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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance, Resilience, and Happiness: Month Five

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.

And all the worlds within you, and all the places you go.” – Bush, All The Worlds Within You

Graduation Day
Graduation Day

After traveling to Italy for spring break, I listened to Bush’s new album and the lyrics in this song spoke exactly to how I felt at that time. It was one of the first times I really felt that music is the answer. The grieving process (albeit, so difficult at the time) transformed me into someone I should have been all along. We all learn from our experiences – well, I do – and what I’ve learned most is that nothing lasts forever. So, whatever you treasure the most in life, whether it’s a relationship or a person, tell that person or show them.

I did a very good job of this with my Tata throughout her life, but I know I probably could have done more: like sending her an extra card or two over the years to let her know how much I missed her. My mom gave me some things when I was ready after her death. The things that my mom gave to me made me realize how much she had treasured the little things. She kept toys and objects since I had been a small child – bathtub toys, Cabbage Patch dolls, books that she knew were my favorite, just to name a few. Also, there was a card from years back that I had sent to brighten her spirits.

Remember the Positives

I knew her so well, that when we would speak on the phone, I knew when she was happy or sad. The slightest tone change in her soft Puerto Rican (boricua) accented voice would give it away. I remember sending her the card that is now one of the most precious keepsakes that I have from her.

Although we spoke regularly, every so often I would send her a card. I wanted to let her know how much she meant to me. I knew in the back of my mind how much she loved receiving them. She loved walking down to her mailbox and getting the mail each day. In my mind, as I wrote each card, I pictured the smile on her face as she hurried to open it. With each day that passes, I miss the hell out of her. The one thing I miss the most is her voice. I carry it in my heart and use it to do the good things that she would have wanted me to do.

Music Is The Answer to Acceptance

Verse 1, listed below, explains the part of the person I should have been all along (Who I try to be today!). Verse 2 talks about having the world within you and the places you go. Having just returned from Italy and experienced the many insightful things I did, this really hit me hard. Traveling has always been my method of learning. For some reason, this song, at this time in my life, really spoke to me. For me, music is the answer in coping with loss.

The first time I heard this song, I finally felt a sense of acceptance toward what had happened. I’ll never forget the morning my finger clicked my iPod on the Metro on my way to work. It was as if everything around me stood still. These words echoed through my ears and straight down into my heart. I smiled and then hit rewind. This series could easily be titled Music Is the Answer and this, right here – this Metro experience – this is why. Music changes people’s lives in ways that cannot be described, although I have tried.

 [Verse 1]
The longest night is over
The longest day has just begun
I turn myself in someone
I should’ve been all along
But these trials are here to mold us
We are how we reply

[Chorus]
And all the worlds within you
And all the places that you go
All the love that’s inside you
All the scars and the lows
All the worlds
All the worlds

Check One, Check Two to Acceptance

When I got back from Italy, my job began a hurried phase. It was the final and third trimester of the Spanish school year, and I was teaching the English department’s theater class. Things got intense because I was not used to the schedule or timeline of when students took exams. Therefore, our lead students in the school play ended up missing some of the practices during the last couple of weeks, due to exams and studying. (I will never understand the student studying mentality in Spain).

the backdrop for the play month 5

Senior-level students graduated in mid-May before we performed our play, so I had to become creative. All of these schedule irregularities threw me for a loop when I got back, but I was able to work around them. We had to work together to make sure that we got costumes for each character and that character lines were rehearsed at home for students who were missing practice.

The Graduates

A proud moment of month five happened when all of the schedule irregularities concluded, and my students pulled together to attend rehearsals to practice and do what they needed in order to make our two back-to-back performances successful. In addition, I was able to see the oldest students in the group, and my Segundo Bachillerato classes, graduate during month five. I hadn’t been to a high-school graduation since my own. Tata went to my high school and undergraduate graduations, so this moment was extra special for me because I felt like in some very small way that I helped these Segundo Bachillerato students succeed before their graduation.

Graduation

When I looked back at seminal moments in my life and thought of my students over the course of their year, I realized that I was experiencing my own circle-of-life moment. Music is the answer to everything – even graduations. One of the highlights in my own life was my high-school graduation, and all the life-changing events that came afterward (college, friends, internships, firsts of all kinds…). I’m sure in another ten years I will look back and think the same as I read this article. I listen, even now, to Bush’s song and think about the trials that shape us in life and how scared, yet happy I felt at graduation. Now I realize that was only the beginning of what was to come. My students at graduation might have felt a similar feeling.

last day of class before their graduation resiliency
One of my Segundo Bachillerato classes on their last day of class before their graduation.

