“Will you still go on your trip?” This was the question asked of me.
The call came at 10:30 PM. Fear gripped my heart, as this was too late for the phone to be ringing. There had been an unexpected death in the family. Within minutes, I was on a conference call with my three siblings. What would happen next? Who was flying home? Who would take care of arrangements?
The question came again. “Will you still go on your trip?” My younger sister and I had been planning to go to Rome for the past seven months. This was a special treat—my 43-year-old sister had never before been out of the country. She had acquired a passport and jumped through many hoops to get a week away from work. She was excited. I was excited.
The news of a death arrived on Wednesday night, and our long-awaited flight to Rome would leave on Friday afternoon. As I told my family, there was no room in our lives for an adventure. We had grief as a new companion and terrible choices to make about surviving a loved one.
Only a true traveler will understand the complex emotions of a cancelled trip. One can know something is impossible and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but still be disappointed. It was a small loss piled onto a much bigger, more meaningful loss. As I waited at the airport to go home instead of Rome, I started sending e-mails.
I cancelled the apartment near the Pantheon. It had been refundable until two days earlier, so I had rolled the dice on trip insurance. I knew something serious would be required to derail the trip. Something serious did happen. The money did not matter. The greedy clutch of death subsumes so much in its wake, that money becomes temporarily meaningless.
I cancelled the reservations for the tour of Nero’s Palace; the early-morning Sistine Chapel viewing; the electric bikes for the Appian Way; wine-tasting in Orvieto; and a celebratory afternoon tea at the Hassler Hotel. I sent my regrets to restaurants, called the unsympathetic airline, and knew our Borghese Gallery and Colosseum tickets would go unused.
My family and I instead spent the week doing the important work of those left behind. We arranged for a funeral. We sorted finances. We planned logistics for a future that arrived too soon. Home is where I was needed. I was grateful to be surrounded by a loving network of people.
Yet, my calendar had not caught up with my changed circumstances. I received flight updates and Rome activity alerts on a daily basis. They were little stabs to the heart during an already gut-wrenching, difficult week—a reminder that somewhere, far away, life was moving forward.
No, I was not going on my trip. It would have to wait.