A Word on Travel and the Loss of a Loved One

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2019 was going to be a transition year for me. With a new position at a new company, I had no intentions to travel this year. I also wanted to save my travel funds for the Summer Olympics 2020 in Tokyo. But when I started thinking about my birthday, everything about a trip to Puerto Rico sounded great. I would leave on a Wednesday and stay for a week – gallivanting on three different beaches, eating all of the good mofongo, strolling Old San Juan, and dancing like never before.

The Thursday before I was scheduled to leave for San Juan, we placed my grandmother in hospice care. She had been growing irritable for the past several days, and it was necessary for her to be comfortable. The following Monday the hospice nurse said we needed to decide which funeral home we were going to use for her because the end was near.

In those few days before I was scheduled to leave, I went back and forth about my decision to continue my birthday trip. Part of me felt guilty that I was even considering still going despite the turn of events, but I had developed a terrific itinerary and was thrilled about visiting Puerto Rico and supporting them with my tourist dollars post Hurricane Maria. My grandmother’s financial affairs were in order, and I had made peace that she was transitioning to a better place. I had spent a lot of quality time with her in the past year, and was grateful to have seen her in good spirits. I spoke to my mom about it and she said the decision was up to me, but she would like me to stay. I was still eager to go, but I would stay for her.

By the time I went to bed Monday night, a friend had convinced me to change my mind and go on the trip.

“Girl, do what’s best for you,” my friend said. “When my dad passed, I was happy to get away.”

I’m a traveler – that’s a part of my DNA. If my grandmother passed while I was away, and I would still be back in time for the funeral. I wouldn’t be missing anything because it would be during that period between death and the funeral where there wasn’t much for me to do anyway. I needed this moment to get away to Puerto Rico and grieve in peace.

I was already awake early Tuesday morning when I got the notification that my grandmother had passed. I knew in that moment I would not be going on the trip. There were no second thoughts about the decision and no regrets. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was the main decision maker and there were still a lot of decision to be made despite being prepared. I created the final list of pallbearers, finalized her obituary, selected photos to be shown during visitation, approved the order of her funeral service, and reviewed the final itemized statement. When there was a last minute mishap with her burial location, I selected her new burial plot.

In the end, I was glad I was there for my family during this period of grieving. Puerto Rico wasn’t going anywhere, and there would be plenty of time for me to visit in the future. Maybe it would be during a time when more trails at El Yunque were available to hike.

I booked the trip through my credit card, and had trip insurance as one of the benefits. Before filing a claim with my credit card, I attempted to obtain refunds directly through the companies I booked. I’d never filed a claim, but I figured my credit card would ask if I attempted to obtain a refund through the companies first.

I booked three different lodging accommodations – two Airbnbs and one hotel. The hotel was refundable, so there were no issues there. I contacted Airbnb via phone and a case manager opened a claim for me to get a refund. I had to submit a death certificate or obituary, but a full refund was issued within four hours. The excursions I purchased through Airbnb went through the same process. I’ve had a few mishaps with Airbnb in the past, but I have to give them credit for how they handled this speedily and with grace.

JetBlue, the airline I booked for the flight to Puerto Rico, acted like they were doing me a favor. There were no apologies for my loss. Instead, the customer service representative scolded me for failing to take time out of my grieving to immediately contact them and cancel my flight. Instead of giving me a refund, they entered the funds into a travel bank, and reiterated that they were doing this one-time favor for me because I was a TrueBlue member and they would never do it again. They, however did not require me to submit a death certificate like Airbnb.

I sat on the phone and listened to the JetBlue customer service representative explain that because I didn’t cancel my flight, I was marked as a no-show and they did not have a chance to sell my seat, so they were hesitant to issue a credit to me. Yes, I completely understood her point, but sorry not sorry I was too busy grieving, planning a funeral, and helping other people deal with their grief to stop my day and call a 1-800 number to cancel a flight. This was the reason the term “extenuating circumstance” was created, and the last thing I needed to hear was a bunch of business-minded bullshit. That just made me heartbroken all over again, and I cried.

The rental car company hadn’t charged my credit card, so it was easy to cancel. The restaurant reservations I made were also easily cancelled on Open Table without the loss of any funds. A food and walking tour was refunded immediately with an apology for my loss – I am grateful for their courtesy. As a result, I didn’t need to file a trip insurance claim with my credit card company for a refund. The whole process reiterates the need for businesses to be better-trained to handle such extenuating circumstances.

Again, I have no regrets about canceling my trip for a later date. I didn’t realize how much my family needed me, and I was happy to play any role they needed me to play during that difficult time. My grandmother’s death is still very fresh, and I still miss her dearly. I hope to travel to Puerto Rico sooner than later.

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