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Maine to Ireland: Losing a Loved One While Abroad - An Interview with Tess Reichart

May 13, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_SP21_Dublin_Alum_ColeTaylorCole Taylor is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing their story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A journalism and media writing major at Lasell College, they are studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

In this week's post, Cole interviews their roommate, Tess, on how to cope and grieve if you lose a loved one while you're studying abroad.  

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For this blog post, I chose to interview my roommate Tess Reichart. At first, I wanted to ask her questions about study abroad. After asking her in confidence, we agreed to discuss something more personal and emotional—something that could help others and offer support.

On March 6th, Tess lost her grandmother to long term sickness. Tess was abroad while this happened, and as her roommate, it was heart-wrenching to see her in pain as I was present the moment she heard the news.

I want to personally thank Tess for being willing to open her heart to countless strangers and talk about a day that forever changed her. She is a strong woman and this interview was emotional, moving, and beyond impactful.

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NT: Will you tell me your loved ones’ name and when you lost him/her?
TR: My grandmother, GG, died on March 6, 2016. She is my dad’s mom.

NT: What immediate changes did you see or feel after the loss of your grandmother?
TR: 
For me, I suppose it was different than someone else’s experience because I left for Ireland knowing that her days were numbered. Having been communicating closely with my parents throughout the whole process, I knew that the death was coming so, for me, while of course it was one of the most painful things I have experienced, it was…uhm…it was okay because she had been sick for so long. What immediately changed in me was this gravity of life and I think the days leading up to her death and the days after, I felt grateful for sunshine and friendship and food. I think I am more grateful for things on this earth knowing life is so short.

NT: Do you think being abroad has helped you cope?
TR: 
Well, I think that it would have been really precious and wonderful to have been home – in the days leading up [to her death] because my family knew her days were numbered so they spent as much time together as possible. Those are moments that I do wish I could have been a part of, but of course that was not possible. I think being here was okay, but it was hard not being with my family throughout the grieving process… Because FaceTime is 2D, you can’t…you can’t hug through a phone. I think there is still grieving I haven’t done yet because of the distance.

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NT: What has been the hardest part of losing a loved one while abroad?
TR:
Yeah, just…I guess not being able to process with my family. It was a weird situation because my whole family was traveling around when she actually died. My sister is away as well. My mom was away. It was weird that my whole family was scattered—it wasn’t just me that was gone. I just think the hardest part was not being able to hug my parents—hug my dad.

NT: What is something you have learned or taken away from this experience?
TR: 
Life is full of transience. You know, people come into your life and people die. Things break. Money is spent. Friendships dissolve, but what I will always have is this gratitude for experience. I think it was really emotional for me to be abroad while she died, even when I found out—we were in a coach bus traveling through the Wicklow Mountains and it was sort of an overcast day but it was one of the most beautiful places I had been in this country [Ireland]. The juxtaposition of seeing just glory on this earth and the grief of losing something from this earth was actually quite poetic and it made it okay. Everywhere I go, I suppose it’s with this knowledge of the shortness of life—the transience of experience. It forces me to be grateful.

NT: Do you view life differently now? If so, how?
TR:
I think I value legacy more than I ever did. When you lose someone, you realize the impact they’ve made and my GG’s legacy on this earth is a beautiful one, you know? There is nothing negative about her existence so I learned to appreciate what has been passed down. I find pride in my name now and in my family. Once she left, we uncovered stories again and our memories of her are just so fond, so it is a beautiful thing to live beyond our lost loved ones.

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NT: Did your grandmother give you any words of wisdom before you left for Ireland?
TR:
She emphasized, as any grandmother I think would, safety…a lot. I had just gotten a new iPhone and I remember she said, “You better not get that stolen, Tess. You better keep that safe.” She also never got to do this. She often commented on what a privilege and blessing it was for me to be able to go and see the world, but she never once said, “Ugh, if only I could have…” or “back in my day…”, you know; she was not cynical like that. She would stress a lot on the privilege of this and that it is going to go by fast so enjoy every moment.

NT: Do you think it is important to have close friends during this kind of experience?
TR: 
I remember when I found out about her, I was with my best friends on this trip, my family, and to be able to grieve there in a tiny moving van was one of the most beautiful and appropriate ways to process. It absolutely helped having such good relationships here. I know how privileged and blessed I truly am to have these girls that are more like sisters in a way. I clung to those relationships.

NT: Did this experience change the way your family are connected in any way?
TR:
Honestly, yeah I think it did bring us together, but because we have distance between us, the communication has been a little inconsistent. I suppose we will see when the memorial happens when I go back home…I think it will make us closer.

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NT: If you could speak to your grandmother one last time, what would you say?
TR: I would probably tell her that I fell in love with an Irish man and that my dream is to move here. I would tell her that I want to bring her over here with me and just tell her thank you for financially supporting me in this. Most of the adventures I have had have been on her dollar so I would want to tell her how her gift blessed me. She would love that. She would live vicariously through that. I sent my dad pictures two days before she passed and said, “Dad, you have to show her these.” I always involved her in my life.

NT: What advice would you give to students who may face this experience in their time abroad?
TR:

 

 

In loving memory of Gay Bennett Reichart
1930-2016

Thanks Cole and Tess.

Cole's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.

Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Interviews