What It’s Like Losing A Loved One on Vacation

This may be one of the saddest and most real things I had written on my blog. It took a lot of self-reflection if I should even write something so close to my heart, but it wasn’t until I found courage and support from a group of wonderful ladies on this huge Facebook group called Girls Love Travel that I knew I could be open about this. I know someone out there can relate or maybe not, but someone can shift the way they see the love for their loved one, for me it’s my parent. You see, a few days ago, I attended a small intimate group session that a member of my church (specifically the Relief Society President of the stake) hosted at her house and she had a life coach there. They emphasized, “You can only heal what you reveal.” As I took those words in, I knew it hit me that it was about time to release such a story. This is my story of what it’s like to lose your own parent on vacation.

My post about sharing my grief story on Girls Love Travel.

I won’t spare you the details of what really happened as that is private between my family and I. However, I can say that after 20+ years of me going back to the Philippines, it became the last vacation that my dad and his kids would ever take together. Because I promised him I would write up about his country while he was still here, I will release a guide on how to travel around his hometown and my mom’s in a future blog post. For now, this is my story of how something so sudden and unexpected can change my perspective on life forever.

(Cover photo shows a picture of my mom and me flying back from the Philippines, with an empty seat next to me. My dad was supposed to be on this flight.)

When grief enters your life, it will forever change you.

I knew grief before I lost my dad, but not to the extent that I do now. There’s something so out-of-this-world when it is the person who bought you into this world. I have no idea that the major event unfolding of losing my dad would be something I would experience over and over again from every day to nowhere. Grief is not something you’re going to just heal from, it’s not like a cut that can just get covered by a bandaid and heal like it wasn’t there. Sadly, it’s a forever thing. 

Grief has made me understand the importance of making the most of mortality than anything has. I only saw a few changes so far in what grief has done for me. Some of that would be that I’ve always been empathetic but it made me think more selfless and even more empathetic for people, it made me cherish my relationships in life more than ever, I almost don’t think twice when I choose to do something or do something that feels right, and I don’t get upset or anxious over small stuff like I used to be.

Those were the positive sides of how grief changed me, but grief definitely made me not feel like the same person I used to be, and not in a good way. I used to find happiness in ways of being able to share memories and tell my dad everything, but after he has passed, I no longer feel like I have access to those parts anymore, which removes a big chunk of me. I always have some days, randomly, where it seems so dark and gloomy with many symptoms associated with grieving: loss of concentration, procrastination, fatigue, numbness, not sleeping enough or sleeping over, etc. Another thing is I can catch myself crying out of nowhere.

The life-changing event will be a blur for you at the time.

Since this post is about “What it’s like losing a loved one on vacation”, I wanted to emphasize what happens when something this tragic can occur on your own vacation, but I’d like to say… it’s a nightmare. It’s something that will very rarely happen or ever happen, but I’m not saying, there’s never that possibility. Sometimes, when you travel, the inevitable can happen and mine happened to be losing my dad unexpectedly while we were on vacation in the Philippines.

Sometimes we lose people from freak accidents or sometimes people can get severely sick all of a sudden and then lose their fight. I’m not going to say in detail what happened with my dad at all here, but when the inevitable nightmare has happened, you’ll be wondering “Where do I move forward from this? Do I have to let go of all the happy memories made in the last few days on vacation to think about the worst?”

The thing is just before my dad’s passing, he was surrounded by so many loved ones from his own family (wife and kids) to his childhood friends to newer friends to people who he had done business with in the country. He just spent 2 weeks with his family where he grew up in. It was exactly how he would have loved to celebrate his last few days. So when the tragedy happened, I was forced to look at the situation for the worst of it and for so long I did NOT want to look back at the good times created, which included exploring the new beautiful places in the country to reuniting with my family that I hadn’t seen since I was a little girl.

When I had to choose my dad’s funeral casket, the barong (a Filipino traditional shirt) he would wear in his casket, talk to the funeral director, etc., I was overwhelmed and I remember all of that feeling like a freaking blur. I remember I also got so sick that first day of the funeral viewing (the Philippines does, the United States doesn’t do this), that I threw up for 3 hours straight and had symptoms of dehydration. Calamansi juice was the only true thing that helped me.

When you have to plan a funeral and plan to bury your loved one, you do not have time to process everything. You’re worried about the finances or how much everything will cost. You’re worried about who to contact and how to contact companies, family members, friends, and your loved ones’ accounts. You have to plan the logistics before you can get right to your emotions. You can take a little bit of time for your emotions, but you will feel like there’s nothing that matters as to what you just lost. You do not want to do anything during those days or even talk to people – I know for me, I could not socialize nor was it the right time, but I was faced to reunite with my cousins and other family members after having not seen them for many years.

When I got that video call from my sister first thing in the morning, I could not believe it. I was in a state of shock, but when I visited my dad in the morgue, it was all too real. It sicken me and shook me to the core. I told myself. “I NEVER WANT TO DEAL WITH THIS AGAIN IN MY LIFE.”

