This blog showcases my life and my grieving process over six months. It shows how I worked through the processes of loss, grief, and resiliency after the death of my beloved grandmother.
To read the previous post in this series, please go here.
Resiliency and Confidence While Exploring
As each week passed, I felt more and more adjusted to my life in Madrid. The best part about all of it was that I was getting stronger and more confident in making my way around the city—and speaking Spanish! I made amends with friends. I tried my best to accept that I couldn’t change the fact that Tata was gone. All I could do was remember her and the good times we shared. And so, I did.
I decided to spend spring break exploring! I wanted the chance to see Italy again. But, this time, I wanted to see Milan. My goal was to experience the southern parts of Italy that I had read about in travel magazines. I wanted to experience Italian culture and let my soul search deep into the wine, food, and rich history. I also knew that the week of my travels would be an incredibly special time. It was around Easter, and Good Friday happened to fall on what would have been Tata’s 90th birthday.
She was born on April 14, 1927. In her memory, I planned a trip to Italy and spent much of my time reflecting on life. I also wanted to celebrate her life the way she would have wanted me to. During this trip, I realized through subtle reminders (such as a song played by a live street performer as I passed) that the people we hold dear to us often become part of us.
Remembering the Good Things
The people who were an important part of our lives will not go away after they pass if we choose not to let their memory fade. I realized I could always have her live on through me by continuing to do some of the things she liked to do. I felt a piece of her in my heart and considered it a sign of good luck. There were things that would remind me of her, especially certain types of music, food, and wine! I believe part of the healing in my grief process was facing the things that reminded me most of her and celebrating them instead of feeling sad about them.
Keep your head up, your heart strong.” – Ben Howard
Month Four: Signs
Italy! Eat, drink and be merry. Tata loved all three. I will save the details of all the locations for another post. I could blog all day about the many fascinating parts of my Italian experience, but I will save this for another time!
The first stop on my itinerary was Milan, where I saw my first Italian opera at the Teatro Alla Scala. The performance Anna Bolena was outstanding and so were my seats! I was sitting in the balcony and could hear and see the performers as the show carried on. My favorite part of the show was the orchestra, which was right below me. I could hear and see each instrument being played in sync to each character’s dramatic role. What an experience!
Second Stop, Rome!
It wasn’t quite what I pictured in my mind. I heard details from people who had been there before who had said it was old and run down. I didn’t feel that vibe while I was there at all. Yes, the city is extremely old but it is FULL of life. I especially enjoyed being in Rome the week before Easter because a variety of reasons but mainly because of its history. I have heard mixed reviews about Rome from an array of travelers. My personal opinion is that it’s a city with good and bad spots like any other city. But overall, the city feels like you are walking back in time with every step you take.
I fortunately had a local take me through town, which turned out very nice. I knew the history in Rome would be one of the highlights of my trip. Because of that, I wanted to spend a good deal of time learning about it. The area I enjoyed walking through most was the Jewish ghetto (what the locals call it). Because of the time of year, the Vatican became a favorite of mine too. I saw the Vatican the Monday after Palm Sunday and got to keep a piece of palm from the ceremony the day before.
Island of Sicily
Last, but certainly not least, I visited two parts on the island of Sicily. I flew from Rome to Palermo, and then drove to Taormina. The most interesting part about Taormina is that you have to take a funicular, or cable car, to get up to the town on top of the hill. My first night there, which happened to be Good Friday, and also my Tata’s birthday, I did just that. I got a glimpse of Taormina atop the hill.
It’s Good Friday
The most important part of this trip was the events that took place on what would have been Tata’s 90th birthday. The magical part about this day was that I was able to see a full religious procession in Sicily (on a whim).
In an earlier post, I spoke about how the St. Croixe church in Bordeaux, France helped me take an important step forward in my grieving process. Well, something similar happened on Good Friday. I was walking around Taormina in the downtown area up on the hill. I was browsing through the Swarovski Crystal store. This became incredibly meaningful once I realized where I was and on what day.
Backstory: I had given a necklace to a friend as a keepsake before we said goodbye in Madrid and I was looking for a replacement (something different but unique to Italy) for myself. However, looking back now, the irony of this story and why the “sign” or symbol of Swarovski is important, is because my grandfather used to always bring Tata a Swarovski crystal for Christmas from abroad. I fondly remember sitting in her kitchen one Christmas. Papa told her to reach over her shoulder into the stocking above, hanging on the wall.
To this day, I will always remember the smile on her face when she reached into the stocking and pulled out the box. When she opened the box, a tiny mouse-shaped crystal that had tiny metal spring as its tail unveiled itself. It was definitely something my grandfather would have picked out. She looked at it adoringly and put it next to the swan crystal in her glass cabinet. Over the years, her collection grew as did my memories of her adoring the Christmas holiday and, of course, my Papa’s special gifts.
Calmness During Procession
While in the store, the lights grew dim, and the staff asked me to leave so we could watch the procession. I knew what a procession was because I had heard about it the week before from my students in class. However, in Italy they do their processions a bit differently than in Spain. As I walked outside, I heard music and singing. I saw votive candles and women wearing black. They were carrying Jesus Christ during each stage of his life on Good Friday. The feeling I felt while watching this unexpected event is one I will never forget and hold dear to my heart.
As I look back at this moment, how I felt and how I feel now, I realize that this trip to Italy helped me let go and officially mourn my grandmother in a way that was special for my own self-growth. The procession that happened on her birthday was a raw moment for me. It became my way of laying her to rest. Since I was not able to be with my family for a memorial or for the prayer with the priest as she took her last breath, this procession on her birthday made me feel as if I got closure.
I took deep breaths and lived in the moment. I looked into the crowd into the eyes of either a young Italian girl or an elderly Italian woman. They all proceeded in honor of a man who died for others. For me, observing this culture and seeing these women gave me the peace in my heart that I needed to close the door in order to move on without feeling the guilt I had been feeling. For whatever reason, because I wasn’t there to see her when she died, I felt guilty and I needed to let that go. Me being hard on myself made me feel unsettled inside. And, for whatever reason, this procession and this moment during my quest made me start to feel at peace in my heart and especially within my soul.
Resiliency Helpful List
Looking back, here is a helpful list that I keep adding to as I continue to write my way through my grieving process abroad:
- Go out and talk to friends, coworkers and try to remain as normal and 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.
- Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results into delayed, and sometimes worse, outcomes.
- Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t do your normal 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 get out some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
- Find a 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. Resiliency abroad begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to be 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.
Resiliency Abroad While Exploring
I know we all grieve in different ways, and I am in no way suggesting that this is the right way for everyone. I shared these tips so that someone who feels like I did while living abroad (or even in the States) might have a reference from someone who has lived it and reflected upon it.
For my next post, I will be writing about Acceptance, Resilience, Happiness: Month 5 while teaching abroad. Please subscribe and you will receive the post directly from me. Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!