Goodbye, Grandma: A blog on grieving a loss while studying abroad

candles

In my last blog, I promised bloggers some  more candid posts on the ups and downs of studying abroad. At the risk of sounding redundant, I really believe it’s important for students considering to live and study abroad to be given the full picture of what they’re getting into. From here on out, I’m gonna start to tailoring my forthcoming blogs to offer a more balanced landscape of what it’s like to be thousands of miles from home… Starting with this post.

This past week, I lost my grandma. The cons of study abroad don’t get more real than this, folks. Losing a family member when you’re thousands of miles away from your family is one of the most difficult experiences you can have when studying abroad. Depending on the circumstances, it might not always be the loss itself that hurts so much as the fact that you are not able to grieve with loved ones.

Grieving means something different to everyone- some grieve with anger, some with silence and solitude, some with symbolic actions, some with art, some with the company of their loved ones. These differences even vary culturally, which can make it really difficult for the usually fabulous new friends you’ve made living abroad to understand what’s happening. We often take for granted how much of an impact it has being around (or near to) the people who understand your grief and understand whom and what you’ve lost. When you’re a country apart from your loved ones, it’s much harder feeling connected to their grief, and this can make you feel isolated, alone, and can sometimes deepen the pain of that loss.

Over the course of the last year, there have been three significant losses in my family. Through all of them, the two most difficult emotions I’ve struggled with were guilt and sadness for being so far away. The occasional bout of homesickness makes it hard enough to rationalise and negotiate your reasons for living abroad (whether it’s to study, work, experience new cultures or to be with your partner) against how much you miss home. When a traumatic or painful event happens in your family or circle of friends, though, this negotiation tends to resurface in a very intense way and can even bring you question your decision to stay.

The bottom line here is that if you carefully consider and weigh the pros and cons before making the decision to leave, it can keep you steadier when $h1t hits the fan. If you are a careful enough planner and you have the resources to manage it, there are things you can do to soften the blow; e.g., keeping an emergency sta$h for last-minute plane tickets home, or keeping a friend (abroad) whom you trust in the loop if/when someone gets sick in case you need a sudden shoulder, or locating your nearest M&S for a last minute stop for proper chocolate, ice cream, DVDs and PJs.

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