When my mom and I had to fly back to the United States WITHOUT my dad, who was supposed to fly back with us, it was by far the saddest flight I’ve been on. It felt like we were leaving him behind for the time and it didn’t feel right. None of it felt right when they were already gone. I still felt the shock and physical changes (sickness) throughout my body upon being on the long flight from the Philippines to San Francisco and then from San Francisco, another flight back home to Arizona. I cried immensely when we were landing at Sky Harbor Airport.

You need to prepare for the finances and paperwork of bringing your loved one overseas.

Dealing with the finances after a loss is one of the things that sucks the life out of you, on top of dealing with the emotions. As I mentioned before as I spoke about having sudden grief feels like a blur, you really do not have time to process everything when you need to factor in the logistics of planning a funeral for your loved one. If you had vacationed overseas like we did, outside of your home country, you will rack up so many expenses because you may want to consider flying the body of your loved one back with you guys.

It can be so expensive, especially if the process would be so long like waiting for life insurance to make sure it can pay off those expenses or how long his work company would get back to us about any benefits. It was an immediate decision to have to get him his funerals, so we still did not have those funds. However, a GoFundMe was one of the most godsend things for my family and I. Luckily, my sisters were resourceful enough and quick on their feet to think of this solution while everyone else in the family was struggling emotionally.

We had 400+ donors, from people we grew up with to people we worked with to people who loved us to people we did not even know, towards the GoFundMe. This GoFundMe paid off the majority of the funerals’ expenses, so we can host one in the Philippines and in America (in Arizona, where we lived – well, I still live here). In the Philippines, I swear his viewing room was filled every day for almost a week long.

Along with the stresses of handling finances, there was plenty of paperwork to sign from the contracts we had with the funeral services we signed up with, to contacting the companies that handle the bills of your loved one and informing them of their death, and to handling the estates of your loved one. These things may not even stop being ongoing until months to years after their death!

At my dad’s funeral in Arizona standing beside Adam J. Johnson Jazz Collective Band, the band of one of my good friends who was also one of my frequent photography clients. I also showed my dad videos of their music at one point and he enjoyed it.

Prepare for the possibility of PTSD and a host of other mental health conditions.

Grief can always have the possibility to manifest other challenges like mental health conditions. PTSD was definitely something I experienced along with severe anxiety. I’ve had these two pre-existing prior, but it just added more icing to the cake. The PTSD around my dad’s loss only associates me back to when certain things remind me of what happened then and there. Sometimes, looking back at pictures from the Philippines (even before he passed) and at his funeral pictures and videos are hard to look at or watch, even when there were some beautiful musical performances that were sung at his Philippines funeral! Sometimes looking at our past adventures that I loved hits me too.

PTSD is so dang hard to relive, but maybe it’s just some of the few side effects of having loved and lost. I realized my anxiety has heightened too, even after months from this loss, with personal relationships and with myself – having been more cautious around my health. I also noticed I’ve been closed off more, whereas I used to be super open about everything and how I feel. Sometimes, I’m blessed that I’ve become more private towards my family and friends though because I felt I was pouring a lot onto people, when maybe they didn’t have an empty cup to fill. I’ve become more considerate in that way.

But, it doesn’t mean I knew how to handle or talk about the feelings caused by my anxiety. I did, however, found better coping mechanisms (like socializing, exercising, and painting) and became obsessed with the idea of making sure my life isn’t brimmed with darkness and loss. However, there are still so many days that I am just hit with grief – I am reminded of our past adventures, his jokes and voice, sharing his dreams with me, and having his presence there. And from there, it’s easy to lose sight of where the day was heading.

What my dad would want me to do after losing him

As you know, although I lost my dad unexpectedly and suddenly, I had the confidence and trust in what he would have wanted for his kids to continue in this life without him. I’m at peace knowing how proud he was of all of us, including me, and all I’ve accomplished and yet to accomplish. He would want me to follow through all the dreams I’ve shared with him: to fall in love and one day get married, to keep on chasing my career dreams, to keep on loving nature, and to keep up with this blog site, where he was proud and impressed of every piece I wrote up. When things get hard with blogging and other things, I can gain some motivation when I remember what I promised him and what he knew I can be capable of.

I’m lucky to have gotten to that point in my life, as I was leaving my mid-20s and in my late 20s, to make sure he left this life knowing we can be okay and that he was supportive of who his kids have become.

I knew my dad so well that these are what his thoughts would be. His last moments in this life were so precious with his immediate family and surrounded by his friends. He taught me so much wisdom, so much boldness to take on in life, and always commented on how brave, tough, and persistent I was. I know with these qualities I hold close, I can find my way around grief too, even if it’ll be a forever thing with moments of waves.

So, if you are ever in this nightmarish position of having lost a loved one (on vacation or not), just know that our loved ones would not want us to struggle or suffer and that they are so proud of who we were and who we were becoming. They would want us to commemorate them too by doing things out of the passion to live for their memory. And I know they would want us to one day look at those memories shared as beautiful ones, on that vacation.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Alessio

    I just lost my dad and recognized myself in your story. Thanks for sharing. It was a relief reading a similar story to mine.

    1. Gabrielle

      I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, but I am glad you found some comfort in reading my story and I hope you find comfort in this time to come.

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