a good while on the trip down there, leaned back in my business class, lie-flat seat, which I had the good fortune of being in due to to my husband’s job. In coach, people would know you were crying, because you’re so packed in there, so thank goodness I got lucky and was up front, with more space for my grief. With fewer people trying not to make eye contact with the crazy weeping lady. I slept little on the flight, in spite of the relative comfort of my seat on the plane.
But for me, there is always something so exhilarating about arriving in a foreign country that even transcends the jet lag. And that exhilaration makes me feel alive.
Alive is exactly what I needed to feel after being around so much dying.
And so, in our jet lagged yet exhilarated state, my husband and son and I arrived in Santiago, Chile, and immediately rented a car and drove about an hour and a half to Valparaiso, which is on the coast of Chile. We drove past the beginnings of the Andes mountains, which ring Santiago, and past Chilean wineries dotted along those hills. The landscape looked oddly barren and desert-like to me, not at all what I expected. When we arrived in Valparaiso, we parked our car in a rather chaotic lot and walked down to the beach, where a number of locals were playing in the surf. I call it surf, but it looked more to me like the North Shore of Hawaii, which is surf only for the very, very brave or very crazy. The waves here were enormous, and it amazed me to think that the water roiling and crashing in front of us had probably recently been touching the coast of Antarctica. I could feel the chill from the water as the waves pounded down on that section of beach where we stood, and I breathed in the salt air from that southern part of the Pacific Ocean as deeply as I could. And I felt better than I had in a good long while; there is something about being near the ocean to me that is like a balm for my soul.
As for the town of Valparaiso, it is best described in pictures, meaning, you have to see it to believe it. This charmingly shabby seaside town has been covered in murals by different artists from head to toe. Color is splashed everywhere with abandon, and yet it isn’t accidental at all. The entire center of town has become a collaborative work of art. We explored for a while and then settled down to a meal in a place that appeared to be straight out of a set of a movie about old Havana, or at least what that would look like in my mind.
Soothed by the pounding rhythm of the ocean and the cool salt air, charmed by street art and sated by good food and wine. We slept well that night.
I used to think, before I knew grief intimately, that it would be like a heavy blanket sitting on top of you, crushing you, until one day it wasn’t anymore. But for me at least, grief has come more in waves, much like the ones that I saw in Valparaiso that day. Those waves are bigger than I would have expected, and when they crash over themselves, foaming and tumbling, they feel terrifying. But they always recede. And when they do, I can come up for air.