Grieving Abroad: How I Managed Grief While Teaching Abroad
This blog showcases a series of six months. It will show a progression of my journey through the griefing abroad and the loss of my beloved grandmother.
Music In My Heart & Soul
During the month of February, I began to listen to the music of Prinze George, Blue October, and Bastille practically nonstop. I attended Bastille’s concert in Madrid at the beginning of the month with a close friend and the performance, especially the keyboard, entered my heart and soothed me. I felt alive and it felt OK to smile and be happy. When living abroad, it’s important to have a hobby that you can feel connected to both physically and emotionally. Some of those hobbies could including: traveling, dancing, food or wine tasting, music, sports, studying the native language, attending live performances at the theatre (the list could go on forever…).
Honoring After The Concert
After the concert, I decided to honor my grandmother in different ways and that also helped me very much. I didn’t realize it at the time but, by honoring her, I was simultaneously, although slowly, letting go of the pain. For me, each trip I took, each church I entered and each song I listened to made me feel slightly better. My grandmother always had a love for music and she passed that on to me. During my childhood, she would sing to me before I fell asleep each night and, ever since, music has filled my heart and remained in my soul.
Month 2: Curbed
“Angels walk among us. Chasin’ evil from us.” – Prinze George
What Day Is It?
The time after she passed was probably the most disjointed in terms of how I coped while grieving abroad. I didn’t have a specific strategy; I just woke up each day hoping that it would feel different from the last. Some days were different, some felt like my normal routine had returned, whereas others felt so unreal.
For example, one day I was walking down the street, listening to my usual tunes, and I glanced up at a bus. A mother with a baby was getting up on the bus at the curb and she lost control of the stroller. Before I knew it, I had the baby pushed back up on the platform of the bus. It was an immediate reaction. I just moved across the sidewalk toward the bus. Had I not moved, the baby would have fallen face-first from the bus onto the ground while strapped into the stroller. The strangest part was that I didn’t utter a single word. I was still in my “numb” phase of mourning where I rejected much of the Spanish language. So, I didn’t talk but just acted. After the fact, there were elderly Spanish women making a fuss about the baby, but I had swooped in and in an instant, picked it up and just kept walking. It was only after I got home that I actually realized what had happened and writing this is this first time I have even acknowledged it. Looking back, I really was suppressing a lot of what I was feeling.
Missing What You Can’t Explain Grieving Abroad
February was cold and I stayed indoors a lot, which led to internalized emotions. Little by little, I was further suppressing my feelings of grief and the daily stresses of being abroad. I wasn’t talking to anyone about them because I didn’t want to be a burden. Making and maintaining friendships while abroad is tough in general. The friends that I did make didn’t know me well enough to understand who my grandmother was to me and how important she was in my life so it was hard to talk about what I was feeling. Every day that passed, I felt soreness in my heart. It seemed as if a piece of my childhood was gone. Talking to new friends about my childhood and having to explain that in great depth was too much for me. So I tucked it inside for a warmer day.
At A Glance…
Looking back now I realize that this month was supposed to happen this way while I grieved abroad. It was a process that made me mentally stronger but also made realize that, although I am capable of doing just about anything on my own, I should have been more open about sharing my grief and sadness. The direct result of suppressing those feelings was anger and frustration. If I had shared more about what was happening, perhaps there would not have been the unfortunate miscommunication with friends that happened the following month.
Grieving Abroad Tips:
1. Go out and talk to friends and coworkers and try to retain as normal as 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.)
2. Cry when it hurts but don’t let grieving abroad consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results in delayed and sometimes worse outcomes.
3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t carry on with your normal routine and things aren’t getting better.
4. Try not to internalize your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home if that helps or write to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do know will help you get out some of the sad feelings you are experiencing.
5. Pick a hobby and find a way to focus on making that as memorable as you can while you are grieving abroad.
My next blog post Music Is the Answer Month Three Part Two will show how I worked through the processes of loss, managed grief, and building resilience after the death of my beloved grandmother. I took two trips in March one to London, England and the other to Bordeaux, France. Both trips were special and added meaning to my overall journey.
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