I would like to start off by saying that not all people grieve the same way and that this post is a reflection of how I coped with my feelings of loss while I lived abroad. I am in no way discrediting any other methods of grief management. Rather, I am sharing my method of healing as a way to provide insight for those who might one day be living abroad and feel similar. Some people might feel that returning to their home country is the best option and others may not have that option. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to mourn. Time takes its course and it’s up to us to keep that person’s memory alive in our heart.
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.
Month One: Numb
The very worst part about pain is that the minute you think you’ve past it, it starts all over again.” – Meredith Grey
The first month after my beloved grandmother, Tata, passed was probably the most difficult that I had while abroad. It was one of the hardest times in my adult life to date. The night she passed away I received a call from my father. Leading up to that call, I received updates by the hour from family members with her. I finally received “the text,” the one that said “…she passed away.” It was the one you never want to get. I remember feeling as if everything suddenly went still.
After I got it, I paused and mumbled “no.” Looking back, there was an eerie stillness because it was as if I felt her leave the earth. It felt as if our souls touched one more time. I have never experienced death or grief like this in the States or abroad. Maybe it was better for me that I was away… or maybe it wasn’t. It all felt so surreal.
Leading up to that text, I didn’t believe anyone in my family who told me that she was that ill. It was because I didn’t WANT to believe that she was that ill. I had just seen her about two weeks before for Christmas Eve. She was singing and smiling. All I could think was, “no, not Tata.” I couldn’t process what was happening. During the first month, I felt numb to everything. In a sense, I walked through each day, simply going through the motions. It was all I could do to press on.
Music Is The Answer
What helped that first month after my grandma died was forcing myself to go out and, interestingly, listening to music. Music was my way of escape. Now, it’s how I remember her. Sometimes we may not know what to do until we take the first step. For me, my first step was meeting a friend at a musical we had planned on months before my grandmother’s death. At that moment, all I needed was to see a friend and feel a hug.
It had been ten days since I had real human contact. I had talked on the phone and seen colleagues at work a few days after her passing. But, there was nothing like seeing a close friend, and hearing a very familiar American-themed musical that I grew up knowing and loving. My soul felt better after the show. I slowly became able to start accepting and not denying her passing.
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 even acquaintances. Try to maintain as normal of a daily/weekly 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. Don’t suppress your feelings. It only results in delayed and sometimes worse outcomes. Cry when you need to. Let out the sadness you feel, it’s normal. However, sadness should not stop you from seeing friends or going to work.
- Seek professional help or counseling if you feel like you can’t do your normal routine and things aren’t getting better after more than a few weeks.