Editor’s Note: Traditionally at this time, NextTribe takes a group of women to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the celebration of Day of the Dead. We weren’t able to go this year because of COVID, but the spirit of the Mexican festival is deep in our DNA. This year, we will run a story about each of our trips and ask that we all take time to honor and remember the 200,000-plus Americans who have died during the pandemic.
I’m not one of those women who does girlfriend trips. I never belonged to a sorority. I’m a happy introvert who loves traveling with my husband or my sisters—but I’ve never been drawn to girls’ trips, or worse: organized tours with complete strangers. So it came as quite a surprise when I found myself saying yes to Jeannie Ralston’s invitation to fill in a last-minute opening on the NextTribe San Miguel de Allende trip at the end of October.
I’ve actually wanted to go since she started these trips a few years back, but I always decide that it would be “too much” to leave for a week; too much money, too much time away from the kids, too much “scary” to do something on my own, too much for my husband to manage without me, etc. This year was no different. I found all the excuses, plus this year, I had the added excuse of my brother. He had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was definitely not the right year to say yes to San Miguel.
But just then my 23-year-old son called me on his drive home from work. Jeannie had been his beloved high school English teacher years ago. My son disagreed with my excuses. He said I only ever travel for work, or to visit family, or to attend conferences. But I never, ever do anything just for me. Plus, he said “Jeannie’s legit. She’s your people.” He felt that the trip would have a grounding effect, and bolster me for the rough months ahead as we faced my brother’s mortality.
It was probably a good thing it was last-minute, otherwise I would have certainly talked myself out of it. There are just so many things that could go wrong when you’re traveling a week with 12 strangers, and my imagination did not disappoint.
However, the reality turned out to be absolutely amazing. Each meal, each shopping excursion, each tour felt like another chance to get to know someone in the group. Everyone was open and curious. Our first dinner was wonderful; when we all eagerly listened to each woman share their story and their reason for coming to San Miguel. I said yes to the trip because I was curious about the city, eager to connect to other women, and ready to own my age. But one of the main reasons that I signed up was because the trip fell during the Day of the Dead celebrations. Knowing that death was looming in my family, I was curious to discover how death was dealt with in other cultures. I was desperate to find a way to ease the pain of my brother’s tragic diagnosis, as well as figure out a way of coping with losing him.
Day of the Dead: What I Saw at the Cemetery
I wish I could convey the emotions we experienced when visiting the cemetery. There was joy in the bright orange and fuchsia flowers adorning each grave, and in the mariachi bands serenading the visitors.
There were happy children being fed treats next to a photo of a lost loved one. There was industrious busy-ness of people carrying buckets of water to wash the headstones and graves. There was chatting and laughter all around. But there was also deep respect and solemnity in the quietly long queues, in the dedication to decorating the graves, and in the remembering of loved ones. I will forever see death differently as a result of this experience.
I do not believe that everything “happens for a reason,” especially brain cancer. But I do believe that good things can emerge from bad things, that hardship and sorrow can launch fragments of joy. My brother’s diagnosis made me stop and assess my life. And I came to the conclusion: I will not let his suffering leave me unchanged. How dare I not say YES to living? How dare I stay complacent and not take advantage of the opportunities that land in my lap? There are rich destinations that need to be explored, intoxicating colors waiting to be inhaled, unfathomable lists of things to be grateful for, people looking for kindness, people wanting to be kind, beautiful deep breaths waiting to be breathed, and I am blessed enough to have been able to say yes to an amazing week in San Miguel.
Read More: Where Have All My Friends Gone? Dealing With the Losses That Come at Midlife
Tanja, I loved your article. Thanks for sharing your experience and your reflection – so beautiful.
Isabelle Ménard says
Tanja, I was so touched by your words, they resonate deep inside of me. I very recently lost my dad and what a journey it has been, and will continue to be… I am so grateful to know you and your family, and my heart goes out to all of you.
Dianna Collier says
So beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Sandra Croteau says
Words of wisdom from one on my dearest childhood friends. Sometimes a hardship of extreme measures is a sad and yet gentle reminder to be thankful for all that we have been given in life. A family – children – freedom – sweet memories – a little brother ❤️
Love and prayers to you
Anna Swisher says
Thank you for these thoughtful and bittersweet reflections. Tanja Knutson, you are always an inspiration!
Susan Smith says
Loved this article – beautifully written.
Your so amazing! you inspire all of us! ❤️❤️❤️ and again thank you so much for the picture of adrian, i really love how you did. God bless you all!
Tina Morrow says
Tanja Knutson you inspire! Thank you for sharing. God blessed you with a beautiful gift, so happy to see your published work speak to so many people who need to hear your heartfelt words.
Sending you hugs and lots of love ❤️