A Mother Reflects on Loss and Mourning

As a young mother, Esther Lau was blessed first with a son, Travis, and then with a daughter, Emily, and she looks back at the times when they were toddlers with fond and loving memories. Life came with the normal challenges of raising a family but as brother and sister grew older they played well together and eventually did more together.

When Travis was a young boy, Esther asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said he wanted to become a doctor. “‘What else is there?”’ is what he said,” Esther remembered. “He was very strong in science and math so medicine was the natural fit.” 

Travis was also athletic, very likely because of his mother’s influence. She described herself as a “gym rat, but not a full on gym rat, but more than average.” At ‘Iolani School, Travis played varsity tennis and qualified for the state tennis tournament in his senior year. Esther reflects back to all of the tennis matches, school events, and activities as great, lifetime memories and moments she spent as a mother cheering for her son. Travis also ran cross country and eventually took up free diving and golf. 

After completing both medical school and residency at Tufts, he continued his training as a cardiothoracic anesthesiology fellow at The Cleveland Clinic. In 2011, he returned to Hawaii to join Pacific Anesthesiology Services and served on numerous quality committees. He was a trailblazer, setting national standards for blood usage in open heart surgery and advocated for patient safety-first policies. At all of his graduation ceremonies, whether for ‘Iolani or Tufts, Esther and her husband William recall the pride and joy they felt for all he had accomplished

Travis’s personal life was also blossoming. He married his wife, Melissa, in Hawaii and Esther recalled that the wedding was another proud milestone as the Lau family gained a daughter-in-law. Travis and his sister, Emily, were in their thirties and becoming even closer as adult siblings. 

But when Travis was 39, he was killed by a drunk driver.

On January 28, 2019, while waiting on the sidewalk for the light to change before crossing Ala Moana Boulevard, an intoxicated driver of a truck plowed into the pedestrians, killing Travis and 2 others, who were both tourists, seriously injuring 4 and injuring a few others. Travis had gone for a run, training for the Huntington Beach Marathon.

Pain and emptiness have permeated every day for Esther since then. Mother’s Day is especially painful. When Esther was 24, she lost her own mother who was a victim of a drunk driver.

Because Esther and her family were not allowed to see the investigation photos after Travis’s death, they have not found the closure they need.

“Mother’s Day is hard,” Esther said. “We never got a chance to see him after the car crash. It was advised that we not view his body because he had so much damage to his facial structure. I wish I could have had the chance to hold him in my arms one more time. We never got a chance to say goodbye and it’s been really hard for all of us.”

The Laus established a scholarship in Travis’s name at ‘Iolani School as a way to continue his legacy and they are also involved and supportive of MADD Hawaii. Esther, her family, and Melissa participate in sign-waving events, and sobriety checkpoints, and join hundreds of others at the annual Walk Like MADD each September at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. 

Esther also takes some solace in knowing that Travis is now with her father, who passed away while he was in his 80s.  When she traveled to Bhutan in 2019, she had a vision that they were together. The vision came on the 49th day after Travis’s death, which is a significant day for Buddhist mourning. “Then I knew that he was in a good place,” Esther said.

Dr. Travis Lau, 8/17/1979 - 1/28/2019