A 6 ft Hole to Mend: Death Abroad

“I’m fine. Well, I’m not fine – I’m here. Is there something wrong with that?”


It’s easy to pretend that you’re in a fantasy when you’re abroad. It’s easy let communicating with your family slip and to temporarily forget. But reality is, life goes on. Your family laughs, your friends go out…and you miss it.

What I’ve realized while being here is that there are these moments—moments where you snap back and are forced to remember those you left behind. I had one of those moments on April 3rd when I was called and told through tears, that one of my best buds, Tom O’Rourke, had killed himself.


Being a blogger about studying abroad, I knew I had to bring myself to write this entry, although it is of course a tough subject, because it is more important than any other aspect I could tell the future students about.

Losing someone while being away will be one of the most difficult, heart-wrenching, and confusing experiences of your life. I say that with confidence and experience.

Not being in New Paltz right now has been one of the toughest challenges I have ever had to face. Communication between my friends at home has become top priority in my life, overshadowing sleep greatly. Thousands of questions run through my head at any given moment—what did the police say? When is his funeral? Who saw him last? Did he say anything?…What could I have done?

My friends at home have been both patient and understanding through these questions, probably answering them for the 3rd or 4th time, and I thank them deeply. But it’s just not the same as being there and hearing them for myself.

The day (or night in my case) Tom was found, I waited by my phone in desperation and pure fear of what I was going to hear from it. The words: “I’ll talk to you when I know more” just don’t satisfy someone when they know their friend is in mortal danger. At one point, I was even unsure if I wanted it to ring or stay silent. All I could think was silence didn’t mean death.

Well, we all of course know what I heard from that phone, and I instantly started breathing heavily. Immediately, I began talking to my friends who were also abroad and knew Tom well. We spoke for a while about meeting up to have familiar faces to reminisce with but this just didn’t work out. And again, I was left alone to try and comprehend this tragedy that unfolded miles and miles away.

I spent hours looking at old photos and conversations and I racked my brain for warning signs of serious harming. All in all, I beat myself up. I was angry with myself—angry I couldn’t be there for Tom for the last thing he could ask me for. Moreover, I was angry that I couldn’t save him anymore.

What I think is one of the hardest parts about dealing with loss overseas is the uncertainty. No one has told me to my face that Tom is dead. No one has brought a counselor me, or asked me what the last thing Tom had said was. Of course, I heard all of these answers from my roommates and friends…but I wont even be there for the funeral.

Yet, I saw Tom every single day last semester. To me, I still have never experienced a New Paltz without Tom.

So, my point is, how can I, or anyone in my situation, go back and be expected to have healed with time? Tom is so very much alive in my mind, no matter how many times I tell myself he isn’t. I hear his funny accents, I listen for him calling me Happy Hour Queen, and I’m still waiting for his text asking to come open the suite door.

See, my point is, no matter how hard you try over here you are still forced in your own fantasy—a European world where America is but a memory. Hearing about Tom’s death was like a bad episode of a show I was watching because I’m not physically a part of it. That moment of flashing back to reality that I was talking about earlier is long gone.

I have a lot of thoughts left about this loss, but I figured it was a topic that may or may not be useful for someone studying abroad in the future. You are going to need more time to process it, and returning home may be an even harder obstacle you’ll have to face than when it actually occurred (at least that’s what I’m expecting).

Tom didn’t ask for much, but I know he would’ve asked me to keep living my life here in Florence to the fullest. With that belief, I am trying with all my heart to embrace where I am, for him.


As a fellow SUNY New Paltz blogger wrote last week: “Love is imperative”, and I believe no truer statement has ever been said. To get through something as terrible as this, love is needed. I thank my friends from home for being a constant presence. We will get through this. There will be a day that laughing doesn’t seem so wrong, pictures don’t hurt so badly, and talking about Tom will be a bittersweet memory that bonds us closer.

I believe that Tom knew we loved him but still, if I could, I would go back a thousand times just to wrap my arms around, give him a squeeze, and ask, “Hasbrouck?”


“I’m fine. Well, I’m not fine – I’m here. Is there something wrong with that?”

RIP Tom O’Rourke, you were and will forever be loved Mr. Moneybags11259830_1204683806223727_1219623952009046511_n


Cassandra, a biology major with a minor in creative writing at New Paltz, chose to study abroad to quench to her crave for adventure and search for understanding different cultures.

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