Puerto Rico Trip: 2020 A Memorable Year

Writer and Dreams Abroad founder Leesa Truesdell during her Puerto Rico tripLeesa Truesdell’s beloved grandma, Tata, is a continuing influence on her travels, inspiring her to fall in love with adventures abroad from an early age. While teaching English in Madrid, Tata passed away. Since then, Leesa has developed in ways her grandmother would be proud of. After taking an emotion-packed trip to Puerto Rico in December 2019, Leesa was able to honor her grandmother’s memory. Now, at the close of 2020, she takes time to remember the one and only Tata and all that she learned from her.

2020: A Memorable Year

It’s 2020. When I wrote my last piece about Tata, I did not realize how much would change and how fast it would happen. This year has been tough for all of us. It is times like these when we must remember to tell people what they mean to us often, live with conviction and purpose, and remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen. Listen up and listen hard. 

Last year, I was in Puerto Rico. Letting go has never been easy for me, nor has saying goodbye. When I returned from Spain, I worked and did not stop working. It is almost as if I did not give myself a chance to fully let go of the sadness that would creep up every time I heard a song or was reminded of her. I realized I needed to take a break from overdrive and go back to the place where all of my traveling began. So that is exactly what I did.

Feelings on Arrival

When I landed, I didn’t feel the usual buzz of anticipation when you get off and exit the aircraft. This was probably because I knew this trip had a purpose external to my personal destiny. I was there for Christmas Eve (my grandma’s favorite holiday) but also, to let go. For much of my adult life, “letting go” meant backing away from being right in a conversation. Or, letting family members have the last cookie at a holiday party.

This trip just had that feeling… yeah. It could have been a subconscious all-in-your-head feeling. But, I still did not feel that that let-me-jump-for-the-luggage-carousel-to-find-my-bag-so-I-could-explore vibe. This had a different feeling altogether. However, it was up to me as to how I chose to live in the moment. Since Tata no longer was there for me to tell her how much I loved her, it was time to set her free. After her passing in 2017, it was about time.

As I drove to the other side of the island, memories of her stories and Puerto Rico flashbacks bounced into my mind. Years of listening to her stories filled my heart. They came out right when I needed them most. It was as if those memories armed me with what I was about to encounter next. 

She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen.”

— Leesa Truesdell

A photo of Leesa and her grand mother, Tata. Leesa reflected on her grandmother's life and the messages she carries with her today during her Puerto Rico trip

Why Am I Really Here

When Tata passed while I was in Madrid, my father had a small portion of her ashes encased into a ceramic heart. The purpose of this heart was so that I could have her with me at all times. Truth be told, she had been in my heart since the moment she took her last breath. Although we were separated and on two different continents, I knew when she passed. Time stood still. 

So, while the sentiment was thoughtful and sweet, Tata needed to return home. She had been locked in a tiny heart for years. This was not how she would have wanted to have been remembered. I believe with conviction that she needed to be set free. She lived her life traveling the world, yet was not afforded the opportunity to go home one more time before she passed. 

She talked about Mayagüez many times over the years — as long as I knew her, which was my entire life. But, she never returned. Puerto Rico was not calling during her life until the end. That was why it was my responsibility, down to me and nobody else, to release her and to let her go. Over the years, I heard her stories and when dementia set in, she spoke of the island even more. I listened. I listened hard.

Leesa looking at a picture on a camera while at the beach in early 2020 during her Puerto Rico trip

Ashes to Ashes

The location and personal ceremony I had with Tata one last time before she physically left my hands and rejoined the earth was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I will never be able to put it into words. I had so many things I wanted to tell her. And, so I did. I let go. We let go together. 

William Parrish : It’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
Joe Black : Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish : What can I tell you? That’s life.”

Quote: Meet Joe Black

Life and Legacy Beyond 2020

What things are you doing or working towards now that are helping to shape the legacy you want to leave? How are you moving past 2020?

I ask each of you to join us as we begin our life and legacy chapter of Dreams Abroad. We want to make this a space where parents, students, teachers, doctors, executives, healthcare professionals, military service members, police officers, and more can come to speak about their lives. Our goal is to not leave our loved ones behind. We want you to share a note, a phone call, or an online greeting to let them know that you care. Please join our team as we reach out with information about how you can help us stay connected.

