I lost two of my grandparents this year. My grandfather’s death was expected. He had long been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease so when I said ‘goodbye’ to him last summer, I knew I would not be seeing him again. My grandmother’s death was more sudden. It came not long after my grandfather’s death and I still don’t always know what to make of it. I think she was just done.
Since I was close with both my grandparents, but particularly my grandmother, their deaths were very hard on me. My grief was further complicated by the fact that I was studying abroad 5,000+ miles away. Unable to fly out for the funeral, I was left to grieve on my own. It wasn’t easy. There were times when I was ready to down a bottle or two of wine to numb the pain, but I never did. Instead I found ways to move through the grief, though not always gracefully.
Taking Time to Grieve
When my grandmother died, I was at a highly stressful point in my Master’s course. For the first day and a half, I poured myself into my work, hoping to distract myself from the grief. That failed. Next I tried to schedule time into grieve. In my diary I wrote, “4:00pm – 5:00pm – Grieve” I kid you not. Unfortunately that didn’t work either. Finally, I gave up trying to control my grief. I told my supervisor that I would need some time off and he graciously told me to take all the time I needed.
Talking to Someone
When I’m sad, all I want to do is be alone. And sometimes that’s okay. But for me it’s also really important to talk to someone so that I don’t become consumed by my grief. Thanks to Skype, Gmail, and Whatsapp, I was able to keep in contact with my family in the wake of my grandparents’ deaths. My boyfriend also helped by listening to me when I needed to talk and holding me when I needed to cry.
One of the most difficult things for me about dealing with my grandparents’ death while abroad was finding a sense of closure. Since I was not home, it was hard to feel their absence. And since I was not able to attend the funeral for either of them, I was not able to participate in that symbolic gesture of saying goodbye. Therefore, I decided to create my own symbolic gesture. For a while, I struggled to figure out what that might be. If you type “symbolic gestures for funerals” online, you can find all sorts of different suggestions such as making a wish, naming a star, releasing butterflies, etc. but none of that felt right to me. Finally I settled on writing a letter. My grandfather was a writer so what better way to honour him than by writing? I still have the letter entitled “Dear Granddad” saved on my computer. I haven’t been able to write one for my grandmother yet even though it’s been nearly 5 months since she died. One day I will, but when I’m ready.
This is how I have dealt and am continuing to deal with the death of my grandparents. However, each person grieves in their own way and in their own time so please don’t think that I am trying to create a list of “tips” for dealing with the death of a loved one while abroad. I only share my story because it helps me and I guess I kind of hope it might help someone else too.