Is It Time to Go Back Home? Travel, Death and Changes

This has been an interesting week. A week with ups and downs. With comedy and tragedy. With old friends and new ones. A week with life and death. A week of…changes.

The only constant in life is change. And change is all you need to wake up and realize what’s happening all around you.

It all started on a cold winter morning in Europe…

This was the third time that I have celebrated my birthday abroad and you cannot imagine my great happiness when my birthday present arrived at the door: My best travel friend Camille of This American Girl.

Together we were set to explore Europe’s Best Winter Destinations for this January and February and we went to celebrate the moment in one of Helsinki’s finest restaurants. We talked, we ate, we drank and as we talked about our travel plans for the following next weeks…deep down we knew that something was quite off.

Drink at Hoku Restaurant

The day I got the bad news I decided to ignore

A few days after my birthday, and after exploring some of the city of Helsinki, Camille and I set off for Estonia and it was during that fateful ferry ride that I checked my phone and I saw a disturbing message from my mother: My grandma was terminally ill and she had only a few days to live.

I couldn’t believe it, or rather, I chose not to. The next couple of days were some of the most amazing ones as I explored the winter fairytale land of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and one of the most charming places you’ll ever see in your lifetime.

And yes, instead of confronting reality and calling back home to say my last goodbyes, I chose to ignore it and fill myself with fine food and drink in order to try to forget. Or rather, to avoid remembering it in the first place.

It wasn’t until I saw a Mexican flag hanging outside of a restaurant in Estonia that I dropped to my knees and I thought to myself: “Is it time to go home?”.

Winter in Tallinn

The death of a dream and the birth of a new one

After our short trip to Estonia, we came back to Helsinki for a Travel Conference where we met with many Finnish and International brands where we talked to them about our projects and it was during that point that both Camille and I realized the truth that was now evident:

We’re not used to travel as a team. We’re both independent spirits that like to travel alone. We both care deeply for each other and because of that, the best solution was to let each other be free to follow their own true heart calling. Their own journey of wonders.

It was the death of a dream and with that, a flame was born from the ashes of it. Communication is always essential and we’re both glad that we will always have each others’ backs no matter if we’re traveling together or alone. That’s the true power of friendship and I love it.

Sunrise at Helsinki

Coming to terms with the loss of my family

During the days of the conference, my grandma passed away. To this day, it pains me to admit that I cannot go home for the funeral. No…I don’t want to go home for the funeral. Doing so would make it real and I’m not sure if I’m ready to handle that yet.

In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday morning when a friend of mine told me about the passing of her grandma that I got the courage to finally talk about the fact that mine is gone too from this world. And it really hurts.

I’m not a believer of the afterlife in the traditional sense but the scientist in me knows that energy never dies or is destroyed, it is only transformed. I know my grandma’s essence is out there somewhere and I hope that she’s not sad because the fact that I never bothered to give her a call in her last few days. She knew me better than that. She knew the person I was and the person I am now.

And I’m not sure what to think of that.

Estonia Church

The lesson I learned from all of this…

The only constant in life is change. That has always been my mantra but deep down, I still have a hard time accepting the fact that something has changed even though it is naturally easy for me to adapt to the situation. Yes, of course I can cope with changes…but sometimes I don’t want to.

I really wanted to travel in Europe with my best travel friend. I really wanted to be able to be in Mexico to be there for my family. I really wanted for this week to be different. But the past’s the past and I’m grateful for the way this week’s events have happened since it helped me connect with a part of me that I once thought was gone and buried.

I am not Raphael Alexander Zoren. I am not the Man of Wonders. I am, simply put, a human. I am the master of my own destiny. I am the main character of the book of my life. I am the one who solves impossible situations using possible solutions.

And you know what? You are the most amazing person you’ll ever meet in the world, you just need that little push, that little boost in confidence, that little empowerment that will make you realize how life will always change around you, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

We were all born. We will all die. What you do between those two moments it’s entirely up to you. Be the master of your destiny. Am I sad for the death of a dream and the death of a loved one? Of course I am, it’s perfectly fine to be sad, it’s perfectly fine to cry.