Good & Bad Moments

All the while, I was feeling my own sense of fear, a new fear that I never knew I had. The night Tata passed, at that moment, I realized I feared the finality of death. How I would never see her again, how I would never be able to speak to her again. This was not a question of my own mortality, but rather the fact that I would not be able to live with her into the future. However, the one thing living in my 30s has taught me is the realization that life comes full circle. My experience abroad changed me in a way that made me appreciate EVERYTHING life brings — the good and bad moments and everything in between.

play backdrop madrid

I wasn’t prepared to lose Tata while living in Madrid. However, during this challenge, I found an inner strength and acceptance that I never knew I had. Month five turned out to be one of the happiest experiences in my life. Everyone at the school worked so hard to perform our play. I created lifelong memories with these students, which I will cherish until I grow old and can’t remember them anymore. I realized life has its special moments, and it is in those moments that we must hold on to that joy, sadness, or whatever feeling is driving us at the time. For it is in these most memorable moments, good and bad, that shape who we are and ultimately how we perceive ourselves and treat others.

My theatre class and I at the end of both performances. One of the happiest moments of my life abroad!

Building The Essential Checklist:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday routine and things aren’t getting better.
  4. 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.
  5. Start a new hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Whatever you might be feeling on the inside – reflect and let it guide you to acceptance. Let it propel you toward accomplishing whatever it is that you went abroad to do. Acceptance comes over time but doing your job is important. Keep that in mind and try to move forward.

Read the final article in the series here.

bethe silver lining resiliency

by Leesa Truesdell

Discovering Resilience: Month Three Part Two

Discovering Resilience
This photo is one of my favorite memories from traveling because after this trip across the Strait of Gibraltar, I began to practice living and being present in each moment.

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.

Travel With Heart

I took two trips in March: one to London and the other to Bordeaux in France. Both trips were special and added meaning to my overall journey abroad. They also marked a very important part of my grieving process and in discovering resilience. 

After I took these trips, I knew my grandmother’s memory would not only live on in my recollections but also, remain within my soul. Tata enjoyed traveling too. Both she and my grandfather traveled their entire adult lives, which I heard stories of as a child. It was her travel tales that came to life in my mind that added fuel to my own dreams abroad.

When I began my solo travels in 2013, Tata was not able to accompany me. The first trip I took was to Puerto Rico to see where my grandparents were born and lived. Since that adventure, I traveled to many different places in South America. Ultimately, I decided to move to Madrid to teach abroad. I chose the Spanish capital so that I could find out more about the culture and history of this Iberian country. After all, my ancestors were from Mallorca!

Exploring Apart From Tata

There were moments during my travels where I felt like Tata and I were bonding spiritually. Although she was not physically with me, I felt her with me in my heart. Over time, I realized what traveling meant to her. 

I began to enjoy travel and I got good at it. I picked up the vibes of foreign places and I understood how to interact with locals on their terms. Traveling became (and still is) my favorite pastime. With each place I went, she was there with me, even though her dementia was getting worse and worse.

After I moved to Madrid, the divide between us was no longer distance, but life and death. I truly believe I have honored her by leading a life of exploration of both the world and myself. Below I talk about the special places and the feelings that I had while grieving hard. Despite my grief, I felt inspired with each new memory I made when visiting new places.

Blue October in London!

 

Pray for the ones I wish I could erase
Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Live for the moment and the mystery of everybody owns a scar
To show us how we got this far
Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Don’t ever think you’ll take away the fight in me

– lyric from “I Want It” by Blue October

An Ode to Tata

London was a significant part of my grieving process because of its many unforgettable moments. I went to a Blue October concert with a very special friend. The event felt so raw and cathartic. Each time I heard the violin coupled with the lyrics to the songs I knew by heart, it took me to a calm and peaceful place. When I listen to the LP, I still feel like I am standing in London at the concert. Very few performances have ever been that powerful in my life, and have ever resonated with so much emotion.

Lighting a Candle for Tata

On that same trip, Emma and I did some sightseeing. We went to Shakespeare’s Globe for a performance of Othello. It was an unforgettable moment in time. Emma made the wonderful recommendation to light a candle at Westminster Abbey. I remembered Tata by lighting a candle in her honor and found solace in my own special way in an amazing place. Since that day, I am so thankful that Emma made the suggestion. I had never realized that lighting a candle could be so meaningful. My healing process actually began the day I lit that candle in the Abbey.

What stood out the most to me inside this amazing church was not only the architecture, but also, the amazing people who were laid to rest there. Some of the most renowned people from English history like kings, warriors, and scientists rest there. They are people who left their mark on England and the world. I felt reverence as I passed through Westminster. I felt truly amazed by the incredible history. Westminster Abbey, the beautiful church where I began my personal letting-go and healing process. At the time and over the course of my stay abroad, I didn’t realize that’s where discovering resilience began.

