Travel therapy | dealing with death in Venice

So there I was, sitting in seat 12A as the plane took off…Thanks to the kind United Airlines counter attendant that rebooked my flight when I messed up and missed my original flight by an entire day. He must have sensed that I desperately needed a vacation and to get the hell out of LA for the holidays.

The minute those jet engines kicked in, I felt better. Travel therapy certainly works best for me. I’ve known this about myself for quite some time. Other people might like shopping, eating, going to spas or traditional therapy, but for me the only thing that really seems to work is travel. I like traveling alone. It forces me to learn, cope and do things I wouldn’t normally do if I were in the comfort of family and friends. I tend to be too much of a “yes” person around all of them, but traveling alone allows me to be completely selfish and have some uncompromising experiences all to myself. Maybe I need to be more assertive and less cowardly around my family and friends, but sometimes it just seems like such a hassle to drag them around to do all the random things I like doing, which often involves not planning where I am going for the day, and I can see how that gets on the nerves of my more scheduled acquaintances.

Usually the goal of my travels is to see or experience things that will inspire me or bring something fresh to my imagination. The only goal I had this trip was to get away and get out of the country. I wanted to be in a place where loitering was an acceptable agenda. Italy was perfect. I knew that I could spend my days wandering around aimlessly and even sit on a bench or hang out in a café all day without anyone finding it suspect or pressuring me to quickly pay the bill. Italy also has amazing shopping, very good food, nice weather, and little chance of me being sent to the clinker for anything. Nothing there really happens exactly on schedule or as planned. That doesn’t work for some people, but for me, it’s such a nice break from my regular work and life routine. I like having to improvise and I’m not a fan of routines.

I made hotel bookings that flexibly allowed twenty-four hour cancellations and set up a few rough meeting times with various people, but nothing that I would feel enormously guilty about canceling if timing didn’t work out. I had some general ideas about things I would like to see and do, but I didn’t want to worry about anything, excepting having to eventually make the flight home. My schedule was day 1: Take the train from Rome to Milan and meet up with a friend of a friend. Hang out if it’s fun. Leave for another town if not. Day 2: Do what I want. Days 3-18: Repeat.

Since Christmas fell in the middle of my trip and I didn’t want to be anyone’s charity case, I made sure I booked a hotel for those days well in advance. I figured Venice would not only be picturesque for Christmas, but touristy enough to ensure open places to be able to eat and hangout during the holidays. December and holidays also meant dealing with memories of my mother. The last time I had been to Italy was with my mother. In some strange way, it made me feel like I was fulfilling that trip to Venice we had talked about so many times and that going back there would make me feel closer to my mother or possibly feel more at peace with her not being around any more.

It had been a couple of years since my mother passed away and I was still having a terrible time accepting how her death didn’t seemed justified. Sure, I know life is completely unfair and not full of storybook endings, but it makes it hard to continue working away in the manner I’ve always been led to believe: work hard, be self motivated, make sacrifices for those you love and things you care about, be a good wife, parent, citizen, person, save money, pay bills, take care of your health, be responsible and humbly keep striving to be the best at what you do…WHATEVER. My mother did all of those things and she was one of the first to go and not without the painful ending that is cancer. Sure, she was a good person and that was evident in that she was surrounded by people that loved her and were willing to take care of her until the end, but this early death seemed unfair, as if my mother just got stuck with bad genes.

Everyone dies. Death is a part of life. I know this, but it doesn’t make me feel any better nor appreciate any part of being an adult. What was the point of her doing all that if every life ends just the same? I didn’t want any placating explanations.

Here I was in Venice. It was Christmas Eve. Yay…I felt miserable finding my way to the hotel. Venice is like a maze, or a rabbit warren. Navigating is a game of memory during the day and “romantically” deadly at night, with all paths leading to the possibility of either being trapped in a dead-end or falling into a polluted canal. I seemed destined for a gloomy holidays, but somehow, Venice worked its fairytale magic. My hotel room had a balcony that looked onto the square of Campo Santa Maria Formosa and I woke up on Christmas day to fresh pastries, “un doppio”, sunshine, blue skies, cheerful families and the campanile bells. It was one of the few times I have seen Venice filled with more locals in the streets than tourists. I loved seeing the children out playing in the squares with their new toys and the families relaxing at the cafés, snacking on holiday treats. It was a beautiful day wandering around the canals and I also lucked out and ended up meeting another traveler as well as three locals she knew for an impromptu evening of appetizers and drinks.

It didn’t remedy my loss, but the trip gave me time to think and heal a bit. I relaxed enough to actually laugh and smile again.

End of my pity party.

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