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Finding Hazel - a trip that changed my life...

I remember when my Dad passed away that my Sensei said to me that my personality would probably change - I remember his words and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t let that happen.

“There is no answer to death but to live, and to live vigorously and beautifully. We give respect and dignity to the one we mourn, only when we respect and dignify life, and when we live life to the fullest. The best of all answers to death is the continuing affirmation of life. Now, for us, the living, may the love of friends, the joy of memory, and our hopes for the future, give us strength and peace that we may go forward together. If Dad were here now, he’d ask what we were all crying for, and tell us to go and do something that made us happy instead.”

I was determined to stay the same positive, carefree and optimistic Hazel I had become, but grief and responsibility hit hard.

My Dad was hoarding. Despite reports to the doctor and social services, and so many conversations and tears, I was unable to help him.

That’s another story, but I took it upon myself to sort through the things alone - I wanted to protect the man I loved most dearly, and didn’t want anyone to see what was behind those doors.

It took years, literally years, to sort through everything, before the renovation could begin. Blood, sweat and many tears, to say the least. My amazing Mum and Step Dad would meet me after work to go to the tip, and welcomed me to stay at their house round the corner, so I could shower and eat at the end of a long day.

The responsibility felt huge and never-ending, but with the help of my best friend Kyle too, (and briefly running away to work in Mexico), the renovation was complete. I moved into the house to ‘enjoy’ my hard work, and started working as a self-employed Zumba instructor.

I soon met my now partner of 8 years, we started working together organising Latin events, and I moved to Portsmouth because I was mostly there, and it was too difficult to live at the house. My life was nothing like I thought it would be post University, but I started to enjoy what I was doing. Staying in the area too, meant that I could spend time with, and eventually help care for, my incredible Grandparents.

I thought that when they passed, life would get back to ‘normal,’ whatever that meant. That some responsibility would lift, and I’d be a bit more free to be ‘me’ again, whatever that now meant.

But I didn’t know what that was - I knew the old Hazel liked to travel, I knew she liked to try new things, I knew she was focused on whatever she put her mind to - yet I was consumed still by responsibility. Well, what I would call now, ‘imagined responsibility.’

Being self employed, I never gave myself a chance to not be there. We ran a successful night on Thursdays, and for the first 5 years, only missed 4 Thursdays in total, (blessed to visit Junior’s family in the Dominican Republic twice during that time, but never taking time off to grieve, enjoy a birthday, or rest). I’d convinced myself it was difficult to find cover for my Zumba classes, and I got caught up thinking about not being paid unless I was there.

I kept saying ‘I’d like to travel,’ so what was holding me back? We could get a cover DJ, I could get cover for my Zumba classes, cancel them if needed, save and budget, and no one was depending on me for care.

The truth is, I really don’t know. I felt lost, like I wasn’t myself anymore, and like despite knowing I could go travelling or do the things I wanted to do, there was something holding me back.

That ‘something’ was me.

My personality had changed. Grief and responsibility had consumed me. Despite many happy times and memories, I never truly felt right.

It took me 10 years…10 years to give myself permission to put myself first and do something for me. It came with hesitation… now working for a charity where the schedule is planned 2 months ahead, with parties already planned, with last minute time to book off, and Zumba cover to find, but i did it. I contacted my Sister-in-Law, and with butterflies in my stomach, I booked my flight, finally taking the decision to start travelling again. No more excuses.

I would close the door at our event, give my partner the biggest squeeze, and head to my 1:20am coach for the smoothest journey I’ve ever had.

It would be the start of another life changing trip, like the ones I had before I lost my Dad - I went from Boston to Maine, to New York, to Maine, to Florida, and back to Boston before heading home.

I surprised my Brother, Mum, Nieces and American family with the help of my Sister-in-Law, and we really did make the most of our time together. We laughed, went sightseeing, had fantastic food, conversations and happy hours, explored new places, celebrated achievements, and just enjoyed each others company.

I felt present, carefree, happy, grateful, relaxed, joyful, and like, even if I wasn’t smiling on the outside, I was on the inside. (If you’re reading this, I really can’t thank you enough for such an incredible time!)

As I walked through the sand with my Brother, he said he really didn’t know how I managed to graduate - I told him that Dad’s last message was ‘I love you, but time to get back to studying, I can’t wait for your graduation.’ - I don’t know how I did it, but I did it for him.

I teared up as I said "Life would have been so different if Dad was still here," but as I peacefully walked through the white sand, staring at the clear sea, I thought, ‘but this is exactly where I need to be right now.’

And the best thing was, I didn’t leave with a heavy heart - I left knowing something had changed inside of me, and that I was excited for whatever was next.

I guess in life, whatever happens, we can always give ourselves permission to be happy again, even if we don’t know how long that will take, or what that happy will look like. To not be consumed with routine, by worries, what ifs, and unnecessary stress.

‘You only live once? False. You live everyday. You only die once.’

As I was thinking about writing this, I walked past some builders playing one of mine and my Dad’s songs…my legs went tingly, and I smiled.

“I know now, just quite how

My life and love might still go on

In your heart, in your mind

I'll stay with you for all of time.

If I could, then I would

I'll go wherever you will go

Way up high or down low

I'll go wherever you will go..”

Let me know if you believe in signs, let me know if you believe in coincides…and just keep swimming.


Hazel <3 x

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