April 27, 2023

The Healing Power of Friendships and Penguins

- By Caroline (Cline) Owen & Vickie Barker

Continue reading The Healing Power of Friendships and Penguins
Vickie Barker recently joined the Journey to the Antarctic Circle trip just two weeks after her beloved husband passed away. Allowing herself to be vulnerable, she shared her grief with the group, who all in turn, provided her with unexpected support and new friendships. In conversation with Caroline (Cline) Owen, Wild Women Expeditions’ Community Engagement Manager, Vickie shares a bit about her experience and encourages others who are going through challenges in their lives to consider the healing power of all-female group travel.

What made you decide to come on the trip? Initially, then after Brad passed away?

I wanted to go on the Journey to the Circle trip the moment I saw it online. During the shutdown I was feeling sorry for myself because I had to cancel a trip to Spain, Portugal, France and Greece that I had had planned. I was looking online to find an interesting trip to replace that one, once the shutdown was over. I’m not sure what I searched to find Wild Women Expeditions, but I’m glad I did. 

Once I stumbled onto that site I looked at all the trips they had available and saw several to Antarctica. I signed up for The Journey to the Circle, because if I was going to go all that way for an adventure I was going to go “all the way.” I am very much an adrenaline junkie, so I wanted the most extreme adventure possible. I signed up immediately and sent in the deposit, but the trip was over two years away.

Everything was paid for, the flights were booked, I had acquired all the items they told us to take. The time for the trip was getting closer every day. My first flight was scheduled for February 15. As the time to leave got closer and closer, my husband, Brad, became more and more concerned that something he would do or something would happen that would be his fault to make me not go on this trip. He did not want it to be his fault that I missed the trip. Brad passed away on February 4. If I decided to not go on the trip then it definitely would have been his fault and I couldn’t do that to him. Besides that, everyone I knew told me that I needed to go. 

How did you feel the group and/or experience supported you in your early grieving journey?

I met the most amazing group of women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, on this trip. Every one of the women in the Wild Women group was so loving and supportive. If for no other reason than that, I’m glad I went on this trip. It was extremely difficult to tell a group of complete strangers that my husband had passed away exactly two weeks before. But I wanted to let all of them know that my life had just changed in a major way and that I was still in the middle of grief. I didn’t want to lie and pretend that everything was okay, because it certainly wasn’t. I wanted them to know why I was having a moment, when it happened. That was the only fair thing to do, so I told the whole group of over twenty women on our first night aboard the ship what was going on in my life. From that very first moment, I felt so embraced and supported and loved and cared for. These women are truly amazing people and helped me start my healing journey.

The experience of going to Antarctica was mind-blowing. Just that journey helped in the healing process. Going to this place that is so out of the ordinary ended up being not only a metaphorical transition for me, but a physical one as well. Two weeks without Internet and cell service was so soul cleansing. There were times I didn’t even know what day it was, and it didn’t matter. I don’t think I can ever get farther from home than I did on this trip. This adventure allowed me time to start coming to terms with the fact that my home would not be the same when I returned to it.

Tell me the story of Brad on a Stick!

The day before Brad passed, one of his friends was having a huge birthday party. He and the rest of the group tried to convince Brad to go. I tried to convince him to go. Brad was so afraid of Covid that he would not go anywhere there was a large group of people. His health, also, had kept him basically a shut-in in our house. He just would not go to the party. Everyone who went felt so bad that Brad was not there that they took his profile picture from Facebook, stuck a stick on it and carried it around the party. They took pictures all night of Brad-on-a-stick so that Brad felt included. They posted the pictures on Facebook, so there are all of these pictures of Brad at the party via Brad-on-a-stick.

Brad and I had a system. When I went places, I would take pictures to share with him, I would Facetime him so that he could experience things along with me, I would catalog as much as I could in my head so that I could tell him about everything. And, of course, that is what I was planning on doing during my expedition to Antarctica. After he passed, there suddenly was not the same motivation to take pictures or make videos or remember a thousand little details. The experience had become bittersweet. I had a little time to start planning Brad’s celebration of life that I would hold after the trip. 

One of the things that I had decided to do during his wake was to have Brad-on-a-stick available for those who would like one. My idea was to have people take Brad-on-a-stick around like the Travelocity gnome to different places and take a picture of him and post it on Facebook, like the ones at the party. I thought taking Brad-on-a-stick with me to Antarctica was a fabulous way to kick this off. It was also a phenomenal way to have him with me, so I am very glad I did it.

What was the most impactful part of the trip for you?

The most impactful part of the trip for me was all the love and kindness I received from the other Wild Women. I never expected, in a million years, that complete strangers would be so supportive, be so loving, become such life-long friends. These women opened their hearts to me and watched over me with such tenderness and compassion. I have never had an experience like that before and will be forever grateful.

How has returning home been? 

Returning home has been difficult. The house is so empty; so different. I got to show everyone my videos and amazing pictures, but not Brad. I got to tell about my spectacular adventures, but not to Brad. The first thing the dogs did after I picked them up from my brother’s house and we got home and I opened the door to let them inside, was to run down the stairs looking for Brad. The emptiness of the house has been the most difficult thing to deal with. 

What are you looking forward to next?

Right now, what I am looking forward to is my new life. I didn’t choose this transition I’m going through, but I have to go through it nonetheless. On the other side I will be different, but I’m not even sure yet in which ways. Every day I have decisions to make, and now I am having to make them on my own. I don’t know yet where it all will lead me, but it will be somewhere. Things cannot and will not be the same.

Can we share your poem via our YouTube Channel?

Yes. I recorded myself reading the poem, especially for all Wild Women out there. I was asked if I would do that so that it could be put on the website. The poem was an original I wrote while on the ship. There was an open mic night coming up and since I can’t sing I thought I would do some spoken word. The poem started out being about crossing the Antarctic Circle. There was such a huge celebration when we crossed that imaginary line that I thought it would make an interesting topic for a poem. The poem morphed into something completely different, however, and something much deeper. It seemed to resonate with others on board; I was asked by countless people if they could have a copy. I ended up posting it on a bulletin board on the ship as well as making the video of it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am so glad that I allowed myself to become part of the community of the Wild Women who went on this adventure with me. I have made some life-long friends, but more than that, I was able to start healing because of this community. The women on this trip embraced me, cared for me, watched out for me, supported me, loved me—all without even knowing me. What amazing humans!

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