Back home (in the U.S.) for the holidays

Posted on December 12th, 2013 by BreAnn

So, I’m sure this news comes quite unexpected, but James and I are back in the United States for the holidays!  James flew back on Wednesday, December 4th, and I just arrived yesterday, December 11th. Feels good to be back on U.S. soil with loved ones in Sacramento (California), and right now our main focus is spending quality time with James’ family here.

Surprised? So are we.  I know it’s confusing… weren’t we just in South Africa!??  Our plans for December and January have probably changed about four times in the past few months, and I wish I could tell you the main reason we are back is for happy circumstances… but unfortunately it’s not.

Going back a bit… James’ grandfather (who the whole family calls “Nonno” which is Italian for grandfather), has been pretty healthy most of his life, but suddenly began having lung issues this past year, including walking pneumonia, and some severe coughing issues. But nobody really thought it was anything *too* serious. Fast forward to November, and he was in the hospital undergoing surgery, followed by a variety of tests to try to figure out what the issue was.

Around mid-November Nonno received his diagnosis: mesothelioma. As soon as we heard the news, our hearts sank. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of lung cancer, which is most often caused by prior exposure to asbestos, and we knew this meant he may not have much time left; maybe up to six months if he was lucky. James is extremely close to his grandparents and family is SO important to us both, so we decided then and there that it was time to head back to the states for the holidays and end our round-the-world trip.

James spoke with his boss about leaving work a couple weeks early, and we re-booked our flights so that we could return to the U.S. on December 16th and spend Christmas with our families (seeing that this would probably be Nonno’s last Christmas).

We then began to make arrangements for going back home to our “non-traveling-lives” again, cancelling other flights that had been previously been booked, trying to fit in as many touristy things in Cape Town as we could before we had to go (realizing our time left in the city was now limited), and started speculating when we may have the wedding now (we thought to possibly try to plan it for March, so that hopefully his grandfather could attend).

And then another curve ball: on the night of December 2nd, we got a call from family, reporting that  James’ grandfather took an unexpected turn for the worse and was back in the hospital and it was thought that HE MAY NOT EVEN MAKE IT A FEW MORE DAYS!  We were completely blown away and utterly devastated.

But we both knew what needed to happen.

From the moment we heard the news around 10pm, until 4am the next morning, James and I hustled around, throughout the apartment, making arrangements for James to get back home to Sacramento AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.  I immediately jumped on the internet and spent a couple hours searching for and booking a flight for James to head out of Cape Town the next day (which was actually not an easy task for a variety of reasons), and we went through the entire apartment, shirt by shirt, cabinet by cabinet, packing up what James would need and trying to decide what we should keep behind for myself. We weren’t 100% sure when we would see each other next, or what my plan was now, but we knew that I needed to stay behind in order to wrap up loose ends with the apartment, not to mention that it also was far too expensive for both of us to fly back last minute.

The next day, James flew out of Cape Town and spent the next 30 hours traveling back to Sacramento, hoping and praying he would make it on time.  After a long travel day, he managed to make it to the hospital to see Nonno and speak with him one last time.  During the two days before his arrival, Nonno continued to ask how long it would be before James got there.  Twenty minutes after they spoke, his blood pressure dropped and he fell into a peaceful sleep for the next twelve hours.  It’s clear that Nonno was holding out for him to make it there in time and his last words were “I love you” during their conversation.  James stayed with him and his grandmother through the night in the hospital and held his hand (and hers) as he passed away.  It was a very peaceful passing.

The funeral will be this Saturday, December 14, 2013 at St. Anthony’s Church on Florin Road. Here is the obituary (and the blog post continues below):

A few days after Nonno had passed away, James and I both had some time to digest everything, contemplate our future plans, and talk with both of our families about their thoughts on our current situation. We had to make decisions about when I would return back to the U.S. and what our next move was: change/buy flights so I could make it home for the funeral? Both of us stay in Sacramento awhile with James’ family? Go back to Los Angeles and look for work and get back to our old lives?  Travel some more?  And we needed to make these decisions pretty fast, since there were a ton of flights and money involved in the matter.

One main thing we realized, however, is if I also flew back to the U.S. on a ticket that we purchased on our own, that meant that our RTW airline tickets (the “free” tickets we have been using on our trip to get us from stop to stop around the world) would still be valid and could still be used up until February 26, 2014!

