The first time I ever left the United States was in June 2012. Some family members and friends have visited me while I’ve been abroad but I haven’t seen my parents or grandmothers in far too long. Knowing that my Nana was losing the imminent battle of old age gave me a pit in my stomach that grew rapidly through spring and summer. I had some options for where to spend my two months before I needed to be in Thailand but deep in my heart I knew that I had to stop home – even though I had no idea how I could afford to do so.
I mentioned to one of my best friends, Kylie, my potential post-camp plans, truly just to vent and hear my ideas out loud. Well a few days later when I checked my bank account – which is always the most frightening thing I do in life – I noticed several deposits into it. The gracious souls of my best friends, Kylie, Lauren, Allie, Kristina, and Kaitlin, along with my ever-giving parents gifted me the funds to buy a ticket home. Sitting in the café with tears streaming down my face, I was humbled by the selflessness and pure love of my friends and family. I didn’t even have to ask. I believe they knew it was time for me to visit home and were aware that my pride prevents me from asking for help when I need it. I still laugh with disbelief because I do not know why I am so blessed as to have a support system like this in my life.
Camp in Croatia ended and for a week some of us stragglers caught up on sleep and watched countless movie marathons in our huts while the rain poured outside. I was feeling great spending quality time with Mick and Jason and knowing I was going to be heading home soon. That is why the news I received on August 30th blindsided me and brought me to my knees. My Nana – my rock, my savoir, my light – passed peacefully in her sleep early that morning. My world was turned upside down in an instant and I never have felt more alone and separated from my family than in that moment. It was something I couldn’t digest. How could the woman that raised me and saved me no longer be alive on this earth and how could I not be there before it happened? I was days away from returning home and almost made it in time; yet looking back, I know that Nana planned it this way – she knew I wouldn’t have been able to bear seeing her in that fragile state – I am not strong enough for that.
My family was persistent about reassuring me that Nana wouldn’t have wanted me to come home early and everything was okay. But everything was not okay, not in the slightest. That is why when my mother asked me to not change my flight home I remained silent because I couldn’t promise her that. Immediately I was calling the airlines trying to change the ticket. In between sobs I attempted to express who this woman was to me and my urgency to get home. Every customer service agent referred to policies that contradicted another, said all next day flights were booked, and quoted me $4,000 to change my flight. Well that price tag was unacceptable and I refused to believe that I wasn’t going to be able to fly home early.
When the floor you’re standing on is crumbling beneath you, the people that truly care about you will be at your side giving you the strength you need. I was thousands of miles away from my grieving family but my Croatia family flawlessly stepped in their place. They comforted me with kind words and warm embraces and convinced me that we will work everything out. The following afternoon we drove the three hour haul to Zagreb to see if speaking to an actual person rather than a representative would be more successful. I was rolling the dice in hopes that I could change my ticket last minute for little or no cost.
I prayed the whole car ride up, asking Nana to help get me home. Once we arrived at the airport I hopped out of the car and went straight to the ticket counter. With puffy eyes and a runny nose I explained to the woman my situation, feeling myself teeter on the cusp of failure. She was silent, occasionally nodding her head, and fervently typing away on her keyboard. Finally she looked up at me and said ‘all set, you’re on the next flight out to New York tomorrow morning’ while holding a piece of paper with a price of the ticket change that was next to nothing. I praised her, blessed her, and thanked her in English and Croatian. I know that Nana sent her to me and everything was going to be alright from there on out.
In an even more bittersweet goodbye I said farewell to people who showed honest compassion and who held me up when I lost the strength to stand alone. After a dreamless sleep on an airport chair I found myself on a plane heading home to face my sad reality.
Leah and Mike retrieved my tired self from Newark Airport and brought me to cousin’s engagement party where I would surprise my mom and give her the hug I’ve been longing to have. She screamed in surprise and cried in delight. Even in the darkest of times there is light from the love between family and friends.