There’s something special about planning a vacation. Whether it’s a cruise to the Caribbean or a hike into the Grand Canyon, the anticipation of exploring new destinations and discovering jaw-dropping scenery fires the imagination with the promise of new experiences and the possibility of making new friends.
Many times, pictures of idyllic white-sand beaches, cotton candy sunsets, and swaying palm trees become the recipe for a second honeymoon, when the obligations and responsibilities of everyday living can be left behind to enjoy some uninterrupted time with your spouse.
Typically, we begin the process by perusing resort websites and travel brochures. We read the schedules, check the itineraries and, if budget and timing allow, make the reservations, looking forward to the departure date like a child counts down the days to Christmas.
More often than not, however, we set our travel plans aside and return to the more practical side of life, telling ourselves that some day we’re going to try that new resort in Mexico, or spend a week relaxing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
Bottom line, we seldom associate a sense of urgency with our travel plans. We consider the comfortable accommodations, the activities, and the new sights we’ll see as luxuries, while making the assumption that the future will always hold the same possibilities and opportunities.
But life has a beginning—and an end.
It’s one of those irrefutable facts that none of us like to think about. And for a forty-five-year-old man named Evan, it became a reality much too soon.
I met Evan on a Caribbean cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale. We were both browsing in the onboard gift ship when he approached and asked for my opinion about a tie he was considering. He’d forgotten to pack one and the recommended dress for the dining room that evening was formal. After he’d chosen the conservative dark blue, we chatted about the usual topics—where we were from, the ship’s itinerary, and what we thought of the food.
“Are you traveling with family?” I asked.
He hesitated, as if not sure how to answer. Finally, he offered a resigned smile and said, “Yes, I suppose in a way, I am.”
I resisted my natural curiosity. My questions would extend beyond the boundaries of polite conversation. He must have seen the confusion on my face because he immediately offered an explanation and in doing so, shared one of the most moving and powerful memories a surviving spouse can have—the last time they traveled with their soul mate.
He called it their “goodbye cruise,” and even though his wife—Frankie—had been gone for four years, he described their last journey together with such detail and emotion, it was easy to imagine it could have happened last week.
They had received the news from the doctor without warning. It didn’t seem possible—the prognosis, the short time that remained. And when the oncologist began talking about a treatment schedule, Frankie had wanted to wait. There was something else she wanted to do—something more important.
A cruise. Together.
It was a trip they had often promised each other they would take. But for reasons that are all too familiar, they had put it off, postponing what was now the most important thing in her life—a life now measured in days instead of years.