This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.
To read the previous article in this series, please go here.
After traveling to Italy for spring break, I listened to Bush’s new album and the lyrics in this song spoke exactly to how I felt at that time. It was one of the first times I really felt that music is the answer. The grieving process (albeit, so difficult at the time) transformed me into someone I should have been all along. We all learn from our experiences – well, I do – and what I’ve learned most is that nothing lasts forever. So, whatever you treasure the most in life, whether it’s a relationship or a person, tell that person or show them.
I did a very good job of this with my Tata throughout her life, but I know I probably could have done more: like sending her an extra card or two over the years to let her know how much I missed her. My mom gave me some things when I was ready after her death. The things that my mom gave to me made me realize how much she had treasured the little things. She kept toys and objects since I had been a small child – bathtub toys, Cabbage Patch dolls, books that she knew were my favorite, just to name a few. Also, there was a card from years back that I had sent to brighten her spirits.
Remember the Positives
I knew her so well, that when we would speak on the phone, I knew when she was happy or sad. The slightest tone change in her soft Puerto Rican (boricua) accented voice would give it away. I remember sending her the card that is now one of the most precious keepsakes that I have from her.
Although we spoke regularly, every so often I would send her a card. I wanted to let her know how much she meant to me. I knew in the back of my mind how much she loved receiving them. She loved walking down to her mailbox and getting the mail each day. In my mind, as I wrote each card, I pictured the smile on her face as she hurried to open it. With each day that passes, I miss the hell out of her. The one thing I miss the most is her voice. I carry it in my heart and use it to do the good things that she would have wanted me to do.
Music Is The Answer to Acceptance
Verse 1, listed below, explains the part of the person I should have been all along (Who I try to be today!). Verse 2 talks about having the world within you and the places you go. Having just returned from Italy and experienced the many insightful things I did, this really hit me hard. Traveling has always been my method of learning. For some reason, this song, at this time in my life, really spoke to me. For me, music is the answer in coping with loss.
The first time I heard this song, I finally felt a sense of acceptance toward what had happened. I’ll never forget the morning my finger clicked my iPod on the Metro on my way to work. It was as if everything around me stood still. These words echoed through my ears and straight down into my heart. I smiled and then hit rewind. This series could easily be titled Music Is the Answer and this, right here – this Metro experience – this is why. Music changes people’s lives in ways that cannot be described, although I have tried.
The longest night is over
The longest day has just begun
I turn myself in someone
I should’ve been all along
But these trials are here to mold us
We are how we reply
And all the worlds within you
And all the places that you go
All the love that’s inside you
All the scars and the lows
All the worlds
All the worlds
Check One, Check Two to Acceptance
When I got back from Italy, my job began a hurried phase. It was the final and third trimester of the Spanish school year, and I was teaching the English department’s theater class. Things got intense because I was not used to the schedule or timeline of when students took exams. Therefore, our lead students in the school play ended up missing some of the practices during the last couple of weeks, due to exams and studying. (I will never understand the student studying mentality in Spain).
Senior-level students graduated in mid-May before we performed our play, so I had to become creative. All of these schedule irregularities threw me for a loop when I got back, but I was able to work around them. We had to work together to make sure that we got costumes for each character and that character lines were rehearsed at home for students who were missing practice.
A proud moment of month five happened when all of the schedule irregularities concluded, and my students pulled together to attend rehearsals to practice and do what they needed in order to make our two back-to-back performances successful. In addition, I was able to see the oldest students in the group, and my Segundo Bachillerato classes, graduate during month five. I hadn’t been to a high-school graduation since my own. Tata went to my high school and undergraduate graduations, so this moment was extra special for me because I felt like in some very small way that I helped these Segundo Bachillerato students succeed before their graduation.
When I looked back at seminal moments in my life and thought of my students over the course of their year, I realized that I was experiencing my own circle-of-life moment. Music is the answer to everything – even graduations. One of the highlights in my own life was my high-school graduation, and all the life-changing events that came afterward (college, friends, internships, firsts of all kinds…). I’m sure in another ten years I will look back and think the same as I read this article. I listen, even now, to Bush’s song and think about the trials that shape us in life and how scared, yet happy I felt at graduation. Now I realize that was only the beginning of what was to come. My students at graduation might have felt a similar feeling.
Good & Bad Moments
All the while, I was feeling my own sense of fear, a new fear that I never knew I had. The night Tata passed, at that moment, I realized I feared the finality of death. How I would never see her again, how I would never be able to speak to her again. This was not a question of my own mortality, but rather the fact that I would not be able to live with her into the future. However, the one thing living in my 30s has taught me is the realization that life comes full circle. My experience abroad changed me in a way that made me appreciate EVERYTHING life brings — the good and bad moments and everything in between.
I wasn’t prepared to lose Tata while living in Madrid. However, during this challenge, I found an inner strength and acceptance that I never knew I had. Month five turned out to be one of the happiest experiences in my life. Everyone at the school worked so hard to perform our play. I created lifelong memories with these students, which I will cherish until I grow old and can’t remember them anymore. I realized life has its special moments, and it is in those moments that we must hold on to that joy, sadness, or whatever feeling is driving us at the time. For it is in these most memorable moments, good and bad, that shape who we are and ultimately how we perceive ourselves and treat others.
Building The Essential Checklist:
Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:
- Go out and talk to friends, coworkers and try to retain as normal a routine as possible. You don’t have to talk to them about your grief, but it does help to go out and make new memories while you are trying to let the pain subside.
- Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results in delayed, and sometimes worse, outcomes.
- Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday routine and things aren’t getting better.
- Try not to internalize your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home or write to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do know will help you release some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
- Start a new hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
- Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say and note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to being able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.
- ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers, get to know your students’ needs, and most important, get to know your students before telling them they CAN’T do something. This type of behavior causes learner anxiety and self-doubt.
- Take time to mourn and reflect the way you feel in order to start healing. Make plans ahead of time during a holiday break to enjoy yourself by doing something fun. Do the things you need in order to find peace within.
- Whatever you might be feeling on the inside – reflect and let it guide you to acceptance. Let it propel you toward accomplishing whatever it is that you went abroad to do. Acceptance comes over time but doing your job is important. Keep that in mind and try to move forward.
Read the final article in the series here.