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Grappling with grief: Travel helps Los Altos widower cope


Photo By: Photos courtesy of duane stauffer
Photo Photos Courtesy Of Duane Stauffer

After his beloved wife, Carol, passed away, Los Altos resident Duane Stauffer traveled in Europe with his daughter, Nancy Augliera. Nancy and Duane hold a copy of the Town Crier in the shadow of Paris’ Notre Dame.

There are so many reasons to travel. It takes us to new places, opens our eyes and inspires us, all while removing us from the humdrum and renewing our energy.

Adventure and eco-voyages, beach vacations, archaeological tours and even river barge trips – they all fit under the travel rubric. Some people sign up for painting, wine or culinary vacations. I’d rather not cook on vacations, preferring instead to eat in other people’s kitchens.

Some like to travel alone. Others thrive on family vacations, cruising with children, in-laws or assorted relatives.

Traveling through grief, however, falls into a different, underserved category. If you have ever lost a loved one, concerned friends or family members may have suggested you embark on a long trip to get away. It can be soothing to the soul, attacking sadness and lethargy.

A life of travel

Los Altos residents Duane Stauffer and his wife, Carol, had traveled all over the world before Carol passed away last year. Both in their 80s, they enjoyed spending time with their daughter, Nancy Augliera, and two grandchildren. A son, Randy, died in 2009.

Born and raised in Murray, Utah, the Stauffers were high school sweethearts. They got married after Duane joined the Air Force during the Korean War, stationed in Seattle. They returned home so that Duane could earn a business degree at the University of Utah. Carol supported him by working in retail.

After graduating, Duane landed a job with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. He transferred to California in 1965. He still remembers his wife saying, “This is it – Los Altos is my village,” when they drove through town looking for houses. Their daughter, Nancy, a top Los Altos High School swimmer, qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, that was the year the U.S. boycotted the games in Moscow.

Deeply rooted in the community, Duane has been retired for 16 years but remains active, volunteering with the Early Literary Program run by Avenidas, even managing the Mountain View section, and tutoring children in grades 1-3 in reading.

Despite Carol’s mounting health problems – she had nine stents and a failed heart bypass surgery – the couple planned to take a trip to her favorite European spots after El Camino Hospital doctors fixed two heart valves.

Duane wanted her to have the time of her life when she got out of the hospital, but things didn’t work out as they planned.

Carol’s initially successful heart surgery “all at once turned upside down and backwards” when her kidneys stopped working, Stauffer said. Wiping tears from his eyes, he discusses how hard it was to lose “my little wife.”

His wife of 61 years passed away Aug. 7, 2011.

“This tragedy hits you hard,” Stauffer said.

He immediately signed up for group counseling through Pathways. The grief “doesn’t end, but you have to understand your feelings,” he said.

During their 61 years together, the Stauffers traveled to Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, England and Ireland. While Duane worked for Procter & Gamble, they went to Hawaii for the company’s convention every other year.

In memory of Carol

Still processing his grief, Duane decided to make the trip last June with his daughter, Nancy, in memory of his wife.

Father and daughter visited Rome, Venice, Florence and Paris for 18 days, thanks to planning by the Ligtelyn Travel of Los Altos and Tauck Tours.

Stauffer lists as highlights of his trip:

• Flying Lufthansa Airlines, “a great airline, so first-class.”

• A Venice canal tour with nine gondolas serenaded by an opera singer.

• A night tour of Rome’s Colosseum and a private 2.5-hour visit to the Sistine Chapel.

• The bright, colorful buildings on the Venetian island of Burano, dedicated to making quality lace.

Certain moments reminded him of Carol.

“On the island of Murano in Venice, I saw this beautiful 16-inch glass duck,” he said. “My wife loved ducks, so I thought, I could offer him $250 for it.”

His bargaining was cut short when he heard another tour member inquire about the price, which was $12,000, down from $18,000.

If he goes to Europe again, however, Stauffer said he would return to Paris, “hands down” his favorite. He loved the hop-on, hop-off water taxis on the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay with its five levels of Impressionist art, the Louvre and the delicious French onion soup.

He had expected to run into the “famous French resistance, but everywhere we turned, there was friendliness.” He said he will miss the lovely little breakfasts and taking the Metro.

Stauffer continues to work through his grief in other ways. After attending grief support groups through Pathways, he joined the Los Altos Widows and Widowers Club, The group meets 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Los Altos Lutheran Church, 460 S. El Monte Ave. The organization publicizes local weekend travel to places like Asilomar and Monterey, as well as longer trips. Call 940-1096 for more information.

Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith recently published “The Rules of Inheritance” (Hudson Street Press, 2012), a memoir about her parents dying of cancer and how she coped. She traveled through Europe immediately after their deaths and continues to advocate taking trips to make you feel like life is worth living.

“Grief is an isolating experience. It’s lonely and quiet and it’s easy to sink into,” so traveling helps one to open back up to the world, she writes.

Contributing editor Eren Göknar is a journalist and lifelong traveler. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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