How do you cope with grief while traveling?

Just like around the same time last year, I wanted to write a review of the year that had just passed, in this case, covid-war-energy-crisis-ridden 2022.

Optimistically, I had intended to rave about my having taken up traveling again – after two years of pandemic-induced micro-only traveling at home in Germany.

What would I have written about?

For one, my six months in Namibia: stunning deserted landscapes God wanted to show off with; bucket list destinations like the famous Deadvlei; a country that time-capsuled its colonial German history and now lives in a weird version of a German-dom that no longer exists in the original country itself; and so much more.

(You can find a post about my solo camping in the Namibian desert here.)

I had planned to recount how Swakopmund became one of my happy places, despite having the reputation of being the old age home of Namibia (I’m a digital oldmad, so maybe this was a match made in heaven?).

Next, South Africa. I would have shared why my first months in Cape Town were, mildly speaking, quite challenging. And how the Mother City cost me more time to warm up to than all places I have ever been before.

That said, I would have also mentioned how stunning South Africa’s nature is, with the Fynbos having jumped right into my top 5 vegetations.

But sometimes life has its own ways and takes a turn you would never have dreamed of. Or rather, nightmared of.

Expect the Unexpected

When I had already begun to write the 2022 review, in the last mile of this gloom-meets-doom weirdo of a year, my life partner back in Germany suddenly left this incarnation on December 21.

I found myself alone in Cape Town. And alone in life.

When your spouse dies, you are widowed. Is there even a name for when you lose your partner but were not married? There isn’t, so maybe let’s just call it “lost”.

One day before Christmas Eve I called the police because I was not able to reach my partner Andreas via Messenger or phone.

We had been on a video call shortly before (we called each other every day, sometimes more than once), and he had had an infection of some kind.

When I did not hear from him I felt a terrible fear. Some hours later, the police called me back and confirmed that fear (the waiting was unbearable, and when the call came, I knew what they would tell me).

Andreas was 61, and about to sell his business – after working hard for decades, taking care of his old-aged mum until she died, and some unpleasant things that had tied him to the place.

He had planned to sell all his belongings, learn to sail, buy a sailboat, and sail the world. An adventure I was meant and couldn’t wait to join him on.

I was so happy for him that he would finally break free from everything that weighed heavy on him. But apparently, those long years had accumulated a toll. And on the 9.999th step of the 10k stairs, he was called to a different sailing ground – hopefully one where the winds are fair and the sun always shines.

Colorful Catamaran Sail

Hole in my side

The grief was and is beyond words. He was my rock, my best buddy, my confidant, my quirk sharer, my ally. My home. We supported each other through the everyday and gifted each other a reassuring and loving presence.

It felt like there was a big gap or hole in my side, as if a part of me just had been ripped out. And there was not only the emotional aspect, which already seemed unbearable.

Not having been married, my status went down to zero – zero right of decision (e.g. about his funeral), zero access (e.g. to his house, where my keys and lots of other personal things were), zero entitlement (e.g. to any of his legacy, and yep, it would have made me financially free).

He had fought a bitter legal war with his ex wife and children for 8 years, having no contact with the family whatsoever. And now it was them who had “access all areas”.

I was outside, even though I was the only human being who was close to him. And he would have rather died (ok, bad metaphor) than have them rummage through and inherit all that he left behind.

But like they say, where there is a will, there is a way. No will, no way. And he had been procrastinating writing his – for too long, obviously.

I wondered what to do now. Going back to Germany would have meant that I would not have been able to do or decide anything whatsoever. Just to sit at home and grieve, and be reminded of all the many places we visited together. Not a great perspective.

So I just stayed in Cape Town, and took a not so brief grief time-out. Since it was Xmas, everyone stayed with their families. I stayed with my bed and my memories.

And in between, I wrote. Poems, mostly:

Merciful escape

Sleep, in the face of death,

is the sweetest

of no longer sweet things

Not having to think

Not having to remember

Only giving power to dreams

to nothing else

Tomorrow is a new day!

Um, actually,

no new days for the moment, please, thank you

Can I just step outside of time

for a little dark age

and rejoin

when the pain

is down to “yes, I can…

tolerate to be awake” again?


My landlady Lynette, the sweet soul, arranged that the priest of her Anglican community should give me a call, which I thought was really nice. And the priest dedicated a lot of time in between his busy schedule to listening to and comforting me.

Lynette also took me to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve so that I might be uplifted by the energy of the congregation.

That did not really work out, but at least it provided some distraction. And the priest made puns with 80s music in his sermon, which was pretty impressive for a Xmas service.

Grieving from afar

Grief while traveling is different. In a way, being 12k kilometers from the usual surroundings helped to cope at least a little bit.

In Germany, it was dark, cold, wet, windy, heavy, and full of currently painful memories. In South Africa, I could sit on a bench and feel the sun and the warm breeze. I could discover new things that were neutral to me, not tinged with time-spent-together spots at every corner.

It also helped that I received a wave of love, sympathy, and compassion from all friends I had told about the turn of events. People near and far, close and not so close, were sharing my suffering, giving me comfort, saying important things that brought some relief.

(I will write a more detailed post about the things that helped me overcome my grief while traveling and link it here later on).

Given that recent turn of events, all those nice (and not so nice) travel moments of the last months faded away into meaninglessness.

And it was certainly the most difficult Christmas and New Year that I ever lived through.

A yellow heart shaped leaf in a puddle symbolizing grief while traveling

There is Always a Lesson in Grief

Like last year, one of my goals for 2023 is more consistency. I will eventually write more about my time in Namibia and South Africa.

But for now, grief, who snuck in like a stealth assassin in the last throes of 2022, has taken over and put its stamp on the year, dominating my (re)view, and casting a long shadow for the months to come.

I want to finish this post on a lighter note, though. Why? Because I was reminded of something important by these events (luckily enough, we parted lovingly on our very last video call, but this still struck me, as things might have been different):

We often get caught up in the everyday. We are in a rush, so we don’t kiss our loved ones goodbye. We forget to tell those close to our heart what they mean to us.

So please tell your loved ones that you love them – every single day. Be it your partner, kids, parents, family, or friends. Do not walk out of a phone call without telling them. Stay in the love and thankfulness and let them know. Never take anything for granted.

If you argue, never go to bed without reconciling and telling them you love them despite your disagreements.

Let us all be more outspokenly loving. Because you never know if the person you just talked to (or yourself, for that matter) is still alive 15 minutes later.

I will start by saying to all of you who are in my little universe: thank you for being here, and I love you all!

Be blessed 🙏🏼

And to my sweet Andreas: Godspeed, and my love will always be with you. ⛵



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