I only have one more sleep until I get on a plane to return to Iceland for nine days. I will be attending the Iceland Airwaves music festival, with a few days beforehand to potentially site-see, reunite with friends and family, or just simply find a quiet cafe in inspirational Reykjavik and write.
The first time I was preparing to go to Iceland, back in March 2014, things were very different. It was my first time visiting my country of origin, for one. It was the longest trip I had ever spent travelling completely solo. A portion of the trip was dedicated to attending the Iceland Writers Retreat, where I was surrounded by fellow writers and some of my favourite authors. And, my departure preparations were shaped by another life event that I’ve kept absent from social media and this blog – my grandfather died three days before my plane left the ground.
I’m not a social media over-sharer, where everyone who follows me or is friends with me knows every detail of my private life. I keep the details of my family, my relationships, my breakups, and my anxieties off of the internet for the exact reasoning that it is private. The people who need to know those things are told personally, and the rest don’t need to. When my grandfather passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, I did not post a Facebook post that said “RIP Grandpa,” because I did not see any benefit in what that would achieve. I did not want the condolences of people I haven’t seen in five years who still remain on my Facebook for reasons we have both forgotten. But selfishly, I think, I did not want those same people, people who had witnessed my relentless “T-X days to Iceland!” posts leading up to that point, to connect the dots of what a death in the family would mean for me prior to my big trip, and ask the questions I did not want to answer. I did not want to face a plethora of presumptuous people who thought this would mean I would no longer go, or ask me if I would still go.
There was no funeral for my grandfather, at least not in a proper, religious sense. Going along with his and my pre-deceased grandmother’s wishes, he was cremated, and we waited for winter to settle into spring. Two months after my return from Iceland, we mixed the ashes of my grandparents together and visited the small, tree-filled park behind their old house. I unknowingly wore black while my family dressed in colour, and my father gently told me when I arrived that this was a celebration of their lives and not an occasion of sorrow. My family took turns sprinkling the ashes amidst the trees and bushes, and a light breeze painted a gruesome irony of rogue, grey flecks showing more visibly on my black skirt.
I took my three day bereavement leave, and went in to work before my departure for only a few hours to take care of my timesheet and other last-minute necessities. My responsibilities were dumped on my co-workers while I stayed home nurturing both my sadness and a relentless cold, the perfect cocktail for unproductive days. Somehow I found the energy to pack, call my bank, and finish a school project. And for both my family and myself, there was never a question about whether I was still going to Iceland. Though my grandfather was not cognisant of who I was in his final years, the last time there was recognition was prior to my departure on my France exchange, when he had given me half the money I needed to fund the trip. My family and I both knew that he would have wanted me to go.
Life does not wait for grief to subside. It goes on, whether you’re ready or not. But dealing with grief gave me an entirely new perspective on my journey to Iceland. Icelandic family that I had never met were to pick me up at the Keflavik airport, and I was to meet countless family members when I had just lost someone who knew me my entire life. The whole idea was terrifying and I wasn’t feeling whole yet, but I had to put on my brave face and remember that travel is about growth, new experiences, and appreciating where you are while you’re there, because one day you will be nothing but ashes scattered in a St. Albert park.
This time, as I prepare to leave for Iceland again tomorrow afternoon, there is not a cloud of grief hanging over my head, nor do I have a cold. It is not my first time going to Iceland, nor my first time going on a trip completely by myself. It’s a shorter trip – I keep reminding friends who demanded to see me before I leave that I was only going to be gone for nine days and that they’d survive.
This time, it’s less the embracing of the unknown and a completely new culture and landscape. There’s a familiarity in Iceland now, like the feeling of returning home after a long journey away. I already know where my favourite places to drink coffee in Reykjavik are, where I like to shop. Of course there are always new restaurants to try, but that’s the same in even my home city.
Iceland and I became acquainted and got to know each other over a period of three weeks earlier this year. I think this time, it’s more like we are already friends. Surrounded by amazing Icelandic and international music for five days, and holing up in cafes to take a break from the busyness of Canadian life to read and write, I anticipate the feeling of belonging I experienced when we first met.
Old friend – I look forward to seeing you early Sunday morning.