How I Learned to Cope with Loss 3,420 Miles from Home

Studying abroad was the greatest adventure of my life. I met so many people that I now call my best friends and had many once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life. That being said, not every day during my semester abroad was a dream. One tough day was August 27, 2017. My mom texted me and told me she needed to call me. I was at a street fair and told her I’d call her that night. I got back to my flat and I got some of the worst news I could possibly imagine. My mother told me my grandfather had passed away. I was beyond surprised, but he was old and had not been doing well for a few months. He was the first of my grandparents to pass away so it was the only real loss I’d ever had to go through. For the first time since I’d arrived in London, home felt a million miles away.

The next few days were tough and I was getting a lot of love from my friends and family at home which was both comforting and difficult because all of my cousins and aunts and uncles were together and I couldn’t be there to grieve with them and say goodbye. But as I thought about him and the relationship we had, I knew that he would have said I was exactly where I was supposed to be and to try and push through. I also had very supportive friends abroad who sat with me and let me spill my feelings and grief out across several pubs, restaurants, and the floor of our apartment. As they say, time heals all wounds, and eventually it did get easier. The guilt I felt for not being with my family subsided and I was able to move on with the semester.

Then about a month later on September 25th, I had another tough day. I was in Barcelona and my friend and I were sitting outside at a café laughing about how we were both struggling to order in Spanish despite the fact we had taken it throughout high school and in college. I got another text from my mom asking me to call her. I called immediately and she told me that my grandmother had passed away. My heart sank again. My grandmother had cancer and was sick for years but for so long she had defied the odds so I almost felt like it was never really going to happen. She had been in decline over the summer before I left and I had gone to her house a couple days before my flight. I think we both felt a heaviness during that visit but neither of us addressed it. Part of the reason was because I was sure I would get the chance to come home and tell her all about my European adventure. Once again, home felt a million miles away. But once again, my friends were there for me. Especially that night when I needed them to sit in the lobby of our hostel so I could have our room to talk to my mom in private. They were so supportive and I would not have been able to get through the loss of two grandparents without them. I got another flood of comforting texts and calls from home. I again felt a lot of guilt for not being at the funeral of not only the woman I was named after, but a woman who had been there for me my entire life and taught me so much. I struggled for the rest of that trip and was relieved to get back to London. The next few days were hard. My 20th birthday was coming up but I didn’t really feel like celebrating. It wasn’t until the morning of my birthday that I started to feel better. I thought about my grandmother and how much she loved to travel. She was so excited for me to be going abroad. The more I thought about who she was as a woman and as a grandmother, the more I started to heal.

Through reflecting on their role in my life and talking with my family, I realized it is so much more important to be there for the important moments in someone’s life than the moment of their death. I realized how fortunate I was to have 19 years with two of my grandparents and how blessed I was to have them in my life. I know they both were so happy for me to have this opportunity and I owed it to them to make the absolute most of it. In a way,  their deaths made me appreciate the value of life and I treasured my days abroad that much more. I did not get to say a traditional goodbye but, I found my own way to honor their lives. Both of them were devout Catholics, so every new place I traveled to I would find a church and light two candles for them. So although I had sent postcards they would never receive, I knew it didn’t matter because they were with me every step of the way.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult in any case. I realized you have to live your life and make the most of it. Sometimes that means missing things and you may have to be your own support system when times get tough, but you are never truly alone.  I would never take back my experience abroad, even the really hard days, because they helped me to grow up and to cherish every moment of this life. So if you ever have to deal with loss, or tough times far from home, know that sometimes the best way to honor someone’s life, is to make the most of your own because that’s what they would have wanted.