Only weeks after his wife Blanche passed away, and just shy of celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary, Jerry Rocheleau, 91, found himself sinking into a depression.
“I didn’t enjoy just sitting at home with the memories,” he said.
So, Jerry decided to do something about it. Years earlier, he’d read about a rather unconventional method of world travel - cruising by cargo freighter. He’d always had an adventurous spirit. He took up skydiving and obtained his pilot’s license in his early 50s. Jerry thought boarding a freighter to travel the world was exactly the kind of distraction he needed. The simplicity of the trip appealed to him. There were no crewmen in pressed white shirts to greet him upon boarding; no live entertainment; no upper deck swimming pool; no buffet. Jerry was thrilled! “You were on your own,” he smiled.
Jerry did his research, contacted the freighter company and hired a travel agent to help with securing a flight from the US to France, where he’d board the ship. The process was tedious, and required Jerry to obtain several vaccinations before he’d be allowed to travel with the freighter’s crew and other passengers. “Before it was all said and done, I’d spent $600 on shots,” he said.
Then there was the issue of his age. The company Jerry had planned to travel with had strict age requirements. Because there wasn’t a physician onboard, no one over the age of 80 was permitted to sail with the crew. Even with a clean bill of health, at 79 years old, Jerry worried the freighter would deny him board if he didn’t move quickly to confirm his spot.
In May of 2005, at nearly 80 years old, Jerry traveled by plane, across the Atlantic, and boarded a massive cargo freighter in France. He was one of only three passengers traveling for leisure on the four month voyage. The ship sailed throughout Europe and parts of Asia, making periodic stops for days at a time, and loading everything from cars to trucks to coconuts.
An avid reader, Jerry was somewhat familiar with each destination planned along the way. “I already knew about most of the places I was going to be traveling to long before I actually traveled there,” he said. He’d spend his days on the ship researching the landscape of places like Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, and Auckland in New Zealand. Then, once docked, he’d grab his bag and camera, and spent his nights immersed in a culture much different than the one he’d known in his Michigan hometown, meeting new friends along the way.
Once back on the ship, Jerry enjoyed private quarters, a good meal and modern technology. He kept meticulous notes, down to the latitude and longitude of his stops, and emailed his friends and family nearly every night during his four month excursion. What resulted is a collection of essays, chronicling trips to places like the Solomon Islands, Mongolia, Egypt and Singapore.
Jerry turned 91 this year, and although he wrestles with his memory at times, he’ll never forget the trip that took him to the other side of the globe more than a decade ago. With a broad smile and an easy laugh, he thumbs through his book of emails, recalling each stop, adding which places he thinks his beloved wife, Blanche, would have enjoyed.
In the end, in a quest to curb his grief, Jerry became an inspiration to his friends and family and reminds us all – aging doesn’t have to suppress your dreams. “I can do anything I want to.” He went on, “If I decide.”
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