Monday, November 4, 2013

Change of seasons

One of the things I truly love about Luxembourg is that, like Virginia, you actually have seasons here. Growing up in South Texas, I only knew two - summer heat, and grey, snowless winters. However, we had such a great summer here in Luxembourg this year, that there is a bit of melancholy that settles in when the leaves begin to fall and the rain returns, as it has this week.

We returned from our fall break this past Friday. Each year, Lux schools let out for the last week of October, including Halloween/All Saint's Day. This year, we headed south to Mallorca, Spain. We were in need of some vitamin D, and the island didn't disappoint. We had 6 days of mild temps and sunshine, with only 1 day of grey skies and thunderstorms. We managed to see all four corners of the island (not an easy feat given how large the island is), and would definitely return there in the future. An interesting thing to note is that the island pretty much shuts down for the season as of November 1st. So much so, that our flight attendant on Lux Air said that she would be heading to Grand Canaria this week because Lux Air discontinues its flights to Mallorca until February. Many of the hotels were already shut for the season as well. However, we found the smaller crowds perfect as we had our choice of places to go without the long lines experienced during the summer months. The highlight of our trip was chartering a sailboat for the day to tour the southeast side of the island. Our crew was made up of a couple of delightful South African sailors who took our small crew to several nice snorkeling coves and fed us a fantastic tapas lunch. I managed to swear off my seasickness (with a little medicinal help) and really enjoyed just taking in the fantastic views from the deck.

Now that vacation is over, we begin our countdown to the holidays. Thankfully, November is a bit quieter of a month now that all of the back to school events and United Nations celebrations at ISL are done. ISL celebrates its diverse population the week leading up to the fall break with several international themed luncheons and activities. Our PTO was hard at work helping the teachers and administrators plan and execute three different lunches, all in the same week. I'm sure vacation could not come quickly enough for some of our volunteers, but the lunches, as usual, were terrific. It is always fun to see the kiddos dressed up in their country's colors or costumes and sharing dishes from their home cookbooks. The week was also busy with other events. Our new Lower School building was formally inaugurated that week with a formal ribbon cutting and several dignitaries in attendance. Even the kids had the onslaught of exams that week, including the first PSAT for my oldest. Sometimes, I just find myself staring at the calendar, wondering where the months have gone.

When I started this blog (a little over 2 years ago), I started it for honest, therapeutic reasons. When I was much younger, I journaled quite a bit - the typical teenager stuff that you just couldn't share with your friends or parents, but had to get out of your system somehow. It's been years since I packed those notebooks away, but our move here, following a pretty traumatic year in Texas, found me in a place where I needed to reflect on all the changes going on. I would never in a million years have EVER shared my high school or middle school musings. However, when we found out we were moving overseas, I did find myself gravitating to any blog or website that would give me some little insight on the life we had signed ourselves up for. Because of that, I felt that, maybe, I could help others in some small way by letting them look at this experience through my eyes.  I thought that perhaps folks might be able to either determine they were up for the challenge in their upcoming move to this quirky little country, or perhaps feel some solace in knowing that they were going through the exact same experience themselves, whether if be the frustration of dealing with the local languages, or just trying to make new friends in a new and strange environment. In the past couple of years, I have received several very kind emails that help encourage me to continue sharing my experiences, and I credit them for keeping me focused, aware and thankful of this opportunity that came our way. Again, it is hard to believe that 2 years have already gone by!

Coming into the holidays, I also become much more reflective and observant of situations that my friends and acquaintances here in Lux are dealing with. My first year here, I worked the front desk at the American Women's Club and was just thankful that I had the chance to meet other women dealing with the same "new expat" issues me. Now, two years in, I have become aware of issues that all of us must face at some point, but ones that may be a bit more complicated for those of us far away from "home". The most significant issue has been aging parents. So many of my friends have had to face the death or serious illness of a parent this last year. Having lost both my parents, I can vouch that the death of a parent is indeed one of the 10 most stressful life experiences one must face. However, add to that the complication of an ocean separating you from family and close friends, and the experience can become that much more traumatic. In some cases, it is determining when you are needed back home - Is the illness a long term condition? Are there other siblings close by, or are you the only child? How long do you go back for and what arrangements need to be made? All of these are difficult when you live near your loved ones, but are so much more complicated when travel, distance and finances are involved. Being a traveling spouse, many of us find ourselves in situations where we must head back at a moment's notice, partly because we may be the only family members that aren't working. The added stress of travel and distance may not allow someone the chance to grieve or personally deal with the situation either. 

When my dad passed away a few years ago, I was making the commute between Dallas and Houston or Corpus for several months, never quite sure how long I would be staying or when I would be needed back. Personally, I found the distraction of traveling back and forth and the need to "get things done" a way of coping with the situation that I know put off my grieving brothers and family members. I am sure I came off as being robotic while dealing with the nurses or doctors, rather than the distraught daughter they expected. However, in all honesty, I reserved my personal breakdowns for those 7-8 hour drives on Texas highways. I can recall conversations with our hospice counselor warning me that the grief could overcome me in time and that I would need to deal with it when it did. Somehow, our move to Luxembourg just a few months after my dad passed away allowed me to confront the grief slowly and in a way that I could handle it best.  

We all deal with grief differently, and sometimes it can vary greatly based on the point in our lives when we are faced with it, or the experience we have when it happens - whether our loved one goes quickly or over a period of time. In either case, unresolved issues can linger, creating a whole other level of complexity, whether it be the lack of final plans or wills, or disagreements that were never dealt with. Those issues are ones we may all face if we don't take the time to address them when we have the opportunity to. In both situations, I was living away from my parents when they passed. Though my mom passed quickly and unexpectedly 10 years before my dad, I found the slow passing of my father to be much more difficult to bear. I can't begin to imagine the heartache involved when an ocean separates you from the ones you care about and the family support system many of us rely on. However, I do feel that God puts us in a position to face our toughest battles in a way He feels we can best overcome the situation. In my case, our family moved from Virginia to Texas only months before my dad's cancer diagnosis, which allowed me to be closer to home his final months.  We moved to Luxembourg only months after the funeral, allowing me to overcome my grief through the challenge of new experiences and challenges. Whatever the case may be, it does help to know that others are going through similar circumstances, and we can derive strength in knowing that when it comes to family, even an ocean can't really separate us from the ones we care most about. 

That all being said, as we travel through our own seasons of life, we must remember that God does have a plan for each of us. We may not always understand why, but each person we meet and each experience we face builds our character and prepares us for what might be just around the corner. As these months and years keep flying by, I know in my heart my next challenge is watching my sons head off to college. At least I know that I have friends who are facing that same challenge as well this year, and I know I can learn from them what to expect. In the meantime, I will cherish these little breaks in our routines, knowing that soon enough my fall breaks will be trips for Parent's Weekend somewhere across the pond and I will look back fondly at those hectic weeks of school projects and activities.