I suppose I should start this by saying that my grandfather passed away the morning of August 26, 2016. I had been in Chile for no more than four days and I had already broke down. “Se murió mi abuelo,” I told my host mother as I began to cry.
I live with my new host family in the neighborhood of Ñuñoa, located on the east side of Santiago. This is a good neighborhood for me because every morning I can look out of my four-story window and see children walking to school with their mothers. The white noise that I hear outside my window every night is soft and comforting. Conversations in Spanish and bars playing ugly American pop music lull me to sleep.
I was lying in my new bed when my mom called me and told me the news. I knew that my grandfather had been sick for months, but the feeling of his loss hurt me immensely nonetheless. The walls are thin in my host family’s apartment building so I’m sure they heard me crying. But enough sadness, because I am not sad anymore.
My host mother’s name, as it was first told to me, is Carlota, but in Chile everything ends in -ito or -ita so I call my host mother Tita. (Carlota, Carlotita, then Tita… get it?) Even though her nickname may directly mean “little Carlota” she is anything but. Sure, she only reaches my shoulders on her tippy toes, but she has the heart of someone at least twice her size. When she first met me she immediately told me that she was “muy fuerte,”meaning very strong. And boy was she right.
The perspective that Tita gave me about my situation is what made it so I could continue my study abroad experience. I told her that my grandfather had been sick for so long that when I saw him last on August 22, he could barely acknowledge my good-bye kiss. I told Tita that in my grandfather’s last moments on earth were spent with my mother, my uncle, and my grandmother, all people that love him dearly. My mother held my grandfather’s hand and told him that it was ok, that he was safe. I told Tita that my mother held my grandfather’s hand as he took his last breath and then I cried even harder.
So you see that there were a lot of people in pain, not just my grandfather. My mother was in pain watching my grandfather suffer, and I was suffering being so far away from him in his last moments. The pain took its toll on my whole family so when my grandfather finally passed peacefully, we were emotional, but we all knew that he was finally free from the body that had been working against him for so long. Tita knew this and she worked to make me understand it more. She told me that my grandfather was in a better place where he could live in peace knowing that I was finding myself in another country. And it’s true. I know that my grandfather is proud of me and the last thing that he’d want me to do is to be sad while I’m in such a beautiful and vibrant place.
The day after my grandfather died I visited La Plaza de Armas for the first time in my life. I visited the Cathedral dating back to 1600 and when I stepped inside I felt a strange spirit run through my whole body. Tears fell down my face before I knew they were there. I was surrounded by art and I felt safe.
I come from Santa Rosa, California. I already know that you don’t know where that is, but just know that it is a small, tight-knit city in Northern California. It’s one of the newest societies in the world, only dating back to the early 1800’s. The only history that I ever saw was photographs of the downtown area where one of the oldest buildings has now been converted into a Barnes & Noble bookstore. When I saw that Cathedral for the first time it was like being transported to a whole separate world frozen in time. The sculptures of religious figures I may never have the patience to learn about moved me immensely. They all looked like figures from an El Greco painting, but instead of being immortalized in paint, they were immortalized in three dimensions. They all stood on pedestals looking down on me, almost as if acknowledging my pain. I looked into the eyes of these sculptures and was moved.
So now I bring it all together. Travel, art, and death. Although the news of my grandfather’s death was painful, it will only affect me as much as I allow it to. I can either shut myself in my room and weep in pain, or I can travel and see art and weep for joy. My choice is obvious.