Love Is Imperative: Dealing With Loss Abroad
Yesterday I woke up from a nap to my host mom, Joelle, asking me if I wanted her to cut my hair. I’ve been needing a change. I’ve also been in need of sleep.
I ended my weekend by waking up late on Sunday morning. I wrote my last blog about the Tour du Monde and then made plans to meet my friends at Place Granvelle, around the corner from my apartment, to enjoy the Carnaval festivities. I ate a hot dog on a baguette (very French), admired the couples dancing in the drizzle, and felt a happy nostalgia looking at little kids walking through the park with their pastel pink barb à papa (cotton candy). Then my friends and I spent two hours on Grande Rue watching the marching bands and other spectacles go down the street for two hours. There was a lot of confetti. My feet were tired but I was happy.
I went home to eat dinner with Joelle and do my homework, which ironically was on the subject of “le bonheur,” or happiness, what happiness is all about, and the like.
Right before I sent my homework in to my professor I got a message from my best friend Kate. “Are you up? I need to talk to you,” she wrote me. I sensed the urgency in her message but only assumed she wanted to vent about school or friends or relationship stuff. I wish I had been right. Instead, when she finally gave me a call, I heard her voice as well as the voice of my other best friend Jess, as both of them tried to hold back tears as they told me the devastating news of the passing of our friend Tom.
I thought I heard wrong. Everything stopped for a second. And then I began to sob. I spent the rest of the night crying and on the phone with friends abroad and on the home-front. Talking and crying together and demanding an answer for why this terrible nightmare was happening, why it had become real life.
The rest of my week has been spent in the company of spurts of sobs, nervous anxiety, and Tom’s “Good Stuff” playlist on Spotify. I was jittery in every class I managed to go to. I tried to keep it together as much as I could. I’ve been missing class. I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve had trouble concentrating.
I’ve had “Aphasia” by Pinegrove and “Big Black Car” by Gregory Alan Isakov on repeat. I’ve been remembering Tom’s laugh and how tiny my 5’3 stature was next to him standing at 6’3. I’ve been remembering his easy, comforting, silly nature and not to mention his Long Island mom impression. I’ve been too busy trying to figure all of this out, trying to wrap my head around it, unable to.
But through it all I have been in constant contact with my friends back home, as well as a few of my girlfriends who are abroad like me. It’s been one of the only things getting me through the week.
We’ve all been talking. Venting. Reminiscing. Thinking. Simply comforting each other. Trying to forget for a moment and giving each other something to laugh about instead.
Being far from home hasn’t been easy through all of this. I’ve found myself needing my best friends more than ever and it’s hard being thousands of miles away from them. My friends and I abroad tried to make plans to meet somewhere just to be with each other, to have some familiarity, as that is what we have all been lacking while we are across the ocean from our New Paltz family. We first made plans to meet in Florence. When that didn’t work out, we tried for London. That didn’t work for all of us either. But I’m glad that my friends Hara and Becca got to spend a few days together to be there for one another.
I’ve particularly had a hard time in terms of expressing myself, given that I talk to most people here in French. More often than not I have just given up and started speaking English. My professors have noticed I am not entirely myself, have asked me what is wrong and have tried to comfort me. My foreign friends have noticed it too, and as it is too hard a subject to communicate in French, they have just managed to understand me with nonverbal communication. It’s amazing how sweet and caring people can be even when you don’t actually say much of anything. It’s amazing how much people can still comfort and understand you.
Thursday my two Chinese friends (Meitong & Yuqi), one Japanese friend (Mayuko) and one Indonesian friend (Angga) and I spent the entire afternoon sitting by the water, followed by sitting in the cat café across from my apartment. We spent our time drinking coffee and teaching each other expressions, whether funny, vulgar, loving or otherwise, in each other’s native languages. I laughed and I forgot about everything for a while. I was in good company and that was all that mattered.
Through all of this I have learned how important it is for people to be there for each other, to be empathetic and sympathetic and to reach out to those who are hurting. I am blessed to have solid support systems on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I wouldn’t be able to get through this without either of them.
When dealing with loss abroad, it is important to be there for the people who are going through these circumstances alone. To let them cry on your shoulder. To simply ask them how they are doing or if they are okay.
It isn’t easy going through it on either end – whether abroad or at home. But it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. That there are people around who care about you and love you. Who want to hear you out and comfort you and make you forget the heartbreak for at least a little while.
Thursday morning my professor Claire noticed I was still not myself. We were doing an exercise where we had to differentiate the past tenses. She chose whoever to act them out so that we would have a better understanding through a visual context. We got to an exercise that dealt with someone walking in a classroom and everyone applauding. I knew she was going to call on me. And of course she did.
I walked out of the classroom and walked back in to applause from all of my friends, going along with the exercise, everyone laughing and smiling, having a good time and making me feel good. I knew Claire had done this for me just to make me smile and laugh, to make me feel a little bit better, to see a real, unforced smile on my face again. It worked, and it almost brought me to tears.
So if there is a lesson to learn from this saddest of all weeks maybe it’s this: love is imperative. And it is so important to lift each other up. Be there for your friends and loved ones. Try to make them smile in any way you can. Let them know how important, how integral they are to your life. Share your love. Let it be heard and felt and known. All it takes is a phone call, a hug, a listening ear or simply just a hand to hold.
Despite all the heartache and despite all the miles in between, I know that all of our broken hearts will be mended, in some way or another glued back piece by piece. Love is imperative. Your love is imperative. The love of your friends and family is imperative.
Love you and miss you forever, Tom O’Rourke.