Dealing with Tragedy Abroad

Before embarking on an adventure abroad, a lot of us probably had the same nervous questions. Of these questions, one probably was, "What if something tragic happens at home while I am away and I can't be there?" These are the questions we try to shrug off right away, and everyone tries to reassure us that it won't happen while we all still know that it may happen and there's truly nothing we can do about it.

It does happen. Last Saturday, my grandmother passed away after struggling with Alzheimer's for several years. She was 92 years old and very sick, so I can't pretend it was a shock. I also knew, deep in the pit of my stomach and my heart, that when I said "Goodbye" to her at Christmas (before embarking on my seven month European adventure) that it would more than likely be the last time I ever saw her. Still, no amount of mental preparation can truly ready you for the moment when it happens and you are over 3000 miles away and there's truly nothing you can do about it.

The hardest part for me was not being home to help my mom. My mom and I are best friends... and when I say best friends, I mean best friends. Go out to a party with my friends or stay at home to watch a Law and Order marathon with my mom in our pajamas drinking tea? The latter, please. My mother is the strongest woman I have ever met, and knows when she needs to put logic and reason before emotions. When her mother died last Saturday and she was depended on for a lot of the preparations, she had to swallow a lot of her sadness to get things done. This is the kind of situation where I would normally swoop in and help. I could clean the house for our long-distance family so my mom wouldn't have to. I could have helped gather my Grandmother's belongings, or met with the funeral home, or just be a shoulder for her to cry on (when she would get the chance). But I couldn't. I couldn't be there to help her, and there was truly nothing I could do about it.

There's nothing you can do about it. Even if I had the spare thousands of dollars to make a round-trip home for the services, I would have to miss work. Plus, I know even if I ever considered doing that my Grandma would have been the first to say, "What, are you crazy? You're in Europe, don't be silly." All I could do is assist in whatever way I could, mourn 3000+ miles away by myself, and be available to my mom if she needed me via Skype. That's all I could do, and there was truly nothing else I could do.

Tragedy happens. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and promise that you can go away from home for several months, or even just several weeks or several days, and be assured that everything and everyone will stay as they are for your return. They won't. But my goodness, don't ever let the fear of the inevitable keep you from doing something incredible. This is life. This is real. You can't sit at home for the rest of your life in fear that if you walk outside, your world may change as you walk away. You need to get out there and do whatever it is you do and not worry about what else may happen, because whatever does happen, there is truly nothing you can do about it.

I don't regret my decision to be here at all. I went to Il Duomo here in Milan and lit a candle for my Grandma before work on the day of the funeral, said my words to her, and had my own little service. This is part of the whole growing up and being independent experience that I came on this trip to have. Grandma, I love you, and saying goodbye is only harder from halfway around the world... but I know you are finally once again dancing a waltz with Grandpa in the stars, on the clouds.

You are stronger than you think. Terrible things can happen while you're abroad, I'd be lying if I said otherwise. The experience is worth it though. In my seven months abroad in both London and Milan, I have dealt with cultural shock and a new language, falling in love with a new country and simultaneously hating it, being madly in love and having to end the relationship, having the time of my life and wanting to go home more than anything, dealing with the happiest of times and the most tragic of times... and that's life. Enjoy it. It isn't put on hold for anyone, and there is truly nothing you can do about it.

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