Facing Loss, Overseas

Sometimes living abroad really sucks. And its not when a shoddy pipe bursts, flooding your bathroom or when your new bed is so uncomfortable it hurts to walk or, no matter what you try, it takes 6 months to make your home cockroach free [Ghana, Jordan, Ethiopia, respectively].

Living abroad really sucks when something happens back home and you realize you’re powerless to help.

I’ve missed things before. Weddings, graduations, holidays, day-to-day small celebrations. But I know my family and friends are surrounded by other loved ones on those days and I have my own celebrations with my expat community.

This is the first time I’ve experienced death while living overseas.

On Wednesday, September 18, 2019, my grandpa died. I found out Thursday morning. I woke up with six text messages and an email from my mother. I already knew what happened before I called her back.

This summer was my first time back in the United States in nearly two years. My mom and sister picked me and Chandler up from the airport and we drove straight to my grandparents house to catch up with them and my father.

The biggest smile I got was from my grandpa.

This summer he was supposed to have elective knee surgery. But before the surgery could even begin, his heart stopped. My sister and I got the call about 30 minutes into watching the live-action Lion King film.

The doctors were able to revive him and when he woke up the next day, the first joke I made to him was that he saved me and Brittany from having to finish a truly boring remake of a beloved childhood movie. He laughed.

The rest of my time in the United States, he was in the hospital. But he was recovering.

When I stopped by for the last time, it was really emotional for me. I knew he was on the mend, but saying goodbye in a hospital is hard. And he looked so frail, which was a constant reminder that even though he was ok this time around, we might not be so lucky the next time.

Which is why I couldn’t help tearing up during our goodbye, because I was all too aware that it might also be our last goodbye.

It was.

One of the things I loved about my grandpa was that he told the same stories and jokes over and over. He loved to make fun of Chandler and say that “Texas is a great place to be from.”

He also loved to tell everyone that when I was little and he was watching the news, I turned and faced him, very seriously, and said, “Grandpa, shouldn’t we watch something we all want to watch?” Meaning cartoons.

As a child, I thought my grandfather hung the moon. I was ready and willing to stick up for him, even telling my equally amazing grandmother to be nicer and “stop picking on my grandpa.” In retrospect, he probably deserved whatever she was telling him.

My grandfather was not a perfect man, but he was perfect to me. He encouraged me in everything I did. When I switched majors (for the third time), he made lists in his head about all the different jobs I could apply for with an English major.

He and my grandmother opened up their home and let me live with them for the nine months after graduation when I was waiting on my acceptance to Peace Corps. My life was in limbo back then, working four jobs in Minneapolis; trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be; pretending to be brave, knowing that I was making plans to move abroad for 27 months (not just the 2 months I had spent in Italy the summer before).

My grandparents surrounded me with love, coffee, and encouragement. When I think about the United States, my grandparent’s home rivals my childhood home in my memories.

Their home became my pit stop, every time Chandler and I came back from overseas. We even prepped for our wedding there – filling their basement with flowers bought from Trader Joe’s and farmers markets.

We’ve been away for half of my adult life, but it never felt like my grandfather loved me any less because of it. I started this blog in Ethiopia because it was somehow easier to upload a blog post than to send multiple emails + photos.

My grandpa used to print out my posts and read them and then tell me how proud he was. Of my writing, of my adventures. Somehow, writing this, and knowing he won’t ever see it, makes me sadder than most of my other memories with him.

But writing this is also cathartic for me. I won’t be able to say any of this at his funeral. I won’t be able to hug my grandmother, who lost a husband; my mother, who lost a father; or my sister, who lost a grandfather, just like me.

My life here, will remain relatively unchanged.

Except when I write these posts, and I think about my grandfather, my biggest supporter.

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Our jet-lagged, first reunion this summer: Linda, Richard, me, and Chandler. Smiles all around, but none bigger than my grandpa’s.

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