A March Miracle

St. Croixe

The second holiday weekend in March, I traveled with Morgan to Bordeaux. This trip became even more important in my grieving process. By this time, I had suppressed a lot of feelings. I felt as if I would explode at any moment. I struggled with feelings of grief, not receiving enough sleep, and the constant challenge of dealing with cultural and language barriers.

The last day in Bordeaux, I took the day to explore the streets. The beautiful springtime in Bordeaux finds itself as the perfect time for adventuring! I stumbled upon a beautiful church in St. Peter’s Square: the Église Sainte-Croix de Bordeaux. The experience inside this church felt life-changing for a number of reasons. While I sat on a bench, I listened to the hymns that floated from some unknown location in the church. The hymns made the experience even more magical.

As I sat, I let go of all the stress and bottled-up nerves. It felt like something inside me finally turned on. Then, all of a sudden, all of the emotions that I bottled up came out. Again, I didn’t realize at the time that this was a huge stepping stone in my grieving process. I would only realize it months later. But, that day in the church, something struck me with a moment of clarity that shook me to my core. It began a moment of serious self-realization and trusting myself in order to understand what I needed to make these feelings of intense sadness go away.

I usually schedule my trips meticulously. On this day, at this time, I hadn’t. I had stumbled upon this place — it found me. After that moment, my grief became a whole lot easier to process. My walls came down.

A Lesson Learned

A guard at Kensington Palace let Emma and me take photos in this chair. We felt so special!

The lesson I learned from month three was that I needed to let my walls come down. I barricaded myself inside my own mental fortress after returning from the States in January. Since then, I’d created sensitivities to the Spanish culture that had never been there before. Even one of my friends noticed a change in me. She didn’t know anything about what I felt because of the walls I built around me for protection after the death of my grandmother.

The months after her death felt extremely difficult. I didn’t leave my house for the first ten days after she died. If I did, it was to go to work. I was closed off to friends, to learning the language, to meeting new people, to trying new things, and most importantly, to living my life in Madrid. If you know someone who just lost a loved one, go easy on them. You never know what they might be feeling that is making them behave a certain way. If they matter to you, talk to them; if they don’t want to talk, listen to them.

Building The Essential Checklist

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. Try to remain as normal as you can and maintain a routine as much as possible. You don’t have to talk to people 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 it 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 keep your normal routine and things aren’t getting better.
  4. 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 well will help you relieve some of the suppressed feelings you experience.
  5. Find a hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
  6. Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say. Note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Discovering resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust in order to be able to recover from grief to become your better self.
  7. ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers: get to know your students’ needs. Most importantly, get to know your students before telling them they CAN’T do something. This type of behavior causes learner anxiety and self-doubt.

My next article will show a progression of my journey through the grief and loss of my beloved grandmother. During the month of April, I went on a trip to Italy and began to find peace of mind and in my heart. Join me on my adventure back in time through one of Europe’s most beautiful countries.

Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!

Grieving Far From Home: Month One

I would like to start off by saying that not all people grieve the same way and that this article is a reflection of how I coped with my feelings of loss while I lived abroad. I am in no way discrediting any other methods of grief management. Rather, I am sharing my method of healing as a way to provide insight for those who might one day be living abroad and feel similar. Some people might feel that returning to their home country is the best option and others may not have that option. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to mourn. Time takes its course and it’s up to us to keep that person’s memory alive in our heart.

Grieving Abroad

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.

Month One: Numb

The very worst part about pain is that the minute you think you’ve past it, it starts all over again.” – Meredith Grey

Grieving Abroad: For the Love of Music

The first month after my beloved grandmother, Tata, passed was probably the most difficult that I had while abroad. It was one of the hardest times in my adult life to date. The night she passed away I received a call from my father. Leading up to that call, I received updates by the hour from family members with her. I finally received “the text,” the one that said “…she passed away.” It was the one you never want to get. I remember feeling as if everything suddenly went still.

After I got it, I paused and mumbled “no.” Looking back, there was an eerie stillness because it was as if I felt her leave the earth. It felt as if our souls touched one more time. I have never experienced death or grief like this in the States or abroad. Maybe it was better for me that I was away… or maybe it wasn’t. It all felt so surreal.

Leading up to that text, I didn’t believe anyone in my family who told me that she was that ill. It was because I didn’t WANT to believe that she was that ill. I had just seen her about two weeks before for Christmas Eve. She was singing and smiling. All I could think was, “no, not Tata.” I couldn’t process what was happening. During the first month, I felt numb to everything. In a sense, I walked through each day, simply going through the motions. It was all I could do to press on.

Music Is The Answer

What helped that first month after my grandma died was forcing myself to go out and, interestingly, listening to music. Music was my way of escape. Now, it’s how I remember her. Sometimes we may not know what to do until we take the first step. For me, my first step was meeting a friend at a musical we had planned on months before my grandmother’s death. At that moment, all I needed was to see a friend and feel a hug.

