Life ahoy. Here, an icon of the sea inspires a revitalized life after a life-changing loss.

When your world feels gone, the love of your life lost, is it possible that—by returning to scenes of joyous memories—you can revitalize or remaster your spirits as, say, a ship remasters style and seaworthiness for a livelier course? This sentiment in mind, I lingered on deck as the Queen Mary 2 sailed past New York City. Standing alongside cheery passengers jostling to photograph the last fringe of western land slipping from view, the sense of being alone in a crowd conjured waves of juxtaposing emotions.

Certainly, I was delighted to be sailing aboard the newly remastered vessel. Who wouldn’t be? The romantic cachet of a transatlantic crossing on the regal Queen Mary 2—the world’s iconic ocean liner—transcends that of any ship on the high seas. Yet, my heart felt tinged by sadness as I found myself reminiscing how my late husband, Ken, and I had revelled in the luxury of time together on two previous crossings: first on the Queen Elizabeth 2, last on the then newly launched Queen Mary 2. Now—after having mentally navigated through myriad feelings just to commit to sailing solo for seven days—I hoped this voyage would buoy up my verve for life, inspire mindful healing and allow me to literally cast my sadness out to sea. As the majestic bow pointed to open water, I felt optimism flying on the breeze.

Taking a deep breath, as if to propel myself forward, I left the deck and proceeded to explore the QM2‘s vast interior. Passing passengers who seemed enthralled by the Grand Lobby’s elegant Art Deco details, my eyes gravitated from couples to those walking alone. I found myself wondering about their motivations for sailing: were they on a joyous jaunt, perhaps knocking QM2 off their list of dream experiences? Or were they, like me, sailing to muster inner strength to induce uplifting spirits that would ultimately rebel against sadness? Never mind, I thought positively: it’s my motivation that matters. By retreating to an insular world after Ken’s passing, I’d wrapped myself in a moody mantle of loneliness that I’d rarely allowed even good friends to penetrate. Now I needed to—wanted to!—step out of my personal darkness and re-enter the light.

The author with her husband, Ken, in 1977.

That afternoon, an architectural tour of the ship inspired my new desire to socialize. Following the guide through a wide indoor promenade lined with artfully sculpted panels, I arrived at a lounge that was so inviting, it shed any fear of being single among couples. Admittedly, though I’ve travelled the world on my own, I had always shied away from bars. Yet, the Champagne Bar—flanked by two pedestals bearing exquisite Lalique vases and decorated with black-and-white paintings of famed passengers—beckoned me to return later to try mingling over flutes of bubbly.

Before dinner, I seated myself on a sofa when an elegant lady joined me. Within minutes, I learned that she has homes in Jamaica and Scotland, and she “always sails Queen Mary 2 between New York and Southampton because it’s more fun and more glamorous than flying … and more economical, too.” Then in her soft Scottish voice, she said, “I noticed you on the architectural tour. Are you sailing alone?” Though I’m typically private with strangers, I surprised myself by opening up. “Yes, I’m a widow. I wanted to repeat this voyage that I enjoyed with my late husband.”

“Ahh, I know what you mean,” she continued, explaining that she was widowed 12 years ago, had “loved the active life” with her husband, and it had “taken time to get over feeling lonely.” We soon realized our similar interests in books, art, jazz and opera and gratefulness for supportive families at home. If spontaneous friendship can be “meant to be,” she exuded the warmth of a kindred spirit and spurred hopefulness for the future. By the end of the cruise, we’d grown quite friendly, and she’d become my lively partner at bridge lessons, though her skill far exceeded mine.

After dinner that evening, walking to my stateroom behind couples holding hands, I couldn’t help noticing how one man’s hand slipped around his partner’s waist and into an embrace. So lovely, so romantically entwined. I reminded myself there’s no dwelling on pangs of loneliness: I was here to mentally sail forward. Alone in my room, I lingered on my balcony, gazing out at the indigo swath of sea and sky. Maybe it was the stars or the starry reflections dancing over the waves or thoughts of my angel above that induced a light-hearted aura. Somehow, by grace of the moment, I realized that I finally felt alive, even content. Inhaling a revitalizing breath of sea air, I left the balcony and tucked into bed.

Awakening to a glorious sunrise at dawn the next morning, I planned my week over a sumptuous room service breakfast. Perusing QM2‘s options, I recalled my mandate to be social and mustered my courage to attend that morning’s “solo passenger” event. Though everyone in the room was friendly—easy after imbibing flutes of Champagne and orange juice—I felt totally out of my element when introduced to the “gentlemen hosts” and “lady hosts” who would be available as partners for the pre- and post-dinner dances, as well as lessons that promised to finesse Latin, ballroom, salsa and jive steps. Seeing the other passengers’ eagerness to meet, I realized that—much as I love to dance—my mind wasn’t yet mentally tuned to dancing in another man’s arms.

Never mind. I was more intent on cultivating a wellness habit with mindful interludes to mentally detox and rejuvenate my soul. I headed for a brisk walk around the outdoor Promenade Deck, then indulged in the therapeutic waters of QM2‘s Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Sitting under the aqua therapy centre’s sensory shower, I felt my muscles relax. As I moved about the therapy pool, the course of waterfalls, jet bursts and massaging fountains soothed my back, neck and limbs. Lounging in the calming realm of the spa, my mind drifted into a reflective state of reminiscence, this time over the life my husband and I had shared, the joys of being with our loving family, the incredibly exotic adventures we’d experienced around the world. Somehow, the melancholy these memories would have previously evoked evaporated. Instead, I felt gratitude that we’d been blessed to have had a life well-lived and—with that—peace of mind for finally realizing that there’s no reason to feel guilty for surviving.

On the evening of the signature Black-and-White Ball, I stood on the sidelines, the music transporting me back in time to romantic dances with my beloved. Admiring couples twirling arm in arm, I wondered if I’d ever feel like dancing again.

Yet, as the ship’s captain described her as a strong, stable ocean liner capable of navigating the roughest waters, I appreciated my inner strength for surviving my own.

By the time I disembarked in Southampton, I knew that sailing the Queen Mary 2 solo eclipsed my sadness. Feeling liberated, I headed to One Aldwych, my favourite boutique hotel in London’s West End where live theatre and Covent Garden are just outside the door. Ken and I always saw the shows, usually lining up for tickets and somehow managing to score great seats. Our favourite gallery, The Courtauld, was now also just across the street, having moved its Impressionist collection to Somerset House since our last visit to London together. Though I anticipated that just being in the city would unleash torrents of memories, I knew that my remastered mind could fondly deal with them.


If You Go QM2‘s educational and skill-producing options include shows in the world’s only planetarium afloat; drama workshops run by professional actors from Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), who also perform abridged plays by Shakespeare; lessons in fencing, bridge and watercolour painting; dance lessons; and virtual golf in an environment that simulates a global array of courses including Gleneagles, Banff Springs and Pinehurst. One Aldwych Hotel, London:

Queen Mary 2: By the Numbers

  • Remastered after US$130 million investment by Cunard parent company Carnival UK.
  • Accommodates 2,961 passengers; Britannia Class level now includes 15 solo cabins.
  • Supervised programs for three age groups of children as well as nursery care for babies and toddlers ranging from six to 23 months old.
  • A secluded aft deck includes 24 kennels to house cats and dogs. Pets must have up-to-date vaccination certificates and must meet size and breed restrictions.
  • The largest library at sea houses some 10,000 books.
  • Three public pools, each with a whirlpool, one with a retractable roof.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2017 issue with the headline, “Life Ahoy!,” p. 66-69.