Life after Death: Learning How to Cope With Loss Through Experience

It’s been a little bit over two months since I have been in Africa and every day comes a new learning experience. My most heartfelt and genuine experiences comes within my homestay family. A vital part of all School of International Training (SIT) is placing the students studying abroad with a homestay family to submerge them in the culture they are studying. My particular homestay comprises of my father, Placide, my mother, Claudine and my little brother and sister, Irvin and Marvina. This set up was perfect for me because I have been constantly seeking to rebuild myself and rebuild what I have lost.

When I was sixteen, my mother died. She died at a tough time – right before my seventeenth birthday and my senior year in high school. Her death was a shock, but more or so, a contradiction. How can the person who loved me and cared for me leave me with no goodbye, especially during my last year of high school and childhood? I never really had the opportunity to grieve or mourn. I had to worry about finishing up my high school studies, while trying to get into college, pay for it, maintain a part-time job and try to rebuild the family dynamics without my mother. Because of my inability to process what has happened and not taking time for myself, my first semester of college was a long, hard road d both academically and emotionally.

However, as time progressed, my academics got a lot better by deciding to choose my own path instead of living my family’s dream. However, I still felt empty. In all honesty, this promoted my sudden and abrupt decision to study abroad to 1. To take time to regain that curiosity I once had and 2. Learn to heal my own wounds through experience, not theory. Unbeknownst to me, my host father, Habineza Placide, also lost his mother from the 1994 genocide against Tutsis when he was thirteen. He also revealed that he lost his father, older brother and older sister as well.

I was speechless.

He proceeded to tell me about the other hardships he faced including becoming a man young as he had four sisters to take care of, dealing with poverty and balancing school. Despite his unexplainable struggles, my father finished high school and college with a degree in linguistics. He currently is fluent in Kinyarwanda, English, Swahili and French and has basic proficiency in Spanish and Arabic. He operates a successful translation company. Yet, what he feels like is his biggest success is being a great husband to my mother and being an exceptional father to my little brother and sister.

My host father told me, “Greg, the only way out is through”—“Man, you cannot run from the pain or the hurt, you have to confront it and deal with it and though that tunnel might seem long, God will see you through”. My father told me how love was his biggest coping strategy – the love of his siblings, the love of his parents, the love of his family, the love of mom and the love of Marvina and Irvin is what kept him pushing. “Son, don’t let your mom’s death be used as a crutch to not love and not succeed, use it as a stepping stone to love harder and never fail!” 

To anybody who has lost a parent, sibling, child, or a friend, the pain can seem unbearable. Yet, what I have realized is the hardest thing to learn is that they are never really gone away. Why? Because as long as you keep them in your heart, their memory will live on forever. After my mother died, I thought God wanted me to heal people like her, but in reality, He wanted me to heal people like me. People who have been touched by death and sorrow and sometimes feel there is no way out. Yet, there is a way out – through! Life abroad has taught me this.  

So feel the pain and the heartache, let it all in and then let it all go. You are still here to keep the memory of the one you lost alive, so do a service to you by keeping them alive by being purposeful in what you do.


“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

-Romans 14:8




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