I may never find the words to describe how much my mom meant to me.
I tried to compose a post describing the ups and downs, twists and turns embedded within the last year. It’s too soon. Not yet. (Go ahead, exhale relief, this isn’t about to be one of those blog posts.)
I’d rather focus on the people who have stuck out one weird year with me and have given me the chance to discover the incredible amount of support and love we carry within us.
(Apologizing in advance for names I forget and for sections that will end up longer than others.)
Hannah found facebook, and Meredith called Headquarters
While we wrapped up site visit and hopped back into training, Hannah caught a glance at my mom’s facebook timeline, where people were posting comments like, “RIP little sister,” and “You were the strong one.” Hannah called our friend Meredith and the two began messaging those who had posted. Once Meredith got a confirmation, she called Headquarters to tell them what happened. It became a round-robin affair with HQ finding someone in my family to verify the news before shooting it across the globe.
Hannah picked me up from the airport once the plane landed in Tampa and spent, God, I don’t remember, I think four days, with me and I’m positive I was just a bustling, joyful person to be around.
Charlie took charge and went with me to Addis Ababa and the airport
When I had enough time to compose myself enough, I walked up the stairs leading to Kassech Hotel’s meeting room. I didn’t bring my phone with me, I don’t remember if I had my glasses on.
I got into the training room and began scanning faces. I wasn’t looking for anything other than being able to tell someone, “My mom died.” That’s it. A statement of fact. Vocalizing a new reality.
Sliding two rows back, careful to avoid eye contact, focused on not stepping on anyone’s shoes or backpacks, I walked until I stopped in front of my friend Charlie, then proceeded to interrupt his conversation.
“Charlie,” I said, “Charlie, my mom died.”
Done. Fact stated. World still turning. We could all sit down and proceed with training, right?
Within seconds of processing what he heard, Charlie popped up, grabbed my shoulder and took me outside. A few minutes later, another volunteer in our group, Michael Fulton, came outside, too, shortly before our training manager walked with me downstairs.
One of the PCMOs gave me water and cookies and said I needed to eat. I took the water, left the cookies unwrapped. One of the counselors Peace Corps/Ethiopia contracts was in town for a mental health session. She said hi and said she’s one of the counselors here.
“Good timing,” I said. She laughed.
While the counselor was talking to me, explaining I would need to go to Addis Ababa and could bring a friend with me, another Peace Corps staff member was giving the same spiel to Charlie. After both conversations ended, we regrouped and discovered we had been given the same information.
After another PCV came downstairs, I started to realize this was really in motion. I would be in a car en route to Addis within an hour, still needed to pack my things and the only thing I knew was that for a few minutes, I didn’t want to be the one making any sort of decisions.
Cue Charlie’s initiative and the ride into Addis. It was comforting then, and it’s still comforting today, to have had someone alongside to keep conversation and balance thoughts.
Michelle, Paul and Lauren came down from Gainesville, near the end of the spring semester and right before final exams, to help clean out the house and organize a funeral
I’m not sure if anything else needs to be said. I’m still at a loss of words. The three took turns answering my phone, making calls and setting up meetings. They took me to the hospital to visit Dad. They didn’t shy away when I started bawling in the middle of trying to separate necessary items from unnecessary items to yank out of the house.
The Oromia PCVs got (un)lucky and consolidated in Addis while I had to finish training, and Andrew got me into counseling
The first question Andrew asked after Charlie brought him downstairs was, “What was your mom’s name, Sierra?”
That’s a great question. It has a definitive answer. It doesn’t invite an unanticipated wave of emotions. Sandy. Sandy was her name, “like the dog in ‘Annie,’” as Mom would quip.
Less than a month later, as shock began to ebb, I shifted between wanting to sleep all day and not being able to sleep at all. Andrew suggested counseling, careful to remind it needed to be something I wanted to do and needed to feel ready to do, while also pointing out that if personal thoughts were driving a wedge into physical activities, it was time to get the two in check with each other.
Counseling is the best thing I’ve done in Peace Corps. It’s helped regenerate and reorganize my life. It’s better when people are hanging around waiting to hear how the session went.
Tayler sees me like a normal person and by extension, gives the gift of appreciating life for life
Tayler rocks. We’re roommates for every Peace Corps conference. We text each other the random, the mundane, the mind-blowing (but now normal) events as they unfold at site. We talk about our families without being like, “Wait, don’t wanna hear it,” because families are a component of life and who we are. We’re finding a way to keep it together in this bizarre 27-month ride.
Blanket statement for everyone else who deserves a piece of this post
- G10 stretches throughout Ethiopia and various PCVs at various moments in time have given hugs, sent texts, called (and received phone calls) that have made service shine. We get what it’s like to be here at this moment in time, and individual circumstances aside, use that simple reality as a baseline for random check-ins and new friendships.
- My sister has encouraged me to keep in better touch with our family and to not be so cautious of sending an email to aunts, uncles, cousins just because we haven’t been in touch for years. Her kindness and honesty has encouraged me to adopt some of her behaviors. We had a chance to hang out when I was in the States last month for Meredith’s wedding, providing the time to flush out our weird flux of emotions that ignited a series of petty arguments while we tried to navigate death’s legal, financial and emotional spheres. There’s a huge cliché that sisters become your best friends, I think we’ve reached that level.
- Elissa, Eliora, Christy, Andrew and David for stopping by my aunt’s house with breakfast when I came back. The heart-shaped, smiling pancake was an awesome touch. (I almost didn’t want to eat it!)
- Everyone who called, texted, messaged and offered to help and who did help.
In every phone call I had with Mom, she encouraged me to look at people’s positive qualities, surround myself with those whose company I enjoyed, who I could learn from and give back to in some way, shape or form – and if I couldn’t find a way to do those things, she said, but we still enjoyed the company, then that worked, too, because that’s what friendship and love is about.
More so than me, Mom believed that people meant well, that it was beyond human nature to ignore a friend, neighbor or stranger in need. She thrived on relationships with others, and used their energy and hope to refuel her own. A year later, I’m learning to keep her practice alive with me.