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Life after Loss

By focusing on my strengths and maintaining a positive mindset, I was confident that the “new me” would be okay. After losing my mother in 2017, Adam (my husband) and I decided to take a gap semester in 2019 to travel across 19 countries over five months.

Travel was always a good therapy for me. I knew that by traveling I was going to help my brain to refocus on different patterns and thoughts and help with my grief. My senses were going to be tested, amplified and challenged. Little by little I was going to be finding myself again laughing and being spontaneous, creative and connected to life.

Our first destination to explore was Montenegro. After a long flight to Switzerland and an overnight stay in Germany we finally arrived at the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. Our first impression was positive, largely due to the warm reception we had from our local partner who met us at the airport. A very energetic fellow who quickly began introducing us to the city:

During the short car ride from the airport to the hotel, our local partner, smiling and laughing, openly shared his frustrations about his country. It was refreshing to see a young man so openly express his feelings while still holding on to hope. “This country still has a lot to learn before we can join the European Union,” he said. Although Montenegro uses the Euro, it hasn’t yet qualified to become an EU member. He explained, “We used to be known as Russia’s ‘little brother,’ reliant on the Soviets for everything. But ever since we began organizing ourselves to join the European community and entered NATO, our ‘Big Brother’ has left us. Not that we miss them! However, our government remains very corrupt, and we’ve faced a lot of turmoil from the communist era under Tito’s rule. There’s much work to be done.”

After an 18-minute ride to our hotel, I immediately got a sense of a country in transition, which sparked my curiosity. I was also going through a transition myself; it felt like the right place to start my journey of self-discovery.

We had arrived in a place with a dark history that we knew little about, mainly because we hadn’t paid much attention to the history of Yugoslavia. I was also in a dark place in my life, still grieving for my mother, a fact not many people knew. This country mirrored my own feelings, and I felt strangely at home. Seeing the landscape of water and mountains through my camera lens brought me immense joy and a deep appreciation for nature.

Every day, I grew more excited to wake up and learn about each city. I felt eager to travel around this small country and try everything—from the fresh farm-to-table dishes to their cheese, ham, and fruits. My feelings of anxiety were no longer dominating my thoughts.

Nature was healing me, with its stunning high green mountains, rivers, lakes, and the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. I began to feel happier in this hidden Mediterranean paradise! As I spent more time here, I started to feel more confident about my positive emotions and celebrated the natural beauty around me.

The entire country felt like a national park, incredibly eco-protected and lush with greenery. Adam and I, true soulmates, cherished capturing photos of our hands touching trees, connecting with each other and with nature. Every place we visited lifted my spirit. I was especially taken by the beauty of Kotor’s Old Town and its bay. We loved our strolls within the ancient city walls, protected by UNESCO and once visited by Napoleon Bonaparte. Oh, how I love Europe!

I also found Budva, Montenegro’s coastal resort, absolutely delightful. We took a ride on a local small boat to explore the islands, and the people were very friendly, eager to speak English with us. I felt like a native, enjoying grilled octopus after a nice swim in the turquoise, transparent waters. It was as if I heard an angel whispering in my ear, “Luisa, breathe… stay calm, remain in peace… live free of negative thoughts.” All this while we enjoyed some of the most beautiful views and sunsets over the Adriatic Sea.

And yes, I even considered buying a villa outside Budva and moving there because I felt so at home! I was seeing a silver lining for my life… seeing happiness in Montenegro!

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll come back and even rent a house here. I can definitely say I’m a nature lover, and this unspoiled place has captivated my heart and soul. It’s wonderful to have something to dream about!

Montenegrins encourage us to slow down and take life easy, and I felt the same urge to decelerate. I wanted to pause and savor the moment, so that’s exactly what I did.

The essence of happiness in Montenegro seems to revolve around having the leisure to enjoy family, friends, and share good wine and fine meals. I wished I had captured a photo with people in it, but sometimes you don’t find the right moment that’s fantastic, authentic, and respectful of those in it. Hopefully, on my next visit, I’ll have more time to make some friends.

I left Montenegro happier than when I arrived; even my pictures showed a different smile.

What is the pace of your life? What makes you happy?

Lulu Carter

Born in São Paulo, Maria Luisa ‘Lulu’ Carter began her professional career in education, the arts, and community service in Rio de Janeiro, before moving first to Europe and then to the United States 26 years ago. With degrees from Brazil in speech therapy, art and psychodrama, and a Master’s Degree in science and education from Southern Connecticut State University, Lulu views the world through an eclectic and multicultural prism. Lulu has initiated projects that combine education, community service, and the arts throughout the world – including the Amazon, Haiti, Ghana and Bhutan. Lulu is the co-founder of Destination Partners, a travel management company that works with American universities, nonprofits and institutions focused on the science of happiness.

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