Skin thicker than tears | Post #5

I got a splinter out the other day. The splinter was buried for about a month, since around the time when the tears resided. Working with seniors, speaking Spanish and navigating a new city all impacted me profoundly, but this splinter pierced deep into my skin. Nonetheless, I look back on the day I got it in the Andes with wonder and pride alongside the discomfort.

This trip gave me many reasons for tears. Some might say I’m a rather sensitive person, so I was prone to cry at my frequent mishaps and misfortunes. Abandoned in Chile due to a canceled flight, scammed out of $230, phone stolen on the subway – it was natural to shed a tear or two. After an intimidating first week, things had just begun to get exciting, when I came home to the phone call that my 30 year old cousin had taken his own life. My spirits plummeted.

My mom told me two things:

  1. You will not come home for the funeral.
  2. You will enjoy the rest of your trip.

I cried and yelled and lamented. How could I continue adventuring while my family grieved without me? I was unsure if I hurt more for the pain my dear family was processing, or for the emptiness I felt to not be a part of it.

This was the beginning of the trip, so I had 6 1/2 weeks left to make something of my experience, now in addition to overcoming grief. I say “overcome” because this was not the space for the motions of a normal grieving process. I had to learn to speed up and compartmentalize my mourning. It started with 3 hours of sleep, then fruitlessly seeking comfort in a Shabbat service, followed by a sunny bike ride through the lively city parks, some pensive journaling, and a night out at the bars with some new Argentine friends. I swung from completely reserved to cheerful to dazed and confused in varying cycles. I couldn’t plausibly allow myself to sightsee or enjoy the nightlife while my family planned a funeral, yet I couldn’t allow myself to wallow at home, of which I knew my family would disapprove. I was supposed to be sad and I was supposed to enjoy myself and I didn’t know how to do both at once.

The next day, I declined a lunch invitation in order to watch the funeral online. This was the only time I was grateful to be removed from the scene. For a single moment in all the challenging time ahead of me, the clouds cleared and the desperate sadness took over. Because I was alone, I was rewarded the space to be vehemently upset. I stared myself down in the mirror and repeated the facts of the situation, as I would do many times over the next two months, then made lunch.

In this manner, a strategy developed. Go about my life. When a stroke of pain hits, remind myself the facts of the situation, move forward. I would allow grief to accompany my experience alongside the adventure, but never in the way of it. The rawness of grief began to subside as I became absorbed in my life there. The tears began to fade. I accepted that I was alone in a foreign country and any issues were mine to deal with. Tears would not change the situation. I accumulated newfound emotional armor and faced the world with more courage.

Around a month into the trip, I reached some sort of turning point in my grief. It became more subdued just in time for the highlight of my trip; the Andes. I had been so excited for the trek, but found myself frustrated on the climb up the mountain. I was cold, wet, and paying for my recent emotional eating. I caught one nasty fall on the corner of a rock, which shot a splinter deep into my palm, among the many other shallow splinters dotting my hands and ankles. That view, though. That lively feeling of a physical feat. A splinter couldn’t stop me from enjoying it.

My skin healed over the splinter so that I could hardly see it, but it hurt every time I pushed with that hand. A few days after I returned home, it popped right out. I wish I could say the same about a cathartic end to my grief, but it still hurts at times.  This experience gave me a lot more than I bargained for, and that toughened me up a bit. Plagued by some challenges, I learned throughout this experience to embrace that my skin is tougher than my tears; sorrow will not bar me from joy.


Melissa B

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions,strategies or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

One thought on “Skin thicker than tears | Post #5

  • August 7, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Melissa, this was so moving. Sending prayers to you and your family, but thank you for the courage to share a piece of your life that is so personal and so raw. This will definitely help anyone who reads your post. Thank you!


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