Remembering the Woman with a Heart of Gold: Micaela Colon

Micaela Colon

Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Leesa Truesdell and I am from Coral Springs, Florida. As I get older, I realize that life means more. What do I mean by “more?” Well, it means three little things which add up to a large sum: tell people what they mean to you often, live with purpose and do what you can often, and finally, remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen carefully as they might only tell you once.

Micaela Colon: The woman with the best laugh, softest smile, and a heart of gold. 

I have made my fair share of mistakes over the course of my life. Nonetheless, it is these mistakes that have made me who I am. It sounds cliché, but let me explain. My grandmother, my beloved Tata, is no longer alive to write about how she would want to be remembered. However, I have a soul full of love and a mind full of memories that still feel so raw and real. Micaela Colon passed on January 11, 2017. Yet, I can still hear her voice and see her smile. Those are the memories that will never fade and are tucked in my heart forever. 

The love my grandmother showed me as a child was the kind of love a child could only dream of. I can still see the red swing that I would run and jump on when she took me to the park by her house. We went to the arcade for hours over the summer. One of my fondest memories is going to the cinema with her and sharing popcorn. We used to go to the cinema a few times a summer. Two movies that remind me of her are Chances Are and Xanadu. Tata enjoyed a movie with a good soundtrack. She played the piano and was passionate about a variety of music.

playing piano with my grandmother

Be Mindful

I am telling you about my memories that live on in my mind because as she got older, I remembered her love and I never forgot her. When I got older and was able to drive, I took her out to lunch. Eventually, when I was in college, I called her on all of her birthdays. When we went to lunch, she usually ordered the soup of the day and a half-sandwich combo at Rob’s Bageland near her house. It was one of her favorite places. After she passed, I remembered the things that I did with her as a child and as an adult when it was my turn to care for her. There was no eradication of the sadness but it helped me through it. 

Let me emphasize this — tell people what they mean to you while they are in your life. They will never forget it and neither will you. When I got home from Madrid and saw my mom for the first time after Tata had passed, she handed me a box with things from my grandma. In the box were cards that I had mailed her over the years. She kept all of them. At the time, I did not realize how much a card meant to her, but clearly, it meant everything and more.

Embrace Being Abroad

My grandparents traveled across the world throughout their lives because my grandfather was an aeronautical engineer. His job meant that he needed to live in different countries for years at a time. My grandparents embraced this part of their lives. They did what they wanted and they lived with purpose. They adapted to environments that did not accept them and taught in places that embraced them with open arms. For example, my grandmother taught English in Kinshasa, Africa in the 1970s while my grandfather made friends at work. He attended Rumble in the Jungle. This is something I was not aware of until my late twenties.

Take Time

What Tata wanted most during the older years of her life after Papa passed was attention. Our roles reversed and towards the last few years of her life, I found myself sitting and listening to her about her childhood in Puerto Rico. When her dementia started to progress, she kept her long-term memory and continued to recall her childhood in Puerto Rico. She just couldn’t remember what she had just eaten. It was important for me to sit and just listen to her during these stages of her life. Unfortunately, with Lewy body dementia, the person knows what is happening to them while it is happening.

Shared Moments

I felt at times helpless that she would fail to remember I was there because her short-term memory would not last. She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen. Some might not want to share, but those that do might need a friend or, in my case, their granddaughter, to sit and listen to the same story over and over again. As I look back, it only took a few minutes here and there, but collectively these minutes are some of the best moments I have ever spent.

Remembering Micaela Colon

The legacy Tata left me changed my life. It has made me a more mindful person. I tell people what they mean to me more often, I live with purpose, and listen to others regularly. When I got back from Madrid, I became an international student advisor and my sole role was to listen during this job. I also started Dreams Abroad to help others achieve their goals in life. No matter what I am doing in this life, I am always remembering her and using the love she gave me as a guide in my day-to-day actions. Micaela Colon is sincerely missed and never to be forgotten. 

Her legacy lives on through Dreams Abroad and its impact.

by Leesa Truesdell