Marine biologist and writer, Shannon Leone Fowler, expresses her passage of mourning in her memoir “Traveling with Ghosts” with such maturity, wisdom, and grace that it is incredibly moving. It is quite a touching journey. Although this book is about loss, it is an uplifting and heartening story. Then only twenty-eight years old while backpacking in Thailand, her fiancé, Sean – love of her life and her partner in adventure – was stung by a box jellyfish and died immediately on the beach after a late afternoon swim in paradise.
The picture painted of the romance of the free-spirited couple almost makes you dismiss the seriousness of the relationship at first glance. Upon Sean’s death, however, she details the stages of her grief with such humility and candor that the reader recognizes the depth of their love.
After Sean’s death, already in a dark and vulnerable place, Shannon travels alone to places she planned to visit with Sean to remote and not-so-pleasant places in the world. It was as if she could not be more distraught, but she wanted to feel the agony more deeply in her solitary travel. She didn’t want to further torture herself; it was if she needed to experience the places and travel through the pain. She goes to Poland, Bosnia, Romania, and more. She visits Auschwitz on a cold and rainy day. Her vivid description of the Holocaust memorial with the personal items shown and stories told is so vivid. Given the wide-open place from which she expresses herself, her account of Auschwitz is one of the most moving I have read. It is almost as if it deserves only to be described by someone at the depths of their own despair to truly feel it.
She also tells the story of the two young Israeli women who witness her with Sean’s body right after his death. Shannon is helpless; the two women stay with her for days until she is able to get through all of the paperwork for the body to be released. Shannon realizes much later that these two women, who become dear friends, were following their Shiva rules on how to handle death. She describes, “The girls had let me initiate the conversations, or they’d let me choose to be quiet. They made sure to talk about Sean, to use his name and to say it often…they’d brought me food, and encouraged me to keep eating and drinking. And they’d done their best to avoid leaving me alone…they had even changed their flights to stay on the island until I was allowed to leave with Sean’s body. They changed their plans rather than leave me behind.” She found these rituals of death so meaningful and beautiful. She would have been lost without them. Her gratitude was immeasurable.
As she travels, she rebuilds; although, she still had a long way to go. She gradually gets herself back into her work and research, but even more slowly, she overcame her fear of getting back into the ocean. But she does heal, and her story is inspirational, remarkable, and incredibly brave. It was even encouraging because her passage teaches us that loved ones lost can be recognized in everyday experiences, near and far.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop