You meet lots of people while travelling, and that’s a good thing, no doubt about that. You get to exchange views, anecdotes about places, little bits of important information about your next destination or places you have already been to, etc. It’s all very civil; some people are very chatty; some will ask you lots of questions; some will tell you lots about themselves, while others seem to prefer not to say much at all.
Travelling with two young boys always attracts the attention of other travellers. People like to comment on how well behaved they are, or they will ask whether they are twins (“they look so much like each other are they twins?”), or they will make a comment on their (obvious) Australian accent.
A fairly usual (and really, harmless) comment we get is the one about how lucky we are to have twins. I remember a waiter two years ago, while we were visiting Burgos (Spain), who made the comment to me while serving lunch. I replied that everything was relative, and that I did not (could not) consider myself lucky. He looked puzzled, and asked me what I meant. So I told him: “These two boys had an older sister. She died a year ago in a tsunami, in Samoa, in the Pacific. We were all caught by the tsunami. Clea was the only one who drowned. Do you really think I am lucky?”
His expression changed on the spot, of course. He apologised profusely. I did not understand why he needed to apologise. I still don’t. He did nothing wrong.
The no-go area is what I call that moment when someone I have just met finds out that my daughter died three years ago in the Samoan tsunami. It does not seem to matter much that a library was built and named after her in the Samoan village where she drowned. Anything related to Clea becomes a no-go area. Most people do not want to know anything else.
All of which I perfectly understand. Why would anyone wish to know more about parental grief, or about the circumstances of anyone’s death, or about what it is like to go through a tsunami? Why would anyone who is in fact on a holiday wish to step into this uncomfortable territory of terror and horror, of loss and grief, this disconsolate terrain of what it is like to live life without your child?
It is perfectly understandable. I am a stranger who they happen to meet on a bus, in a hotel or at a restaurant in a country thousands of miles away from home. I am not part of their world, their reality. Just like my reality is, quite logically, not the sort of story you want to hear while on holidays.
We, the grieving, are strangers to them, and I think it is fair enough that we will remain strangers, and we will never hear from each other again.
But why have we become strangers to others who were so close and used to know us so well? Why have our new, not-chosen-by-ourselves lives become a no-go area?