But is it the right decision to go back to traveling after such a devastating loss? Well, James’ grandfather was really proud of him for how hard he has worked in life, and was amazed and inspired by our round-the-world trip… and many of James’ family members expressed how Nonno would really wish for us to finish our trip as planned.  And if we had the “free” ticket just waiting there for us, maybe we should continue on… ?   Technically, we had planned for James to work through January 10th or so and then would continue traveling through Africa and India (or possibly Iceland) until the end of February, so if we flew back out of the U.S. early January, we’d actually be back on schedule.  And since James flew back in the beginning of December, he would have a whole month to really spend time with his family, offering support and help with anything that was needed.


So… after much contemplation, here is our new plan for December and the remainder of our round-the-world trip:

December 11th: I arrived in Sacramento, CA with James’ family. Staying here for almost two weeks to be here to attend Nonno’s funeral, and just spend a lot of quality time with family
December 23rd: I’m flying to Wisconsin to spend two weeks with my family.  Will be nice to see them after being away for 10 months! James will stay in Sacramento to spend more quality time with family and offer as much support that is needed.
January 6th-10th-ish
: Make our way to Nairobi, Kenya.
January 11th-ish: One week hiking trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
January 20th-February 8th: Twenty-day group tour from Kenya down through Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia (to Victoria Falls), including safari game drives in the Serengeti
February 10th-ish to 16th-ish: Spend time in Kruger National Park with amazing wildlife (more safari!)
February 16th-ish: Fly all the way up to Iceland to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights!.. possibly stopover in Oslo, Norway on the way due to limitations on our RTW flight options
February 26th: Fly back to Milwaukee… and the official end to our RTW trip!

**Note** you may have noticed that India disappeared off our list of places to visit…  this is due to lack of time and motivation by both of us to visit there.  We realized we would only have around 20 days to visit a ton of cities, and that’s just too fast for a country we know will be a bit “difficult” to navigate: food-wise and geographically as well. Plus, after the “damage” our bodies faced from six weeks in China and the first two weeks in Vietnam, we realized we just don’t have the stamina left in this trip to put ourselves through more stomach sickness. We’ll save that for another time in many, many years from now 🙂

So that’s the new plan!  Hopefully it won’t change again, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from this trip: expect the unexpected!

**If anybody has friends, family, or contacts in Iceland, please let us knows! In addition, if you have any recommendations on cheap places to stay, restaurants, or certain activities, we would appreciate any advice!


And as for Nonno… we will mourn his unexpected passing for some time to come… but at least the wonderful memories of his amazing and fulfilling life will carry on inside all of our minds and hearts forever. <3


Photo of Nonno with James when he was a baby


11 responses to “Back home (in the U.S.) for the holidays”

  1. Gary Strangis says:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you guys, and your family. Nonno sounded like a special person, and clearly he helped shape James life. Please let us know if we can help in any way.

  2. Shira says:

    Welcome back, Happy Holidays and happy to hear that you are continuing your trip.
    Love you .

  3. Shira says:

    An so sorry to hear about Nonno, but now he is a guardian angel who will watch over both of you. xoxo

  4. Evan says:

    Hey guys, so sorry for your loss. Glad James made it back in time though! Please send my condolences to his family!

    Also,mow hen you get your plans firmed up for the Northern Lights & Iceland let me know as I really want to see them and visit Iceland. So, perhaps we might be able to meet you up there for a long weekend or something!

    Love and hugs

  5. Lynette Cahill says:

    Welcome home for the holidays. I’m sorry for your loss. Glad you can share this time with your family. Take care!

  6. Lynn Sturgis says:

    BreAnn, we are so sorry to hear of your and James’ loss. It must be particularly hard on James with his mom also being gone. Our thoughts, prayers, and good energy go with you both through this difficult time, and also on your continued travels.

  7. Ann says:

    All my love to James and his family during this difficult time, I’m so glad he got there in time to be with Nonno. It’s been a rough year for grandpas all around.

    Glad you guys are continuing your trip, Nonno will be watching over you both.

    love you both

  8. michelle says:

    Ahh hon so great u get to pass his memory on by traveling and having been there for james..xo to all for the holidays

  9. Sandi says:

    I was giving the honor of knowing Vic, “Nonno”, and that truly was an honor. He was so close to all his children and grandsons. He had to be one of the proudest grandfathers you could ever have the pleasure to meet. He always had a smile on his face and a story about one of the boys. He was a huge family man and loved his Italain roots. I know he will be greatly missed. My heart aches for the family. My prayers for you all.

  10. Glenda says:

    I’m glad that James was able to see Nonno before he passed.Sometimes things happen for a reason. Condolences to James and his family. Enjoy the holidays in the US and thanks for always sharing your stories.

  11. Maryann says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with James, his family and you during this difficult time. It’s wonderful that James was able to get back to spend some time with his Nonno before his passing.

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