How I dealt with uncertainty and grief and established lifelong memories with friends my first year in Spain.
A year ago, I had no idea what my experience in Spain would be like. I felt nervous, uneasy and all of the feelings you would expect to feel when you are about to embark into the unknown. My twenties had breezed by in a flash and after I turned thirty I began to look back at my younger self and recognized a far too common problem – a young woman who cared way too much about what others thought and not enough about what she thought about herself. I hadn’t embraced my own truth and didn’t really know what it was until I really looked deep inside to figure it out (and this remains an ongoing process.) However, what I did know was that uncertainty and fear had led me to make decisions in my life that weren’t necessarily based on my truth but rather on avoiding fear or on pleasing others. The more I interact with youth, both in America and in other countries, the more I realize that I am not the only person who has let opinions and doubts interfere with my future. What I know now is that youth is a time for making mistakes and learning from them. The challenge is being courageous enough to change your life or routines in order not to repeat those mistakes. The ultimate goal is to try to find a place within yourself so you don’t need validation from others but recognize your own value. Growth is a process. We tend to be creatures of habit but those of us who want change bad enough and are determined can achieve it.
I mention this because I wrestled with the decision to move to Spain because my grandmother was ill and I felt that I would be judged harshly by family members, mainly my mother, for leaving while she was sick. Guilt is often used as a means of passive control and I was not going to set my dreams aside because of someone else’s bias or fear. Deep down I knew that I was making the right choice. I knew this was my time to experience a year abroad and that my grandmother in her healthy years would have ultimately understood. During one of our last conversations before her dementia set in, she smiled and told me, “Leesa, I want you to be happy.”
Sadly, she passed away while I was in Spain. I thought I had time and would be able to see her again, however, I was blessed to have seen her one last time and, in my heart, I will always carry her with me. I am at peace with my decision.
After she passed, the feelings of grief were foreign to me and very difficult for me to process while living abroad. You aren’t really sure what you are feeling after you lose someone. You just sort of go through the motions. There is no guidebook to tell you how to recover quicker and how to help stop the heaviness you feel in your heart when something reminds you of them. That’s when reality of the death sets. For example, I was on the metro about six weeks after her death and suddenly realized that I would never be able to call her again. When this hit me, I looked around and thought what am I doing here? Tears filled my eyes and I took a deep breath and let go a huge sigh. I was on my way to work and needed to keep it together. I was suppressing powerful feelings that probably ended up turning into the spell of anger that eventually took its course a few weeks later. Eventually, the anger faded and I was able to speak of her to friends and colleagues. What I didn’t realize until later was that the reactions to the feelings of grief that I was experiencing were happening because I was not recognizing that my feelings (the tears and sadness) were ok to feel. Instead, I kept suppressing them because it was never the “right time” or place to be feeling sad.
There were days that I just didn’t want to talk to or see anyone but what helped was going to my school and seeing my students. Having an outlet to be productive and feel like my work was making the impact that I hoped for made a difference. Slowly, as time passed, I was able to talk about her without feeling a heavy heart. Having just lost her gave me knowledge in an area that I would have preferred not to have but, when a colleague was about to lose an immediate family member, I was able to help her prepare for the worst. And when her loved one passed, I knew that all I could do was send her notes and say, I am thinking of you. I am here.
Sometimes a person who is grieving just needs to hear that you are around if they need a friend. They may not ever reach out to talk but sending them a note or even a text letting them know you are thinking of them could be just what they need that day.
Grief comes and goes after the person passes. For me, the first two months were the hardest because I couldn’t let go and didn’t know how. Also, in Madrid during January and February it is very dreary and cold. People don’t leave their homes as often as the months that have beautiful weather. I was left with a combination of being far from home, a dreary winter and a tender heart. What did I do?
In my next blog I will talk about what I did to help with the grief cycle.