There really are no words to explain the despair of going home from the hospital the day my husband passed away following a 6-month battle with cancer.
It was literally incomprehensible to me that he wasn’t alive anymore.
Nothing really prepares you for death, especially that of your spouse, even when it’s been anticipated for months. All you know for certain is that life will never be the same.
I had always been passionate about traveling, and in our 8 years together, my travel infatuation rubbed off on my husband.
Once my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I didn’t go back to work at all for over a year. For 6 months, my life became about being the best caretaker, advocate, personal pharmacist, and wife I could possibly be. I lived and breathed for him because that’s what he deserved and needed, and I wanted to spend every second I had left with him.
After my husband was gone, it felt like my entire future had been ripped out from under me. All my hopes and dreams had involved the two of us together. But life took on new meaning. Now it was “me” instead of “we.”
Having been together since we were 19, I needed to learn how to be an individual. So much of who I was had been defined by us as a couple. Who was I, after all of this? What did I want out of life? I needed to find out. I needed to encounter myself somehow.
Arriving in Hawaii by myself was quite possibly the loneliest feeling ever, second only to leaving the hospital the day he died. But I rented a car, I walked the beaches, I hiked to waterfalls, and I spent time with old friends who lived there.
Then I went to Kauai and rented a beautiful house in the jungle by myself. I spread my husband’s ashes in the ocean at the secluded beach we’d discovered together the first morning of our honeymoon. I hiked some of the NaPali Coast by myself, and I wallowed in sadness most of the time, wishing a heart attack would strike me dead so I could be reunited with my husband or at least be put out of my misery.
Something about having to be alone and carry the weight and pain with me continually made me stronger. And doing it in unfamiliar places with no one to lean on gave me confidence. Maybe I learned I could rely on myself. I was my own good friend. Being alone with my thoughts and memories was the hardest thing I could face, but I think at the time, it seemed easier than going back to my old routine with a huge vacancy in my life.
Pretty soon, I was on the go continuously.
I’d come home for a few days to be with my in-laws and dog before heading off to travel again. I started to live life to the fullest, experiencing things I would never have imagined I’d get to, as if each day was my last.
I went to Florida and saw my dad for the first time in 6 years.
I went to Australia by myself and walked the phenomenal white powder sand of Whitehaven Beach, went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, rode a helicopter over the reef and the 12 Apostles, and I made lasting friends from all over the world.
For my birthday, I went to the island of St. Lucia and zip-lined through the jungle, bathed in mud hot springs, rode horses on the beach and in the ocean, and made great friends with some of the locals.
With a close friend, I went to Tanzania. We went to the incredible island of Zanzibar and stayed in a traditional 1500s palace, we wandered the narrow rock streets of Stone Town, and snorkeled in the Indian Ocean. Afterwards we went on an unforgettable Serengeti safari.
After numerous other trips to the US East and West coasts and back to Maui again, it was time to return back to work. But I had made a commitment to myself to work less and experience more. I’ve never gone back to work full time since, and I don’t ever plan to.
Since my husband’s passing, I have traveled to over 20 countries and fallen in love with all of them. There are people scattered across the globe whom I’m lucky to call friends. The world is my home, and each place has stolen a piece of my heart.
The lesson I learned from the loss of my husband was to live in the moment. He taught me that experiences and connections in life are what matter most.
We can’t predict the future, or even control much of it, but I don’t want to wait to follow my dreams and check things off my bucket list.
I hope you don’t either.
Ready to follow YOUR dreams and explore the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in 100+ countries.
(All images c/o Jessica Carpenter. Read more about her adventures at myfeetwillleadme.com.)