So the months between my spontaneous booking of my travel tickets and my actual departure in mid September, seemed to fly by. Once booked I had put the idea of travel out of my mind. I was not a seasoned traveller by any stretch of the imagination. So did not have that energy or excitement of knowing what was to come. Besides, I had three children to care for and a household to run. And a pretty intense time to get through just prior to my departure.
In August, as we have done and will always do, we paid tribute to the anniversary of my wife’s death. And then a few days later her Birthday. A tough time of year for each of us and our respective family and friends. We all deal with grief in very unique and personal ways. I tell my children, and try to tell myself, that in my experience there are no rules for grief. Yes there are some stages that someone will show you in a class or therapist’s office. But they are just words on a piece of paper. There is no order of what we experience. There is no knowing how you will react to what you experience. No predictability. No expectations either. The person I was before my wife got sick is no longer. That person and many of his beliefs, qualities, faults, attributes – they all died with her. A new person was created and continues to be defined. And I believe that the same applies to my children and to our family and closest friends.
How that new person differs to the old one is very hard for me to put into words. I looked the same – except for a bit of gained weight and a ginger beard. I sounded the same to the people I spoke to. But for me, most of the time, it felt like I was watching the world through a veil. Almost like I wore a disguise so the world would not recognise me. Inside me I carried – and still carry – a sense of heaviness. A weight that makes many things seem a little harder to appreciate and experience. Something that also feel like a dirty secret or mystery. A distraction from the joy that life presents. Like I said, it is hard to describe.
As a result August tends to be a bit of a surreal blur for me. It comes with a sense of dread and heaviness and passes through me leaving me closed off and silent on the outside yet boiling with emotion and anger on the inside. So it was no surprise that I was surprised when suddenly I found myself in September and my trip was only a couple of weeks away.
I had previously mentioned that I have had amazing support from family and friends. So in the quieter months I had organised with my sister and parents for the children to stay with them. Our dog Yuki would also stay with my folks. I thought that would be good for the kids to have him as he is very much a member of our family and doesn’t actually realise that he is a dog. As for the cat, well a friend looked after the house and took care of him. So pretty much everything was well in order prior to my departure.
Probably the only thing not in order was me. I was still experiencing depression as a result of my ongoing grief and also a decent dose of anxiety. Things that I have experienced through much of my adult life but had relatively under control. My experience with the death of my beloved girl however amplified those things. And having just experienced yet another round of anniversaries, was feeling pretty drained of capacity to manage my mental health. So much so that I even contemplated cancelling my trip for fear of it being a waste with me feeling so impacted by my own grief. Not able to enjoy the experience.
But, through utilising my support networks – both professional and personal – I was able to make those last steps and get myself to the airport and onto that plane. By the time that happened I had packed and repacked my bags several times. Stressed over what clothes to take. What camera gear to include. Checking my documents extensively. Again, it was my first real trip abroad and one that I was doing solo. Self preservation kicked in I guess.
My departure from Melbourne took place early in the morning. Having said my goodbyes to the children the night before, my father drove me to the airport before the sun had risen. It was all very surreal. My father is not a big talker and at that point I was very internalised in my thinking. But I could not deny that underlying all my worries was this bubbling feeling of excitement. This energy that had been missing from my life for just over three years. I was excited. I was for the most part happy. In a matter of hours I would be in Japan. That very night I would be landing in Japan. Tokyo! With no mobile data and not able to speak any Japanese other than hello and thank you. Oh God what have I done?