Mama Holiday: ‘post-traumatic’ holidays

The artist sits serenely on the balcony before a golden sunset. Her canvas reflects the ebb and flow of the water; the changing tide of family circumstance. With each brush stroke, we share stories about holidays past.

Many were held here in a simple apartment overlooking Golden Beach in Caloundra. But, this time, it was different. Mum had been diagnosed with cancer. She had months to live. This type of family travel is rarely discussed.

It’s not as uplifting as “wellness tourism”, nor as worthy as “eco-tourism”, or as exciting as “adventure tourism”.

However, with an ageing population, many are making the emotional investment in what have become known as “post-traumatic holidays”. (There has to be a better name for them than that. Any ideas?)

A study entitled, Managing Cancer: The Role of Holiday Taking, considers whether taking a holiday and tourism can play a part in the rehabilitation process.

The study, by Philippa Hunter-Jones, senior lecturer in tourism management at the University of Liverpool in England, found that taking time out when you were sick offered “benefits to health and well-being” and that it could also positively impact on “social effectiveness, personal identity, self-image, independence, future career prospects, and personal behaviour”.

“Holiday taking offers a vehicle for transcending illness, even if only for a short period of time,” Hunter-Jones writes.

“Promoting travel as part of the rehabilitation process may well generate more intrinsic benefits than are currently appreciated.”

But side effects of treatment, inflated insurance cost and other people’s reaction to visible signs of cancer are significant barriers.

Jennie Small, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Technology, Sydney, who specialises in tourist behaviour, says the industry is not very accommodating to those who require treatment.

“Some people reported having to refrigerate medication and not having the facilities available,” she says.

This must change. It is times like these when holidays really do create priceless memories. Sometimes it’s the simple things that matter the most. On that final holiday with mum, we walked on the beach, splashed in the pool, and played board games.

Each afternoon, we gazed at the glorious sunset. For dinner we went to the local RSL because it had excellent medical facilities. When mum collapsed one night, the ambulance was there within minutes. It was an important break for dad, too.

“For the carers it’s getting away, relief from the grind at home,” Small says. “A change in scenery, change in activities and doing something that’s normal, away from hospitals.”

Of course, holidays like this can be a cause for sadness. We found ourselves saying things like, “I guess family holidays will never be the same again”.

However, it is an opportunity to create new memories, hobbies, and traditions.

Mum’s passion for painting continued up until she died, barely months later. Golden Beach remains a special spot: it’s where we scattered her ashes.

Now I take my children to the Sunshine Coast, to share stories of our holidays there.

My daughter, Grace, is also artistic. She often sits on the balcony, painting the sunset.

She’s part of a fine family holiday tradition.

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