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.
To read the previous article 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. With all my heart, 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! It is the season for adventure, after all. I wanted the chance to see Italy again. But, this time, I wanted to see Milan. My goal was also 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 street musician 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 Tata 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 Tata, especially certain types of music, food, and wine! I believe part of the healing in my grieving 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. While I could write all day about the many fascinating parts of my Italian experience, I will return to 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 of Anna Bolena, the tragic retelling of the life and death of one of Henry VIII’s wives, was outstanding and so was my balcony seat. 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.
No Place Like Rome
It wasn’t quite what I pictured in my mind as I had heard details from people who had been there before who had said it was old and run down. Yet 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 for a variety of reasons but mainly because of its history. 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 helped me to get under the Italian capital’s skin more easily 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 Roman Ghetto. 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.
A Taste 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. So on 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 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 a 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 achieved 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.
Building The Essential Checklist
Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:
- Go out and talk to friends, coworkers and try to retain as normal 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 in delayed, and sometimes worse, outcomes.
- Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday 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 release some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
- Start a new 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. Resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to being 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.
For my next article, I will be writing about Acceptance, Resilience, Happiness: Month 5 while teaching abroad. Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!
by Leesa Truesdell