I had already experienced a holiday on my own when I went to Hong Kong in February. But I had also gone away a couple of times on my own when I was with Gail – a World Cup trip to Germany and a visit to Krakow to go to Auschwitz – so I wasn’t too daunted by the prospect of travelling alone. It was odd certainly, but I can’t rightly say I had no experience whatsoever.
In June though came a different thing altogether. A holiday in Italy with my daughter Natalie and new Son-in-Law Steve. (N.B. Gail is not Natalie’s Mother). This had come about as principally a Christmas present for them both, but also as a thank you for the support I’d received the previous July. This visit to the Amalfi Coast was an attempt to do some of those things that had long been on the list but had faded from view during the years of Gail’s poor health. There had been a time we could have done them, but we had other things to do – other things to spend our limited resources on – and fitting them in became more unlikely as the days progressed.
But now, without Gail and the difficult to acknowledge, but basic fact that, it’s cheaper for one to travel rather than two, I’d decided to start seeing those things I wanted to see. There had to be some point to being on my own and this had to be it. I know Gail would have approved.
Also, though it was barely acknowledged, it was still a basic truth. Gail and I would never have gone away with anyone else – even my Son and Daughter-in-Law and Daughter and Son-in-Law – not for any particular reason either. It’s just not who we were. Gail and I worked together on our own and anyone coming in from outside – even close family – would have seemed odd.
So it was, 2019 would be a chance to see some things I’d almost certainly not had seen but for the events of July 2018, but it was also a chance to do something else I’d not have done, and that is go on holiday with my kids and their respective partners. I booked a hotel in Sorrento so I could ‘do’ Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. In terms of the Bucket List – I hate the term but it will have to do – and also trying to realign my new life, it really did tick all the boxes.
It was the first night in Sorrento though when I realised I had some explaining to do. Not that I knew I did at first; it just crept up unawares.
You see Sorrento would have been a place Gail loved; the restaurants, bars, atmosphere but most of all the shops. As I wandered with my daughter and SIL I actually found myself stopping on occasion, so used to knowing what shops Gail would want to go in. I found myself looking at clothes thinking ‘She’d look great in this’ and, as happened in London at Christmas, had to physically hold myself back from going in and finding the price of a couple of pieces of jewellery. It was like walking a tightrope, but one where you’d suddenly woken up and found you’d been placed on the rope without your knowledge.
I wanted to reach for Gail’s hand – something I miss more than anything – and I did find myself looking enviously at my daughter and her husband as they were able to do that easiest and most magical of things.
Before I’d even contemplated that though, my daughter drew my attention to something I hadn’t even realised. “Dad, you OK? You’re quiet?”. Was I? How did I know? I’d spent a good deal of time on my own since the previous July and I just lived within that; not in a depressing, lonely way but simply as someone going about things without the person they normally spoke to not being around to converse with.
I realised quickly I was quiet but for a reason. You see, I was speaking to Gail in my head. “Look at that Pet, that’s nice isn’t it”, “Would you like that?”, “Oh, You’re getting that then are you?”, “Oh yea, that really suits you” etc. etc. All that and even “Not another bloody shoe shop, Pet. Give me a break eh?” . It was our life together for so many years, so many holidays and now I was living it for her because she couldn’t.
But all my daughter saw, of course, was me being quiet, not conversing, deep in thought. It was a hard lesson because I’d not had anyone around to see me and question anything before. Now I could see how I was.
Even so, it took me two days to summon up the strength to tell my daughter why I was like I was. It’s hard because, if you have to talk, you want to say things like ‘Gail would have loved this’ but you have to respect who you are travelling with. Also, with Gail not being her Mother, there simply wasn’t the emotional crush for my daughter as there was for me. I had to explain something in words that actually only existed in my head before then and that is ‘This hasn’t ended – in fact, it’s not even started. Gail is here in my head every second of every day and I take her with me everywhere and see things that we should see together on my own. I see Sorrento, these clothes, this jewellery, this bar, this food, because she can’t’. That’s hard. Really hard. And I struggled to get the words out.
I had similar emotions in Capri a few days after – another place Gail would have loved – and there was even the Monte Solaro chairlift that I would have insisted on going on and which would have had Gail swearing profusely at me for making her ride. I was able to do it myself, of course, but I actually found I missed the verbal abuse and the associated joy in hearing her… so I simply inserted it into my head as I went up and down.
Again, not being a travel blog, I’ll say no more about Sorrento than that. It was a wonderful holiday and one I would never have experienced had Gail still been with me but, in much the same way that I can never see a lemon again without thinking of Sorrento, the holiday was still Gail-tinged and there are things I saw did and experienced – too many to recount here – that will always seem in my memory to have had Gail associated with them.
Perhaps, one day, with my aged brain far-away and never to return, I will actually believe I went there with her. In my way, I did.