Jocelyne Johnson in her office in Salmon Arm’s Innovation Centre where she works as Business Support Coordinator. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Travel helps Shuswap woman heal from death of husband

While everyone is different, a year in Uganda helps local family recover from tragedy

Travel played a part in Jocelyne Johnson dealing with a tragic event in her life.

That experience also took her to Belgium recently to make a scholarly presentation.

In 2007, Jocelyne’s husband Philip was killed during a camping trip near Kamloops when a tree blew down during a storm and fell on his truck.

She and her husband had dreamed of going to Uganda one day, sparked by media coverage of child soldiers there.

“At one point we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could go over and build some schools…” she recounts. “We had an idea we could be helpful in that way. We had a dream of going there together.”

After he died, the idea of Uganda pulled at her.

“A big part of it was honouring the legacy of my first husband,” she explains.

However, at the time her four children were little – the youngest two, the oldest about to turn eight.

“I thought, I’m not going to be going to Africa anytime soon. But through a series of events, very serendipitous, I ended up going to Uganda six months later.”

Then she happened to be invited to a fundraising event at Carlin Hall regarding an income-generating project, Bead for Life, for widows in Uganda. Women were making beaded jewelry out of paper and, through that process, earning capital for their own business and learning entrepreneurial skills.

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At the time, Jocelyne, whose last name was Baker, had just taken over her husband’s timber frame business. She has since married Cal Johnson.

“I got all teary eyed, and said ‘I just have to go.’”

She did go, for two weeks, on her own. That led to a year-long visit for her and her children in 2010.

“They say when you go to Africa, you leave a little part of your heart behind.”

Her first husband’s best friend, an engineer, was then in Uganda for two years.

“The kids, they liked it, especially my two older girls, they were old enough to take everything in… It was great, I don’t have a single regret for going with them.”

On her return to Canada she decided to do a Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Cultural Studies. She started her Masters in 2014 and returned to work in 2016.

For her final paper she did a research project that looked at travel writing, travel blogs specifically.

“There has been a lot of research on how travel writing can romanticize places and really not paint an accurate picture,” she says, explaining she was looking for examples of travel blogs that didn’t fall into that stereotype.

She looked at how travel changes people’s lives.

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Around the same time, she came across an interdisciplinary conference calling for submissions. It was being held in April of this year in Bruges, Belgium.

“I thought, this is amazing, I’ll give it a shot.”

It was a small, intimate conference that brought people from Japan, France, Italy, the U.S. and Canada, all talking about different aspects of travel.

Jocelyne says she would still like to do research on a broader scale, but her experience of grief has led her to believe it helps to reframe the “loss narrative.”

“‘Oh woe is me, I’ve lost everything that meant anything and life will never be worth anything again.’ Travel provides good context because some people have it worse — there’s always someone who has suffered more or is in a harder place.”

She also says, with travel, a person can be more vulnerable, “you have to let down your guard and connect with people you might not normally. There are more people to connect with and more opportunities to connect. There’s also more anonymity – you’re sitting on a bus and you may want to tell your story.”

Jocelyne also found that travel allowed her to regain a certain level of control.

“You can’t control what happened, you can’t control the feelings you experience. With travel, you have some level of control. You decide where you’re going, who’s going with you. It can help people from feeling debilitated, frozen and paralyzed,” she says.

Some people, she points out, say travel is just an escape.

“And yes it is, but I think initially it is important to have distractions that can keep you from a perpetual state of sadness. You definitely can’t stay there forever, you have to work through the grief.”

Jocelyne also points out that everyone is different. She travelled a lot as a young person, and believes it helps build resilience. At 12 she went by herself with a church group to Jamaica. She also travelled to Japan.

She acknowledges that everybody is different, and everyone deals with grief differently.

“There are so many things that go into how a person grieves. Maybe, for me, the legacy part was more important, the fact I was doing something to honour my husbands’s memory.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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