After Losing My Wife, I Traveled Back to Our Favorite Vacation Spot

Healing through travel.

Matthew and Dhanushka Monagan travel in Bermuda
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Monagan

It was something that kept repeating in my head: “I need to get to Bermuda … I have to be in Bermuda…”

It was a place I had visited with my wife, Dhanushka, many times — nearly every year of our six-year relationship. And I had been on my own for various reasons, whether for family vacations or working in my previous job in public relations. It was my favorite place. The water, the people, and the solitude brought me a comfort and calmness I haven’t really found anywhere else. 

Bermuda scenes and landscapes, pastel buildings, crystal blue waters
Dhanushka Monagan

When I met Dhanushka in 2014 and got to know and eventually love her, I couldn’t wait to take her there. It’s an exciting feeling: when you meet someone special, you want to show them a place that means a lot to you. I wanted to share that love with her, and I hoped she would fall for it just like I did. 

I could point out the ocean from the airplane window as it changed from regular old blue to a magical cyan. I could hold her hand as we walked down Hamilton’s Front Street, looking into all the beautiful pastel buildings and storefronts along the way. We could sip on the island’s delicious dark and stormies late into the night at some random hotel bar, until we had to finally fumble our way back home to bed.

And she did fall for it. Of course she did. It became one of her favorite places. Our place. 

But now, I was going back alone.

I found a great-looking Airbnb just outside Hamilton, a couple blocks from the ocean. I thought about booking for a long weekend, but also thought about how Dhanushka would’ve scoffed at the idea — particularly in this instance. “Why stay three days when you can stay five?” 

Soon after I landed, as my cab made its way over the famed Bermuda Causeway (the bridge that connects Hamilton to the airport and southwest part of the country), I felt a warmth I hadn’t felt in months. The island’s sparkling waters — surrounding me on both sides — seemed to wrap me up and take me in. The friendly cabbie’s Bermudian accent welcomed me back. I could feel the soft breeze on my face.

I checked into my Airbnb, a little loft studio just above the owner’s main house. There was a big window, a writing desk, and a bottle of Bermuda’s Goslings Rum (with a couple of cans of ginger beer) placed in the pantry near the front door. 

I immediately made my way to the ocean. 

Since everything had happened, there was something about the ocean that gave me peace — hearing the waves, smelling the salt, just staring as far as my eyes could see. I could stay for hours thinking about things or not really thinking about anything at all. 

The view here was, as with most in Bermuda, beautiful. The water was calm on the bayside and in the sunlight looked surreal, as if someone had taken a paintbrush and swung it back and forth, scattering sky blue splotches across the sea. A blue house sat at the edge of a hillside, looking like it was almost a part of the ocean. I looked back from the water to find rows of pastel cottages neatly lined up together, leading the way back to Hamilton. 

I wish she could’ve seen this with me. I did some things we did together on the island. 

I rented a Twizy — a little two-seater electric car that makes it easy to get around, so that we could zoom from parish to parish seamlessly. I didn’t have my companion in the back this time, snapping photos or touching my shoulder every now and again, but it was still nice. 

Bermuda scenes and landscapes, pastel buildings, crystal blue waters
Dhanushka Monagan

I drove to the famous Swizzle Inn to get a rum swizzle and watch soccer with some locals. I don’t even really like soccer, but it was fun and lively and kept my mind busy.

I made my way into Hamilton’s Front Street one night, a row of posh clothing stores and restaurants that make up Bermuda’s main downtown area. I pulled up a stool to the Hamilton Princess’s lobby bar. It’s the 100-year-old Grand Dame hotel of Bermuda, a place where kings and queens once stayed, and a place where it’s fun to people-watch and grab some freshly caught fish for dinner. 

It was also the last hotel we stayed in on the island, the site of the last vacation we ever took together. 

Matthew and Dhanushka Monagan in Bermuda and crystal blue waters
Matthew and Dhanushka Monagan

It was for her 28th birthday. It had only been a year since she was diagnosed, but the cancer had taken its toll. She took a wheelchair through JFK to get to the gate in the poised and proud way she always carried herself. I held her arm while walking around the hotel property, trying to make jokes and keep both of our minds on where we were and not where we might be going. We laughed while ordering a giant plate of mozzarella sticks one night. We sat by the pool for hours on end. We visited the Princess Ocean Club, part of the Hamilton Princess and one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen in Bermuda. 

It was hard thinking about it all now — I was never quite sure if she felt good enough those few days to really enjoy it all. I hope that she did.

I went outside in the dark with a drink, looking at the lights flickering across Hamilton Harbor and listening to the docked boats gently move back and forth with the tide. You could feel the stars without even staring up at the sky, much brighter here than back home in Brooklyn. 

I also did some things that I know Dhanushka wouldn’t have done with me. Or maybe she would’ve, but subtly indicated she wanted to be elsewhere.

I spent hours at Flanagan’s Irish Pub, watching the baseball playoffs and drinking far too many of the island’s On De Rock IPAs. I took the Twizy to one of Bermuda’s only baseball fields, snapping some photos of the complex located right along the Atlantic. Baseball wasn’t big in Bermuda (a shame, with fields so beautiful).

I tried to bike Bermuda’s old railway trail, which runs almost the length of the island. Dhanushka was not a big biking fan and she would’ve hated this: It was hot and humid, I got lost multiple times and almost caused a massive pileup at a rotary, not knowing which side of the road to be on or which direction to turn. I ended up walking my bike miles back to where I rented it, sweating and swearing the whole way.

I played golf at Port Royal. I’m not good at golf, but I like to go out and hit some balls every now and again. And if you play in Bermuda, you have to play at Port Royal. Many of the holes are right along the coastline and present spectacular, postcard views. Dhanushka didn’t play golf, but she likely would’ve been content just driving the golf cart, sipping on one of the mixed ginger beer/Goslings cans and motioning toward all of the wonderful sightlines at every turn. 

I could nearly feel her there with me, smiling my way as I pummeled another shot straight into the ocean.

A place I had to go before I left was Coopers Island, a mostly private beach on the eastern edge of the island. I learned about it years before meeting Dhanushka, and it was one of the first places I took her on our very first visit. That day, back in 2015, we had it all to ourselves. We walked up and down the beach, we swam, we stretched out on the sand – talking about important things, talking about stupid things. We even thought our future golden retriever could be named Cooper. Not a bad name for a dog, right?

Bermuda scenes and landscapes, pastel buildings, crystal blue waters
Dhanushka Monagan

We always said it was one of the best days of our lives. Every time I think of it, I think of her.

This time, I once again had the beach to myself. I swam and then found a spot in the shade. I took some photos and watched the surf come crashing toward the sand – my mind numbing with the endless repetition. A few chickens popped up behind me, strutting in my direction. I smiled, wondering if Dhanushka had sent them to keep me company. I cried.

It was getting dark and late, so I hopped in my Twizy and rode back over the causeway, past the now-noisy Swizzle Inn, around the rotaries and on toward my Airbnb. The sunset was giving the sky a pinkish hue – a color Dhanushka loved referring to as cotton-candied. Once back, I got dressed in a golf shirt and khakis and figured I’d walk the 15-minute route into town for dinner. 

On the way, I hit an area of the road where giant limestone walls towered above me on both sides – a quiet, tunnel-like pathway I’d never seen until this trip. The shadows of banana trees danced high along the edges and tiny tree frogs chirped their nightsong, hoping to impress anybody listening. A cool wind swirled around me, kicking up fallen palms to give them life again. 

I felt good. It felt good to be back.

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