What matters the most is what you make out of those situations. Seize the day and be responsible for your own happiness. I’m not alright…but I know I will be.

Have a good weekend my friends.

Raphael Alexander Zoren in Winter

28 Responses

  1. Anna

    I think you should have gone home… and I’m saying this because I was in a similar situation and I didn’t go. Few months later I’ve realized how much I regret it

  2. Janet

    Sorry for your loss. I, too, have been in the same situation and it is so hard to deal with the death of a grandparents while abroad. Both my grandparents became ill while I was abroad, once in Australia and once in India. I flew home on both occasions, arriving within hours of the funeral. It often feels so easy to ignore the reality and keep on travelling but at the end of the day family is SO important and it is so important to say a proper goodbye and deal with the grief. That said, I do have major regrets at times about making those decisions as I did not have enough money to fly back to Oz or India to continue my adventure. It’s important to say goodbye, but you have to live your own life too. :-)

  3. Leah

    Sorry to hear about your loss. I know that must have been so hard to deal with when traveling so far from home. I have one remaining grandparent and I have often thought about how I would handle a similar situation…it’s easy to say I would go home but would I really be able to make the decision so easily in practice? Can’t say for sure. Hope you have started to heal anyway.

  4. Ana O

    I’m sorry for your loos. Both my grandmothers passed away while I was across the Atlantic and I was not able to attend their funerals. It is very hard, I know. But it gets better.

  5. Vicky and Buddy

    I think you have a great attitude towards life and many people can learn from you. I’d like to share a quote by John C. Maxwell with you that I keep on a sticky note… “Life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent of how I react to it.” I know you will be fine Raphael, you seem like a strong person. Safe travels…

  6. Jerry

    If you and your grandmother was close, you should’ve gone to be with her during her final days. It’s great you are traveling and seeing the world, but it’s all pointless if you’re gaining these experiences while missing out on some of the most important moments in your family’s lives. All your travel destinations will always be there in the future, but your parents and grandparents won’t.

  7. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru

    I’m sure it was tough to share this as it appears you’re still ambivalent about your decision. A good litmus test for me has long been asking one question: “will I regret not doing this?” No doubt you’ll have an entirely different perception on the relationship triumvirate of decision-making, taking action and regret now that you’ve had this experience.

  8. Katelyn @ Diaries of a Wandering Lobster

    First off, I’m sorry about your loss. It is never easy. Second of all, you are wise beyond your years. I loss my grandmother while I was away one summer and I didn’t go home for the funeral either. My parents said I could if I wanted to, but she would have wanted me to stay. I’m sure your grandmother would want you to continue following your dreams and experience new things. Keep your head up and put on foot in front of the other. :-)

  9. Jasmine

    I am so sorry for your loss and the challenging week you have faced. How i deal with bad things is by believing that at the end of the day, your family and your grandma want to see you happy – choose the path that makes you happy. The counsellor side of me thinks that being surrounded by families love and support at times like this helps the being the acceptance and healing process – but as always, you must do what is right for you at the time.
    Best of luck Raphael and condolences to your family at this time. :)

  10. John

    Really sorry to hear about your Grandma. Just try to remember that the goodbye isn’t what’s most important: it’s the time you had together and the memories you have now.

  11. Jane

    Hello: I admire your candor and the fact that like any imperfect person, you argued the ambiguities surrounding your circumstances. You did just fine.
    I envy your travels. I just got over a major operation and six months of treatment for cancer. I am working in a high level job now and waiting for son’t wedding in June. Next year I want to take off again. I am scared and curious and excited. I am 69 years old. I read your posts. Should I take off? Thank you.

  12. Kerwin

    So you never made it for the funeral? Funerals are good as it provides closure. I never cry at funerals, just reflect.

    it’s good to stay in touch with family as death is imminent. I’ve lost a lot of family members, so now its never mourning, its just continuing their life if you can say that.

    sorry for your lost, but glad that it seemed to have changed your future path.

  13. Chris Wotton

    Sorry for your loss – it sounds like you’ve had quite a time of it recently. But you also sound like a very strong person, and you made two vitally important points in your post – that the past is the past and that you know you’ll be alright. Keep smiling.

