My always told us before ski trip: “prepare for the worst, expect the best”. It was her way of reminding us that conditions can get pretty bad and equipment breaks, but if you’re prepared, it’ll all work out. With her mantra echoing in my head, I went to Argentina with a prepared mindset. I expected to be frustrated at times but knew that a little struggle is the best way to learn and with patience I would have fun. This carried me really well through my trip as I navigated ins and outs of living abroad. With this attitude, I expected my takeaways to be rather typical. I figured I would learn how I handle the stress of new situations and language barriers and come to conclusions about the nuances of learning from a different cultural context. This is added to the fact that Buenos Aires is a modern, western city; there aren’t many differences that would be completely unfamiliar. Yet, as I reflect upon my learning experiences and how they differed from my expectations, I never could have known different they would be. I had to learn, and am still learning, how to mourn the loss of a friend while abroad.
I found out while sitting at the kitchen table of my host family’s apartment, working on homework. I answered a quick and quiet call from my roommate back at Pitt. After a silent two minutes on the line, she hung up to call our other roommate and I sat back with my mouth open, frozen still. After twenty minutes of sitting still staring into nothing, Federico walked in and my face finally broke. Unable to think of any Spanish word I had ever learned, I shakily typed into google translate, “my friend is dead”. These words felt utterly empty. A perverse wrongness. These words don’t belong to me. And yet, I needed to write them out to let my host dad know. It would be weeks until I finally believed them and even sometime I don’t.
The weeks following felt impossibly isolating. How do you grieve in another language? Those emotions are not the words they teach you in school. Some days my sadness would take over and speaking Spanish felt inconceivable.
“Que tal tu día?” How was your day? “Soy triste.” I am sad. That is all I had
How do I connect with twelve strangers that are making plans for where to get dinner or complaining about the busy busses? Your lives are not completely turned upside down right now? I see.
The physical and emotional distance was also hard. Grieving is a communal process. Together with friends and family you hurt with and console each other. Together you remember memories and lament the impossibility of the future. Phone calls and facetime and texts after class cut my loneliness into pieces but never well enough.
And it is with this blog post that I am still grieving. I’ve always thought of writing as a formal process of talking to yourself. It is a useful tool in many areas of your life when it is used to sort through emotions and ideas. I found out abroad through my journal keeping that it is especially useful when you don’t want to be alone. So now I’m going to remind myself and talk to myself the things I’ve been aching to do with my friends.
Fuller Ross was an incredibly beautiful and lively person. There are so many clichés and puns I would normally avoid but I don’t know of a more suitable phrase to describe him other than “full of life”. He fully embraced every role he filled whether it was a student, an employee, a coach, an athlete, a classmate, and as I knew him best, as a friend. His ability to be a beacon of light on a grim gray day in Pittsburgh was uncanny. I’ll long remember the walks we went on through Schenely park when we both needed a break from school or an ear to vent to. One of the hardest parts of losing him is that as one of my best friends in the CBA, he is who I would turn to as I tried to piece together a plan for my future. He was my voice of reason and tranquility when life was too stressful to handle. And the fact that he always had a well thought out plan, a plan in which I watched him both formulate and begin to accomplish, breaks my heart to know he will never fulfill it None of this can begin to accurately describe what a deep loss this is for myself and all of his friends and family or anyone that has ever known him really, because he was charitable to everyone he ever met. All I can say is that I feel lucky to have known such a good person and friend as he was.
My program is finished but I am not going home right away. I have plans to visit my sister living in Peru so I am writing this on my flight there. I can’t help but feel that this blog post is incredibly selfish, focused entirely on me, my loss, and my sadness. But mourning, in my opinion, is an inherently selfish process and so I guess it is an appropriate enough place to do it in a blog post about myself. Moreover, this particular blog was supposed to be about my “takeaways” and what I have learned. In that respect, I apologize; this blog is not a finished product. I can’t say what my takeaways are from all of this yet because I honestly don’t know what I have learned from this experience nor do I know if it will ever become clear to me. This post is neither informative nor conclusive, but it is what I have to offer. Most of my days during my time in Argentina consisted of me thinking about him and mourning my loss. He stayed with me through every experience so I truly believe that writing anything else here would have been a lie.