Grieving While Teaching Abroad: Month Two

Grieving While Teaching Abroad: Month Two

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.

Music In My Heart & Soul

Music In My Heart & SoulDuring the month of February, I found myself listening 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 virtuoso keyboard playing, entered my heart and soothed me. I felt alive and it seemed OK if I flashed a smile and showed that I was 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 be traveling, dancing, food or wine tasting, music, sports, studying the native language, attending live performances at the theatre (the list could go on forever…).

How I Honored My Grandmother 

I honored my grandmother in different ways and it also helped me very much. While I didn’t realize it at the time, 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 had a lifelong love for music and she passed that on to me. During my childhood, she would sing to me before I fell asleep and, ever since those lullabies have long passed into cherished memories, music has filled my heart and remained in my soul.

Month Two: Curbed

“Angels walk among us. Chasin’ evil from us.” – Prinze George

you'll never find peace of mind until you listen to your heart

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 averting tragedy, 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 While Grieving Abroad

February was cold as winter bit hard and I stayed indoors a lot, which led to internalized emotions. Little by little, I was 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, 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 me 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.

Building The Essential Checklist

Leesa Truesdell Grieving Abroad

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:

  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 of 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 article will show where I traveled and explored after the death of my beloved grandmother. Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!

Grieving Abroad butterfly

by Leesa Truesdell


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