Love & Loss: Revisiting a Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip with My Grandmother

Every day, I attempt to share how it feels to live a nomadic, travel-centric life. Most days, that involves stories and images of beautiful destinations and interesting people we meet along the way. But epic sunsets can never be the full story. This life, like any other, involves profound loss. Because I believe in sharing it all, I offer a very personal story, a love letter and reflection for the woman who always inspired me to chase my dreams, my grandmother Frances.

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Love and loss: Remembering my grandmother Frances.

This fun-loving, spark of a human – the most influential person in my life – passed into the light two weeks ago, at 95-years-old. When she took her last breath, I was 5,000 miles away in Croatia. I don’t write that statement because of regrets in that regard – Matt and I traveled back to the U.S. during the holidays in December to take her road-tripping and dance-partying (two of her favorite activities. She was always known for lighting up dance floors until the wee hours), and made the journey again in February when she was placed on Hospice.

I mention the distance because when we set out to become full-time travelers, over three years ago, being so far away from my “Granny” was the biggest hesitation. She and I have had a special relationship and counted each other as best friends – peas in a pod, as they say in the Southern U.S. Leaving her to explore the world wasn’t an easy decision.

Peas in a pod: My Grandmother and Me.
Peas in a pod: My Grandmother and Me.

But, I knew in my heart, everything she taught me in life made the decision clear. Always a maverick and trailblazer, she never followed the predictable path. From moving to Chicago (from Florida) on her own in her early 20s, dancing in clubs every night and becoming a jitterbug champion to developing into an entrepreneur and beauty shop owner, she was always fearless. Through her example, I was inspired to dream, boldly, and to follow my own course. I was taught never to allow others to define how you should live. To be the person she helped raise, I knew I had to pursue a different kind of life and follow my own passions.

 

Yet, even as close as we were, I can’t say she fully understood the decision to uproot our lives. She asked many questions and we discussed the topic often. She couldn’t believe that we could work hard for so many years to build careers, create a beautiful home, develop important friendships, just to “up and leave,” (her words).

She couldn’t wrap her head around the restless passion for travel, yet she always supported us. In many ways, I feel like physical distance would come to bring us closer than ever. We talked several times a week, sometimes daily, and she asked what it was like where we were and what we were doing. Occasionally, my mom helped facilitate video calls, which were always comical (even as savvy as my Grandmother was, looking into a smart phone to someone a world away was always weird and unnatural to her). Through these video chats, along with postcards and pictures diligently sent from every new place, my grandmother saw the world through our journey.

Then an opportunity of a lifetime revealed. During a call, I jokingly asked, “So, Granny, when are you coming to visit?” “I’m ready,” she said, though she didn’t have a passport, had never traveled outside the U.S. and never expressed interested in journeying so far. A new dream was launched.

Trip of a Lifetime

Two days before my mom and grandmother (a spry 93-years-old, at the time), were set to fly to Venice, Italy, I became a nervous wreck.

Had I put too much pressure on them to visit us? Should we have traveled back to the U.S. instead? Could my grandmother’s health handle the long flight, jet lag and time change, plus heat and crowds of July? What if something terrible happened to her because she wanted to visit us?

When I saw those two women walk through the gate at Marco Polo Airport (each accompanied by one small bag – they had taken my “pack lightly” pleas to heart), their strength shined through. Both were exhausted, yet eyes shined brightly, ready for adventure and discovery.

We explored Venice by water taxis and strolling along quiet canals. We hopped from one picturesque café to another, tasting every Venetian speciality in our path. Luck was on our side one evening, when after dinner at one of our all-time favorite spots Perduto Paradiso, local musicians took the stage and began playing funky tunes as tables gave way to a small dance floor. The singer soon introduced a special guest musician. On this night, of all nights, the sit-in was an old-school Mississippi bluesman. We danced into wee hours.

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A few days later, as we left Venezia and traveled into the mountainous region of Trentino, (the place we now call home during summer), we watched as my grandmother marveled at soaring peaks. “Why didn’t I know about these mountains?,” she asked. “No one ever told me about the Dolomites.” She just couldn’t understand why she had never seen a picture in a book or TV program about this place. It was a joy to see her fully in discovery mode.

We packed so much goodness in to those two weeks. From savoring elaborate multi-course dinners of pasta, cheese and wine to picking apricots and cherries from trees for a lakeside picnic, we tasted it all. From shopping and scoring Italian fashions to meeting and connecting with locals, my mom and grandmother tasted a bit of our lives and we experienced Italy like never before.

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In my favorite writing assignment to date, I had the opportunity to write about the trip for Fodor’s. (I love this story and hope it inspires you to consider a multi-generational trip with your own family).

Navigating Car-Free Venice With My 93-Year-Old-Grandmother

Can We Keep the Grand Canal Grand?
Exploring the Grand Canal like Generations Before.

When I told friends about a dream to take my grandmother to Venice, her first trip ever outside the U.S., even Italians labeled the idea as crazy. With nearly 200 canals, 400-foot bridges, and endless dead end paths, the island city is tricky to navigate at any age. Add in a constant crush of fellow-tourists and, admittedly, the idea may seem shy of sane.Still, I was determined to share one of my favorite spots on the planet with the woman who has inspired me to chase dreams, wherever they may lead. Continue reading…

 

Honoring Her Memory

It’s my hope that trip helped my grandmother to better understand the choices we made. I believe it did. I’ve thought many times that had Matt and I not embarked on our journey, we may never have experienced Italy with my family. The longing my grandmother felt for us, inspired her to get her first ever passport and fearlessly hop on a plane to a foreign land at 93-years-old.

Setting out for a road trip, December 2017.
Setting out for a road trip, December 2017.

Next, she wanted to visit us where we spend winter, in Spain. She wanted to see what it was about too, she said. That trip wasn’t to come to be, but, we will always have those two magical weeks in Italy, a trip and experience that I will treasure all of my days.

I realized before, even more so now, that living every day to the fullest is the best way I can honor her life and memory. She taught me to be true to myself and run fast toward my dreams. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. And, for that – and so much more – I am forever grateful.

 


Frances Lucille Wilson, you made the world a brighter place and we are thankful for you.


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