It had been ten days since I had real human contact. I had talked on the phone and seen colleagues at work a few days after her passing. But, there was nothing like seeing a close friend, and hearing a very familiar American-themed musical that I grew up knowing and loving. My soul felt better after the show. I slowly became able to start accepting and not denying her passing.

Building the Essential Checklist

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

  1. Go out and talk to friends, coworkers, and even acquaintances. Try to maintain as normal of a daily/weekly 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 it consume you. Don’t suppress your feelings. It only results in delayed and sometimes worse outcomes. Cry when you need to. Let out the sadness you feel, it’s normal. However, sadness should not stop you from seeing friends or going to work.
  3. Seek professional help or counseling if you feel like you can’t do your normal routine and things aren’t getting better after more than a few weeks.

by Leesa Truesdell

Valuable Lessons I Learned

by Leesa Truesdell

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It’s been a while since my last post, where I spoke about one of my very first pieces: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine. Then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end, and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

With each day that passes, I grow as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth. I consider time, even though it’s technically free, to be priceless.

About Me and Who I Am

I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors were from Mallorca. On my first day at work, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Tata. I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did.

Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. I started to teach English because of her. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Leesa and her grandmother Lessons
Leesa and her grandmother

Valuable Lessons in Resilience Abroad

Spain has taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I felt extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly. If they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset. Just remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go, and carry on.

‘Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey

Dealing with Uncertainty

by Leesa Truesdell

If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” – Paulo Coelho

Letting go…

I realize that our time in Spain has been rewarding yet challenging. We all set sail on this journey to spend the next year abroad with the hopes of embracing uncertainty at its best. We wanted to open our eyes to a new culture, a new language and a new way of life; while also teaching our students the language we know and love most. As I look forward, I see a bright future but I also see a great past for which I am grateful.

Different Stories

We all have different stories as to why we choose the paths we take in life. For those of us right here, right now in Spain, something(s) made us decide to take this journey. For me, my journey to go to Spain took some time to think over; but ultimately, my grandmother impacted my decision. She is very important to me because growing up it was her voice and her tales about the world that came to life in my bedroom before bedtime. My grandmother believed in me and she loved me during times when I didn’t know what love was. She taught me more about the world through her collections of memorabilia in her home than any textbook ever could.

It Is Not Easy to Say ‘Goodbye’

The more I travel for longer periods of time, the more I realize it is not easy to say ‘goodbye’ to loved ones back home. On the flip side, it’s also not easy to say ‘goodbye’ to the new friends that we make in our new destinations. Life is complicated and many times I question whether or not I am doing the right thing when it comes to a particular event or action in my life. I am sure we all do this from time to time. Those little questions come up, and often times we question our decisions. Just this past week, I had one of those moments.

I Will Never Forget

Here’s what happened: my grandma, who I affectionately call Tata, is ill. I had a pain in my heart that made me decide to call her. I picked up my phone and called. For those who are not aware, my grandmother was diagnosed this past year with dementia. The last time I saw her was not the best visit we had together and for anyone who has dealt or is dealing with a loved one who has this terrible disease you probably can understand some of the uncertainty I felt before I left her. ‘Over and over again, I contemplated in my mind, should I go to Spain or should I not go to Spain. What happens if Tata passes away and I am in Spain? These feelings I was feeling were and are still legitimate feelings but they are also feelings that she would not want me to have.’

“Leesa, I want you to be happy.”

One of the last conversations I had with her before she became unrecognizable was one where I could see her smiling and telling me, “Leesa, I want you to be happy.” I think about those 6 words constantly as I persevere through this journey. I think about the last time I saw her and how much she had changed into someone I didn’t know anymore. I realized that she is not even aware that I am traveling or living abroad. And, if I told her she would forget by tomorrow. At the end of the day, I remember what she told me two years ago and it was this: she told me she wanted me to be happy. Also, despite not knowing any of my future plans, she shared some of her happiest memories with me. They all involved destinations of travel.

Tata and me before my trip to Spain (2016
Tata and me before my trip to Spain (2016)

Dealing with Uncertainty, My Connection to Her Will Be Through My Writing

When I think of her each day, I realize that my connection to her will be through my writing. My grandmother is a sincere and thoughtful woman who raised me to be considerate and thoughtful too. I know my journey is a very personal one and dealing with uncertainty abroad will make me grow; I know Tata’s words are the fuel that keeps away the fear in order to embrace the change each day I am here. Therefore, in the weeks ahead, I want to showcase the journey of others and what this experience means to them. We all have a story, and for those who want to share theirs please contact me directly so we can learn about your journey and the experiences about to come.