Four months after my return from Italy, I finally got the call I’d been simultaneously waiting for and dreading. Although I’d been grieving for over a decade during my mom’s illness, it hit hard. How could someone I love just cease to exist? I felt empty and alone.
But that’s when serendipity stepped in.
I was a guest on a radio show promoting my novel, When I Was Broken, talking about how hard it’d been to keep the work-life rhythm going while my mom was sick. I mentioned how travel had been my way to recharge, and one of the hosts casually mentioned her upcoming dream trip to Peru and Brazil. I didn’t want to derail our conversation, so I resisted the urge to yell “take me, take me!”
As soon as the interview ended, I circled back to talk to the host about her trip. After all, Peru had been on my bucket list forever. And because it was touted as one of the most spiritual places in the world, I thought it might be the perfect spot to regain my balance. She quickly extended an invitation, and in an impulsive move, I confirmed my participation the very next day. Five months and several payments later, the two of us departed together on our South American journey.
By the time we arrived at the hotel in the Sacred Valley (about an hour and a half drive from Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport), our heads were swimming because of the altitude. Our first stop was the bed, to sleep off some of the weird “hangover” feeling. Some travelers opt to take medicine for the altitude, some drink the local “coca” tea as a natural remedy, and some just pray for a quick adjustment.
When we awakened, we enjoyed strolling through the small town of Cusco, partaking in street vendors and local markets. We also sampled a holistic spa where I received the most incredible energy work I’ve ever experienced, and ate some amazing trout ceviche and quinoa (grown locally and served with many meals).
Soon enough we were off to the main attraction, Machu Picchu. The journey totaled a few hours by car, train and bus but was filled with picture perfect views of streams, mountains and clouds that felt almost close enough to touch. There was a palpable excitement in the air as we drove the last few miles up the mountain on our way to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Once at the site, our guide led us on a hike up the mountain as she talked about the history of the Lost City of the Incas. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but I must admit that between the altitude and the gazillion steps we climbed, I was tired! Finally, we reached a plateau where we rested along with grazing llama and got our first real view of the ruins. Breathtaking? Incredible? Mind-blowing? Even now I can’t find the right words to describe that moment.
I felt high enough to almost reach the heavens. I gave thanks for making it to my dream destination, for having an awesome travel experience, and for not passing out before I made it to the top! I’d seen my main attraction and was prepared to coast through Brazil. After our tour, I thought I was done.
Not even close.
It took us three flights and the better part of a day to get to the other side of South America. We reached our hotel in Iguazu Falls, Brazil, well after midnight, then had to be up by nine for breakfast and to meet our tour guide. I was grumbling inside, thinking no waterfall could be that special.
But then I saw it. Or rather, I saw all 275 of them. It took us two days to tour the Brazil and Argentina sides of the falls, which are twice as wide as Niagara Falls. Watching the force of the water was intoxicatingly peaceful as we walked across numerous bridges for different views.
My favorite moment came about halfway into our tour when I saw my first rainbow. And then my second. And then my third. My mom had always told me that rainbows were a sign of God’s promises, and while in that space, I felt as if God was promising that my mom was still with me.
All in all, I know my three-year journey was a bit of an atypical way to cope with my mom’s illness and transition. But it worked. Whenever I miss my mom now, I think back on the energy in Bali and give thanks for each moment with her. I reflect on the opera singer in Italy and remember how blessed I am to have felt her boundless love both then and now. Finally, I think of the rainbows in Brazil and am reminded that just because I can’t see her, doesn’t mean she’s with me any less.
I am not alone.
Imani is the author of the novel When I Was Broken and a book of inspirational thoughts, You Are Not Alone. An attorney by trade, she’s also a life coach and speaker dedicated to inspiring others to live each moment to the fullest. See more of Imani’s writing at byimani.com.