Dealing with Tragedy Back Home
It’s every travelers worst nightmare – what do you do if tragedy strikes back home while you are on the road? You can never predict when illness or death may occur, nor should you let the anticipation of those events prevent you from traveling. It’s a situation you can never quite prepare for, but a conversation definitely worth having before you leave.
Amy Sutter shares with us how she and her husband Keith determined in advance what plan of action they might take if someone in their family fell ill, and how they inevitably had to put it into action.
Nine thousand five hundred twenty-four miles. That is approximately the distance we were from home when we got the news that turned our world upside-down. We were about to go to sleep, only our second night in our campervan, mere meters from the ocean in Kurrimine Beach, Queensland, Australia. We had no internet and no international cell phone service, and it had been a few days since we last got in touch with anyone back home.
Should we check the iPhone for any text messages? This, we told our families before we left, was the best way to reach us in an emergency, and I had a strange feeling in my gut that we should check.
Please call home. – Dad
There it was, the message that makes your stomach jump into your throat. We booted up the laptop to search for a wifi signal, finding a paid service nearby. Hands trembling, I dialed through on Skype.
Lewis has pancreatic cancer. We would love for you to come home, but you should do whatever you think is best.
Lewis is my dad’s husband, my step-father of over 30 years. With three grandparents between us in their eighties and one in her nineties, we knew there would be a good chance that someone would get sick or pass away while we were traveling. So we discussed this possibility with our families before we left home. Did we want to know if one of our grandparents got sick? Died? What about a parent? Step-parent? Sibling? Would we come home?
But knowing that we had a plan and that we had prepared for the worst-case scenario made an incredibly difficult situation much more bearable.
Nothing can prepare you for the shock of a parent’s illness or predict the crushing feeling of being so far from home when in that moment the only place in the world you can possibly think to be is home. But having had the difficult conversations with family before we left, we at least had a plan. We had decided, without the swirl of confusion and emotion that surrounds you in the moment of such news, that we would want to go home, at least temporarily, if something happened. We knew whether the emergency was a death or an illness that we would want to be there to support our families and would need their support as well. We had set aside an emergency reserve fund to pay for last minute flights. We had health insurance in place in the United States in the event we had to come home early, since travel insurance doesn’t cover you domestically. We had even left our aerobed at the front of our storage unit, just in case we faced more time than we anticipated staying with friends and family.
I’m not going to gloss over the panic and intensity of trying to decide just how quickly we needed to get home, of waiting for word of a prognosis from the oncologist, of second-guessing our decision to come home but to fly out of Sydney and give ourselves two more weeks to get there. There is nothing good to say about clicking on “purchase” for $3,000 worth of airplane tickets and wondering whether you made the right decision. But I cannot imagine going through what we did without having had the conversations and safety nets in place.
It can be morbid to sit at dinner with your family and let them grill you with questions about what you would do in the event of an illness, a terminal illness, a death, or an injury to each and every member of your family. Here you are, about to begin an adventure of a lifetime, and it is no fun to think about everything that can go wrong back home. But unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon, especially if you are a career-breaker and a little bit older. (While traveling, we met three other Americans who faced the illness or death of a loved-one back at home.) But knowing that we had a plan and that we had prepared for the worst-case scenario made an incredibly difficult situation much more bearable.
So far, Lewis is beating the odds and we’ve been blessed with many great visits since we came home. We are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with him – thankful for the time we have to spend with family.