Grieving Abroad

Right before I left the U.S., the prized F150 Platinum was packed with the fishing equipment and we settled in to a much talked about, belated Juneteenth fishing trip. It ended up being nothing special. Just us, no boat, catch and release. I don’t remember much of what was said. Fishing seems to make even nonstop talkers like us quiet. But I do remember the bittersweet feeling of leaving home and the fact that I couldn’t seem to catch anything except turtles and had to beg for help to get them off the line. I also remember trying to hold on to every moment, because it was so simply perfect.

When making the decision to move here, in the back of my mind was always the thought, “What if something happens to someone at home and I’m not there?” I experienced something like this once when my grandmother died. Finding myself alone with random people in the highlands of Guatemala the day after her funeral. I never want to go through that again. The significant lack of closure and emotional isolation that came with that experience made it difficult for me to cope once I got home.

Last month, without a second thought, I flew home to say goodbye to my uncle. In the short time it took me to make arrangements I had already realized being across the globe alone is especially hard when grieving the loss of a loved one. You are trying to hold it together until you can get home. You don’t want to cry all over video chat because its difficult for everyone involved. You don’t want family at home to worry about you, but you don’t really want to answer the phone because you can’t speak through the grief. When you have moments where you actually want someone there, it’s the middle of the night where they are so you don’t call. In the end, you bottle everything up. Make it through the process without breaking apart. Until you can finally get off the plane and let go.

This particular loss follows closely behind other difficult goodbyes. It has been a hard couple of years for all of us. I didn’t even realize how much I was holding in all in. I didn’t realize how much I actually needed a hug until I got home. With each hug came a sense of peace and comforting thoughts: Right now, this grief is their whole world just like it’s mine. These people understand what I am feeling right now. They know this person too. I’m not alone in this hurt. We can get through this together.

At home I found closure in the shared retelling of memorable events, some I experienced first hand, others I had heard an untold number of times, and new ones I was just learning about.

Now, as soon as I’m hit with another wave of “this really happened,” I think back on that lazy day at the lake. I then find my selfish tears of sorrow turning into uncontrollable tears of laughter as I am reminded of a series of ridiculous moments my uncle and I went through together.

The man who gave me my first, super creepy looking, stuffed animal. The one who could turn the most mundane event into a fully fictional epic drama. The person who I could always count on to be a challenging opponent in shooting the dozens. He was not only there for me in a million other ways throughout my life, but also for so many of my childhood friends. We were blessed to grow up with such an insufferably silly yet no nonsense supporter like him.

I never thought it possible to cry while shaking my head and wearing a huge smile on my face.

I now have a new thought that sticks in the back of my mind: What an amazingly well life you must have lived, when every memory fills someones heart with joy.

I want to live that kind of life.

Published by brianalennet

Visual anthropologist and digital storyteller

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