Traveling Through Heartbreak

One of the focuses in this month’s TCBN is on travel, meetings and events. After a tragic and life-changing experience three years ago, I have personally discovered the powerful and healing benefits that traveling can offer. Today I live with a renewed focus on creating happy, long-lasting memories, especially gained when traveling with my two boys.

On November 11, 2016, our lives changed suddenly and permanently. Rick, my husband of 25 years, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in his sleep. Six hours later, I also suffered a heart attack from the stress and shock of this loss, diagnosed as Broken Heart Syndrome.

After surviving these incidents and allowing time for our family’s healing, I promised myself that I would continue to create great family memories. We not only needed to survive, but we owed it to Rick to thrive and live life to the fullest. Our four-legged stool (Rick, myself and our two boys) was no longer functional; the remaining three legs needed to change formation. As I focused on how our family would regroup, I thought traveling together could help the three of us create new and significant memories.

While he was alive, Rick and I had been so busy with our family, our boys’ sporting events and our careers that we didn’t make much time to take family trips or even outings for ourselves. It was more likely that the two of us would go to an out-of-town sporting event or one of us would attend a business conference.

I felt the need to change my priorities. In the last 16 months, I have continued traveling to watch both sons play college hockey, but together we have also visited Florida, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Most recently, my Christmas present to our boys was a two-week trip to Italy. During this time, I discovered that traveling can provide many healing benefits.

Discovering skills you didn’t know you had. Travel is full of challenges and overcoming them gives you some of the greatest joys of all. Sometimes it’s only far from home that you realize your unused navigational skills, like reaching the top of the leaning tower of Pisa or navigating the maze-like streets of Venice without getting lost, for example. Finding our hotel again each night was like a prize at the end of the day.

Challenging your brain. There’s something satisfying about being able to speak a few words in a foreign language, even if it’s just knowing how to say thank you or asking where the bathroom is. Once we learned a few Italian words, we were able to use these language skills in new ways, giving us a keen sense of accomplishment.

Imparting the thrill of adventure. Zip-lining over the strip in Las Vegas, bartering for the best price in the markets of Florence and taking a helicopter ride over the Hoover Dam were all adventures worth having. We are hardwired for the excitement of adventure and travel is a great way to tap into it.

Delivering an education. Seeing the world provides an education that’s absolutely impossible to get in school. Travel teaches you art, economics, politics, history, geography and sociology in an immediate, hands-on way.  My boys had no idea how much fun it could be to learn about Italy and other U.S. destinations.

Providing perspective. Meeting people from other cultures will teach you that the way you’ve been looking at the world isn’t the way everybody else does. In fact, your point of view might have some blind spots. Immersing ourselves in other cultures has improved our worldview. The way people in other cultures and countries view the world, speak, prepare food and break bread together inspired all of us.

Developing valuable connections. People you meet while on the road can become valued friends; their hometowns become places on the map to visit later on. These folks give you a glimpse outside your local circle of friends and force you to take in new and refreshing perspectives. You begin to realize that we share many core values.

The loss of my husband has helped our family focus on what’s really important, which is being together and sharing great memories. Focus on togetherness every day before tragedy strikes. Hug your family and friends every day like it’s your last hug. Make time to travel, even if it’s going to a local park. The journey itself is so much more important than the destination.

Connie Deneweth is a Certified Public Accountant and banker, while also holding several leadership roles, including Community Bank President of Republic Bank from 1992-2000 and CEO and Director of Traverse City State Bank from 2009-2018. She is also a developer and managing member of Copper Ridge, an office, retail and residential complex in Traverse City, a former board member and vice chair of Munson Healthcare, current chairperson of the Munson Healthcare Audit Committee, co-chair of the Grand Traverse Area Catholic School capital campaign, board member of Cherryland Cares Foundation and board member of the Oleson Foundation. Connie is also a business development consultant at Independent Bank.

Deneweth’s column will be rotating this year with Katie Horvath, CEO of local big data company Naveego, and McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, a specialty provider of classic car insurance headquartered in Traverse City.