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How I Coped with Losing A Loved One While Abroad

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I will never forget my 21stbirthday, not because I was spending it on an incredible Spring Break Trip in Australia, although that certainly helps make it a bit more memorable. No, the reason I will never forget this birthday is because it was the day I found out my grandfather had passed away. When I got the call from my parents I was just expecting them to wish me a happy birthday and then have to answer question after question about all of the fabulous things I had done so far. Instead, they wished me a happy birthday and then with bated breath told me the news I prayed every day never to receive. My grandfather, who had been sick for a few months, had passed away a few hours prior.

I distinctly remember the exact words my mom said to me and then my body just going limp. I broke down sobbing, collapsed into my friends arms, and pleaded for it all to just be a bad dream. It was not until that very moment that I realized just how far away from home I really was; I was on the complete other side of the world, in a completely foreign place, absolutely alone. I wanted nothing more than to be at home with my family. I felt with all my heart that was where I wanted and needed to be; I needed to be there for my grandmother, parents, brothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins as we went through one of the hardest days of our lives together, but instead I had to go through it alone more than 10,000 miles away. My parents told me that as much as they wanted to bring me home, logistically it was impossible, and that was one of the hardest things to have to accept. Before leaving for Australia, my parents told me that if for some reason something happened while I was away they were not going to bring me home because of how far it is and there was no possible way I could get all the way home in time, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that would become my reality.

I think what truly got me through this incredibly hard time in my life was the amazing support system I had both in Australia and back home in the states. Two of my close friends from my home university were in Australia with me, and were also on the same spring break trip with me when I found out. I made some amazing friends during my abroad program, and my friends and family back home were constantly calling and sending their love.
I was incredibly close with my grandfather, so trying to cope with losing him while abroad and not being able to say a proper goodbye was one of, if not the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, but what got me through it was the amazing support system I had around me.

Losing a loved one while abroad is something that happens all too often, but it is crucial to realize you are not going through it alone. In a way, this horrific event brought me closer to my roommates and friends both abroad and back home. They helped me find light in such a dark time, and put a smile back on my face. They let me grieve and process at my own pace, but also helped me take my mind off of it and not let this define my entire abroad experience. It was an incredibly difficult few weeks following his death, but with the help of my friends and family, I was able to get through it and gain a greater appreciation for life. I spent my remaining time in Sydney exploring the city with my friends, traveling, and taking in every single day. I refused to let a single opportunity pass me by without capitalizing on it and trying something new.

Through this experience, I gained a greater appreciation for life and the people I get to spend it with. My grandfather, one of the biggest thrill-seekers I have met, never passed up an opportunity to try something new or go on a wild adventure. He had a deep-rooted love for traveling and exploring the world. I distinctly remember telling him that I was going to study abroad in Sydney, Australia before leaving, and he was arguably more excited than I was. He gave me a laundry list of things I had to do and places I had to go, so after he passed I made it my mission to live every single day to the fullest and take complete advantage of my remaining time in Australia. If I could have one more conversation with him, I would tell him about all of the amazing things I did and saw while in Australia. I would show him the video of me bungee jumping in Cairns, pictures of me scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, the story of me surfing at Manly, climbing the harbor bridge with my parents, going to the Wallabies versus All Blacks Rugby game in the Sydney Olympic Stadium, and going on a wine tour of the best Sydney wineries, just to name a few. Losing my grandfather while abroad was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, but with help of my incredible friends and family I was able to find light in the darkest of times, and have an unforgettable abroad experience.

There is still not a day that goes by that I do not miss him, but I know that he was, and still is, with me in spirit on all of these crazy adventures I embark on.

Molly McGonigle is a student at Trinity College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in fall 2017.