What happens when a friend dies and you are long-term traveling?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ November 25th, 2011. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas.

When you never knew that someone died

A friend of mine for many years has died. Aside from the loss, what really impacted me is that it took a long time for me to find out about it.

Long-term travelers, people living overseas or those on a year round the world journey might benefit from this short article.

My Friend

Joseph was an old school kinda guy. Didn’t take crap from anyone, and made his own way in life. We got on well. We stayed in contact via email throughout my journey.

Over the years Joseph’s always kept in touch, urging me on, enjoying the places I’d visited, as well as filling me in on what’s been happening in his own life.

Last year Joseph got sick. He told me about the treatment, and I asked that he  keep me updated. And, he did.

He seemed to be recovering well.

Staying in touch

With anyone traveling long-term you’ll know that emails sometimes come frequently, or infrequently. But, the addresses in your email address book are always there waiting. You tend to just collect them, rarely adding connections to them.

I realized I’d not heard from Joseph for a few months. And so, sent one of those update mails.

And, then another.

And, another.

No replies … I began to get concerned.

Then, the last one bounced back.

A fear gripped me as I already knew why. But I hoped I was wrong.

I tried calling, but his number was disconnected.

We knew no one else in common.

After a lot of searching and calling, I finally found out my friend had indeed died.

Lessons not many people follow

It would have been easier to find out he’d died if we’d had a lot of mutual friends. But we didn’t. A lesson I share with many is this:

“Out of sight, out of mind”

Joseph’s family didn’t know me that well and certainly didn’t have my email address.

In these days of social networks, email and a life less settled it’s not always feasible in the traditional sense to let people know about private matters like death. Who to tell? Do you send out a message saying someone died. If you don’t know the relative, then you’ll never see the message.

Think about this

Have you met someone while traveling. Become friends with them. Exchanged email addresses e.t.c.,? Have you stayed in contact for a long time?

This is all good.

“But have you figured out what to do if the emails or updates stop?”

Do you know any of their family personally? I think not.

I scoured the internet telephone directories and called many people with Joseph’s name.

I had even asked for him to pass on my information when I learned of his illness to others “just in case“.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Who knows.

My point is this. If you are traveling long-term, or living overseas. Make sure to introduce at least one friend from one circle to another.

It’s a long shot, but one that can save you some worry, guilt and grief.

If you make good friends with someone living in another country, simply ask for one of their relatives email. Tell them why if you must, just make sure you have another close contact of theirs.

At least then you might avoid what I’ve been through recently.

A message to Joe:

“So you even managed to be a pain in the ass after you’ve died! Ha ha. But then I guess the world wouldn’t want it any other way, would it.

Seriously, I hope you are getting to see new and brilliant places once more. Thank you for all the help you gave me. I never forgot. And, I never will forget you.”

Proboscis Monkeys in a Group

"As promised, a photo from Borneo"

“I thought you might find this photo amusing. Hope you are able to read along and look at the others I’ve taken in Borneo.

All the best, and onwards with the next adventure my friend.”

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26 Great responses to What happens when a friend dies and you are long-term traveling?

  1. hayadith says:

    sorry for the loss..
    may he rest in peace..

  2. flipnomad says:

    sorry to hear about this. condolence Dave

  3. nancy todd says:

    I relate to your post. For me, I knew the friend had died. But it did not seem like a reality and I did not grieve for months later. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Victoria says:

    A good friend of ours has just passed away too!
    Carl lived in Croatia, and we met through a 4×4 competition. Fortunately we were informed about his death, and are still very upset.
    What has been very helpful, is a good friend of Carl’s managed to contact us through the organisation. And we’ve been exchanging emails and grieving together. Amazing! Complete strangers sharing favourite memories of an amazing guy we miss terribly.
    Good tip. Sorry about your loss.

    • My condolences on your recent loss Victoria.

      It’s good to know you are able to share the grieving process with a mutual friend you didn’t know before.

      I hope there are smiles and funny stories about Carl in there too. Sharing memories about a person that make you smile in remembrance helps a lot, I think.

  5. Bru says:

    Dave, am so sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your loss with the rest of us. Your story struck a chord in many of us, I’m sure. The world is indeed a small place yet when you lose someone, it is gi-normous, despite where you are. I know Joe will be travelling with you now – he will be that sudden breeze in your hair when there is no wind. Blessings and travel safe.

  6. Anthony says:

    Sorry you had to go through this, Dave.

  7. My condolences. I had a similar but different experience lately. A fellow travel blogger and online writer passed away recently. I found out by sending an email to her. An auto response came back saying she died in April 2011, so I know how you feel, but it is even more acute when you have actually met the person.

    • Hi Ted, thank you, and I’m sorry you’ve had a loss recently too.

      Someone close to your friend must have set up the auto responder on her email. A hard task to do. But it makes sense to do it.

      I imagine receiving such an email comes as a shock too. Much like letters out of the blue before email.

  8. My condolences, Dave. I often wonder how I would find out, if something bad happened to long-distance friends…

  9. i am so sorry for your great loss. and yes, there should be better ways to find out – and stay connected.

    • Thank you Jessie. I’m not sure if there is any other way to find out about these things. I guess if you know something is about to happen, you can set up an email auto-responder like Ted mentioned. But after that, I really don’t know, other than staying in touch.

  10. Jasmine says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve also had nightmares about this. What if you meet someone on the road and share a great connection with them, then something happens and no one tells you because no one in their circle knows you?

    Grieving is also a weird process when the person you lost doesn’t share your day-to-day life. My grandmother, whom I was very close with, died a couple of months ago and I’m still processing it and the grief comes in spurts. On the other hand, she is still very present to me. The grieving process is so different than if she was living in the same city as me. it’s weird.

    Again, so sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you Jasmine. My condolences for the loss of your Grandmother.

      It’s very true about being in different social circles and not having a common link, or friend. I think the only way is to say to the person that you feel strongly enough about them to ask for another contact email address in case of emergencies.

      But then again, that sounds very strange even writing about it. How much harder to say it?

      It’s also true what you say about the grieving process. It’s so different for many people, let alone for those of us living about from the day to day lives of others.

      If we are constantly moving, there’s this strange effect that means such grieving doesn’t occur until you slow down. At least that’s what happens to me. I don’t know if it’s a common thing or not?

  11. iamthewitch says:

    Oh dear.. so sorry to hear about this sad story. May Joseph rest in peace.. and this certainly is a wake up call to those tho have put their friends/acquaintance out of sight. Time to get back in touch!

  12. n says:

    Hi dave,
    Just came accross your website.I’m so sorry for your loss. I have often thought about what would happen if one of my friends around the world were to die. I would never know. It scares me! I’m sure your friend is still traveling with you. Peace and light N

  13. Jenny says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I lost not one but two people in July.
    I realized even yesterday when I burst into tears – some of it was because I haven’t been able to deal with that grief. It’s difficult. And it’s something people don’t often discuss – grief while living in America is hush-hush enough; but once you’re abroad – it’s almost completely swept under the rug.