You know how sometimes you think you’re finally starting to get through one heartbreak, but then another comes along? That’s where I am in my life right now. Between an unexpected death in the family and an unexpected breakup of a long relationship, I have experienced more grief while studying abroad than I ever thought I would. It’s been a difficult time in my life. However, I have learned some things about myself and about grieving, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of those things with you. If you are considering studying abroad, I sincerely hope that you do not lose someone during that time—but if it does happen, I hope that these seven things help you through that process a little bit. It’s hard to be abroad when you feel like your life is falling apart, but there are things you can do to help.
1. Make sure that you give yourself some silence and that soul-numbing things don’t make up the majority of your grieving process. We live in a world that is constantly noisy. Noise can be distracting and comforting in the ways that it helps us ignore our problems or feel less alone. Particularly since being abroad, I often fill the silence with Netflix or listening to music. In reasonable amounts, this isn’t a bad thing—sometimes I need to turn my brain off and not think about my problems for a while—but if that’s all I do, then I can’t sort through what I’m actually feeling. Silence is both intimidating and invaluable. It can make you feel even more alone when you’re far away from home, but it also gives you space to think, feel, remember, reflect, and gain insight. It may not seem like it, but silence is a gift—give it to yourself.
2. Don’t be afraid of your tears. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not handling your life the way you should be. They’re actually helpful in processing your grief (see this post for more on where I got that idea from). This is a hard one for me because I often compare myself to other people and feel like I’m doing something wrong when they look fine and my tears tell me that I am not. But if that’s how you’re feeling, you’re not doing anything wrong. Tears help you let out emotions and then figure out how to move forward. They’re healthy; use them.
3. Be around people. In addition to giving yourself time in silence, it’s also important to go out and do things with people. It’s really easy to isolate yourself while being abroad, particularly if you’re living in a single room, but don’t stay that way. Having fun with people will help you remember the good things you still have in your life. It will help you not to feel so isolated and to get the most out of your time abroad.
4. It’s not enough just to be around people—talk about what you’re feeling. I’m not saying that you should talk about your grief all the time. However, if you’re like me, I need to share a little of what I’m truly feeling with the others in order to move on and enjoy being with them. If I don’t, I feel more isolated or I feel like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not. You might feel like talking about your emotional state makes you a nuisance to the people you’re around (especially if it takes longer than you think it should to get better). If they’re really your friends, though, they will listen to you and want to help. You may be surprised just how much and how many people want to be there for you—I certainly have been! Talking about your feelings will help you process and will help you appreciate those people who care about you enough to listen and put you first.
5. Don’t give yourself a timeline for your grief. You may feel like you should be over it in a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. Maybe that will be the case for you, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t be. It hasn’t worked like that for me no matter how much I’ve wished that it would. These tips may help you during your mourning period, but it won’t necessarily speed it up. Don’t compare yourself to other people; do your best to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling for whatever amount of time you feel it.
6. Don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Particularly if you’re experiencing the death of a family member, you may feel like you should just be mourning and not having any fun. That’s not true. The person you’ve lost would want you to enjoy your time abroad, and you need to allow yourself to feel happiness as well as sadness. So travel, dance, laugh, and find the sunshine in your life. It’s still there, even if the clouds are hiding it.
7. Remember that it’s not the end of you. It may feel like it is; it may feel like nothing good will ever happen to you again. You might just want to be home, or you might dread going home, or both. Those are all totally natural feelings. But, keep the bigger picture in perspective. You are so privileged to have this study abroad experience. You have people who care about you, whether or not they are all with you right now, and you have a whole future ahead of you that’s full of possibilities. As difficult as this time is, it really will pass. Focus on the present and on the blessings around you right now as much as you can.
I want to close with a quote and a note on the title. Matthew 6:34 says,”So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In the midst of my fixation on details of the past and my myriad of fears about the future, it has been hard for me to just take things one day at a time. However, if you go through grieving while studying abroad, I urge you to focus on where you are and the people around you. Don’t let your apprehensions about whatever awaits you at home rob you of that joy. As you let yourself remember and reflect, also take time every day to appreciate the beauty in the world around you. It’s still there if you look for it.
The title of this post, “Falling On My Knees,” is the name of a song by Kokua that has become very special to me over these past weeks. It is about a person who has been brought low and is crying out to God for help. In the midst of that, he still sings, “I lie down and rest in Your peace, / surrounded by life’s uncertainty, / as I learn to surrender all of me.” He is still able to find peace and praise God for His grace even when the circumstances of his life would seem to make that impossible. My prayer has been, and continues to be, that I can do the same. I have definitely felt God draw near to me in my heartbreak, and my faith has played a crucial role in sustaining me through this time. I don’t regret studying abroad one single bit—I feel that God put me in Edinburgh during this difficult time for a reason. I know this is where I was meant to be during the start of my grieving process.
I will tell you all about my trip to Venice in my next blog post. 🙂 Till next time!