  14. Rashad Pharaon

    My condolences, my friend. The same thing happened with me recently; my grandfather passed. Luckily, I was in Lebanon at the time and only a short trip away from him. I’m sure your grandmother would have loved for you to fulfill your dream above and beyond all, so trek on and share your splendid stories.

    I hope you’re okay and I’m sorry for your loss, safe travels,


  15. Caroline Achieng Otieno

    So sorry about your loss! I do hope you will have time to grieve properly and the pain of her absence will dull over time. I lost my father when I was in Europe and it was hard not being able to go for the funeral..had immigration issues at the time. My brother passed a couple of years after (tragic road accident) and I made in time for the funeral and managed to pay my respects at my fathers grave…what. I tried to do is celebrate their lives, and have the peace knowing that we will meet again (I’m not so scientific so I firmly believe they live on in eternity)..

  16. Sky

    So sorry for your loss! I can only imagine what it must be like to hear that news and make the decision of whether or not to go home. The end of this post is so beautiful and you are completely right. It’s something I struggle with every day but change really is the only constant in life.

  17. Dana @ The Talking Suitcase

    I’m so sorry for your loss! The end of your article really spoke to me, “seize the day and be responsible for your own happiness”. We’ve been struggling with the decision to travel even through my father-in-law is sick. He told us to go, so we are seizing the day.

  18. Katie

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother Raphael! I returned home last summer for my grandmother, who luckily turned out okay! It’s a difficult call, especially when you are so far from home, but as you said once the call is made you can only move forward. All the best x

  19. Francesca One Girl: One World

    My deepest condolences for your loss. I commend you on having the strength to write about something so personal and so deep, and ending it on a positive note of encouragement. While there are some things we simply can’t control in our lives, one thing we can do is live it the best we can.

    Peace, love, and travel!

  20. Rachel of Hippie in Heels

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m all teary reading this. I just got the call today from my dad in Ohio that my grandpa is literally on his last day and I’m all the way in India. With some travel alerts my parents asked that I don’t come back for his funeral & I have been thinking all day on what to do then started distracting myself on bloglovin’ reading about travel. I usually go home only once a year – so just having a lot of thoughts then saw this post. Thank you for writing it.

  21. Chad

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your grandma. I too had a similar experience of doing my internship in the USA and within 2 weeks of being over there notified that my grandfather had passed away. It’s bloody tough during those times being so far away from family hey. I had seriously considered returning but got the blessing of my family to stay as they knew travel is one of my greatest passions. I hope you are still enjoying your time in Finland; definitely on my to-do list.

  22. Bret

    Sorry to hear about the passing of your grandma, Rafael. I was extremely close to my Granny, and her death was a huge loss for our family. I also lost my dad unexpectedly a few weeks ago, right before we left for Belize, so I can relate to the conflicting feelings about attending the funeral. I ultimately went, but it wasn’t easy or comfortable. You have to do what’s right for you, and only time will tell if you made the best decision under the circumstances.

  23. Shelley

    So sorry to hear about your grandma. Everyone deals with the passing of a loved one differently. Maybe this post is a way of remembering her?

  24. Scott

    Sorry for your loss, Raphael. Thanks for sharing something so personal. I hope you can continue to enjoy the Balkans even though there is sadness on your mind.


  25. Angelika Schwarz

    I’m a traveler and I’m a grandmother of four grandchildren. I have a very close relationship to all of them. If my grandchild were far away, and I knew my last days were nearing, I would never want my grandchild to end his or her travels to visit me one last time. I would want my grandchild to keep me in his or her memories as a person full of light and laughter. That would be the most heartfelt present a grandchild could give me. Don’t feel guilty. Live your life to the fullest, for that’s what it’s all about. :-)

  26. Lisa

    Sorry for your loss :( I am in the same situation now. My Gran is 82 and she has to go in for open heart surgery in the next few weeks and there is a chance she may not survive it. I am due to travel to Australia 2 weeks today on a trip of a lifetime but i feel guilt and sadness that if the worst was to happen when I am away what would i do. I love my Gran with so much but this trip has been my dream for years.