EPISODE 3

THE ROAD TO HEALING: HOW TRAVELING WITH MY MOM HELPED US GRIEVE

By Rachel Hill

On April 1, 2019, our lives changed in an instant. 

The love of my mother's life and the contributor to 50 percent of my genetic makeup had left us tragically and unexpectedly. While my mother was at her job, my father had passed away that afternoon, alone in my childhood home.

It had always been just “the three of us,” so what happens when three turns into two? What happens when there is no blueprint for mourning, dealing with loss, or attempting to navigate grief?

Back in the summer of 2014, I took the scariest leap of my life and left a good job at a multibillion-dollar corporation, a six-figure salary, and a promising career in order to heal. While I was still working at my corporate job, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression. I suffered in complete silence going to therapy every week, hoping all day, every day that I could find some peace. I told myself over and over again that I was living the “perfect life”, the American Dream: a stable job, a nice husband, and two and a half kids. But I knew this wasn’t what I wanted. I'd started following the path, but it didn't take long for me to realize that I was destined to forge a different way.

The only thing that I wanted to do when I left my lucrative career was travel. I had a strong desire to get back to the fundamentals of what made me truly happy and filled me with joy. Desperately, I wanted to re-experience that child-like wonder, be filled with imagination, curiosity, and dreaming. Travel was the only thing that I could recall that made me feel this spirit of freedom and exploration.

So, I backpacked through Southeast Asia—solo—a young, black American woman. I was wandering around Asia and simultaneously healing. Within a few months, my mental health was improving, I'd secured various writing and partnership opportunities, and my soul was filled with peace and joy again.

Traveling the world humbled me. It opened up a path that was greater than I had imagined for myself. For the last six years, I traveled, healed, and expanded my mind, which positioned me to create a business that allowed me to work and travel full-time.

With this new career, I'd had several opportunities to bring my mother along on my travels, to which she quickly agreed to any trip invitation. Traveling with my mother gave us space to be adults together; she told me more in-depth stories and insights into her childhood and adult life (before I knew her as “mom”). It was interesting to see how the habits, patterns, and beliefs I have are so similar to those of my parents. Knowing my mother has had a job since the age of fourteen affirmed why I’ve always had a belief in working hard and executing at my best and highest capacity. It was the first time I noticed that we laughed the same way and had many of the same mannerisms. It made me profoundly appreciate our time together. These stories and insights had given me a deeper understanding of who I'd become as a woman. 

So, we made a pinkie swear that we'd make a "Girl's Trip" every year.

And so, we did.

We've gone to South Africa, Iceland, Dubai, and Israel together, to name a few of our destinations.

Then, that day in April 2019 came.

How do two women mourn and heal from the loss of someone so special to them?

We traveled.

Back in 2014, traveling had been the one thing that saved my mind from a slippery spiral into a deep, debilitating depression. And because traveling together annually on our "Girl's Trip," was our thing, we'd decided that we would continue to travel in celebration of my father.

We set out to heal and grieve, together, as a team, through our love of exploring the world, trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, and seeing unique views.

Our first “healing expedition” started with a flight to Utah. We road-tripped through Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. The sites were pristine, and the weather was much cooler than it was in Florida.

My mother shared funny stories and memories of when my parents were dating, lessons that she learned as a wife and mother, and we both enjoyed the freedom and safety to express how much we missed my dad. When we were driving from Utah to Wyoming, the roads were steep and winding around the mountains. My mother and I laughed at how my father would have surely fussed at me to slow down. How certain flowers would remind my mother of him because he’d always given her a beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because”. And how when we stumbled into an incredible, authentic ramen restaurant, we laughed at how my dad would have never even given Japanese food a try, but she told me how it had taught her to compromise (even for dinner options) when it came to marriage. 

This trip provided a safe space to cry, scream, and sob without judgment. And the chance to whisper my father's name in the wind at the Salt Flats in Utah (because he would have been fascinated).

Experiencing different places with my mother in that way allowed us an opportunity to heal and grieve the loss of love. More importantly, it allowed us to easily (as easy as it can be) transition into acceptance of the loss of a loved one. 

Over a year later, we are still healing, grieving, and traveling—together.

The journey to healing from the despair of losing someone you love is a long road, but the best way for us is to keep doing what we love: traveling.


Rachel Hill is an Atlanta based content creator and travel writer, who has contributed to dozens of publications including HuffPost, USA Today, and Lonely Planet. Rachel runs her own travel business.

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