Generally I have been quite happy in Tonga. Occasionally I get homesick, or miss random things in the US (particularly food). Missing Christmas was a bummer, but not as bad as I thought it would be since I was so happily and quickly adopted by my community. But overall these moments are few and far between. I love my community, my students, my fellow teachers, and the other Peace Corps volunteers/staff here in Tonga. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been placed here despite any job and life frustrations that might arise.
Unfortunately, not all bad moments are as easy to move past as the odd case of homesickness or bad days at work. One of these moments came in early June, shortly before the end of the term. On an average Friday, after adventuring with friends (since I don’t teach on Fridays) I swung by the office to check my email and such as I wasn’t planning to head into town again until I went on vacation to Ha’apai. At the end of what had been a beautiful, completely carefree day I was shocked to receive the news that Andrew, the boy I had been dating when I started my freshman year at Colgate, had died.
I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to broadcast the incredible pain felt by his family and friends over my blog. But essentially what happened was that Andrew was accidentally shot by a friend while they were hanging out in an apartment in Farmington, shortly after Andrew’s graduation from UMF as well as his 23rd birthday. I got this information in an email, but by the time I received it 10 days had already passed. I spoke briefly to a mutual friend via facebook, who informed me that the funeral had taken place earlier that week.
To say that I was stunned by all of this is an understatement. Andrew and I have not really spoken much over the past few years, but we had caught up briefly just before I left for Peace Corps. As a family friend of the Ficketts, who are essentially my family as well, Andrew has been in my life for a very long time. I saw him every year at the fooseball party and frequently spent much of the weekend with him, especially as we got older. He was my first boyfriend and is someone who has always been very important to me, as has his entire family.
Like I said, I’m not trying to broadcast this in a gossipy or insensitive way. I’m trying to explain to all of you something that I know is a significant part of my time in the Peace Corps. People say that it must be hard to be so far away from home, to miss my family and my friends and everything that I had in the US. I guess that’s true to an extent, and I can see how people think that. But to me it is not that much of a challenge. A large part of the reason for that is how absolutely amazing my family and friends are. I cannot honestly say that there is anything in the US I “had” but no longer have. I am incredibly blessed to know that when I go back I will still have incredible people there to welcome me; there is not really anything else worth missing.
What is difficult is being away during things like this, as morbid as that may sound. I missed Andrew’s funeral, and in doing so I missed the opportunity to grieve in the way that I am used to and that we, as Americans, consider to be an important part of accepting death and moving past it. I could not be there for his family and friends, and although I know there is nothing I really could have done to offer them comfort, physically being there would have at least been something. To be quite honest, if I had found out in time to make it back for the funeral, I would have done my best to find a way. I sent a letter back for Andrew’s family with another PCV who was going back to America. I don’t know if they received it, or if I said anything worthwhile, but it was the best (and literally the only) thing I could do. I spoke to Caitlin and Darian (mutual friends) on the phone. I exchanged messages with a friend of Andrew’s. My Peace Corps friends were absolutely fantastic, inviting me over for the night and watching out for me all weekend. My friends in America sent really loving messages. But I know that this is something that will be a challenge for me until I am able to go home and make peace with all of it myself- and that won’t be until next May, a year after it has all happened. I still think about it every day and though it only brings me to tears sometimes now, I know it is because I have not fully processed the reality of the events. And there is no way I can while I’m here. My life in Tonga is too separate from my life in America and it is too easy to retreat into this life, too hard to force myself to truly absorb bad news from so far away.
If it is in your nature, please pray for Andrew and for his family and friends, who have lost someone so amazingly dear to them. If praying isn’t your style, any sort of positive thought or energy will do. I do not usually ask people for their thoughts or prayers to be directed in a certain way but I feel this should be an exception. Thank you.