Today, March 1st, marks two weeks since my arrival in Geneva, Switzerland, where I will be living and for the next year as part of the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church. It’s been a hectic time, filled with meeting so many new people and learning so many new things! Today, before I get into all the exciting detail about where I’m living and what I’m doing, I want to talk a bit about the weeks leading up to my departure.
If you’ve spoken to me in the past year, you’ll know full well that I’ve felt very stagnant. Due to COVID, I found myself living at home a lot longer than I planned to, and felt like my future plans were very much in limbo. I applied for YASC in January of 2021, for a start date of September 2021. Just over a year later, I find myself in Geneva, finally getting to start my journey and so excited to do so.
Quite frankly, 2021 was one of the worst years of my life. With COVID being an obvious detrimental force, nothing felt normal and not a lot felt good, either. Entering the new year just a day after my mother’s death felt remarkably unhopeful, and all in all just sucked. Coping with the loss of my mom has not been easy, despite the amazing support system I have, and there were (and still are) many, many days when I just want her back. My years-long struggle with my mental health got worse, and my anxiety and depression felt omnipresent and overpowering.
So, when I finally got the green light at the end of January this year to leave, I thought that I would be chomping at the bit, suitcases packed, ready to go days in advance. I couldn’t wait to get this adventure started– or so I thought. First, the goodbyes had to happen.
One of the hardest of these farewells was saying goodbye to my colleagues and the team at the retail job I had been working at since March. While I don’t think retail is my true passion, I did genuinely enjoy my time working at this store, and that was largely in part to the people I worked with. Whenever I felt like isolating into myself, I could always count on a shift at the store to boost my mood. Whether it be my coworkers in the retail division (I’ll be forever indebted to Eva for our countless hours of conversations) or the team in the store headquarters (who welcomed me with open arms and became valuable friends), I knew I could all but count on an interaction that would make me feel better.
So, when I walked into the store on one of my final days of work, and saw what they had arranged, led by my amazing manager Heidi, my heart swelled. An entire goodbye feast had been arranged, with a Swiss food themed set up, consisting of Toblerone, Swiss Miss hot chocolate, Swiss cheese, and chocolate fondue. Shelby and Mindy, coworkers who I am lucky to count as friends, painted the most extraordinary banner for me, which ended up hanging on our town fence (where all important occasions are marked with handmade signs). This was completely unexpected on my end, and showed me how valued I was as part of the team, at a time when I didn’t necessarily think of myself as having much value at all. I miss them dearly already, and will be wearing my CPC apparel with pride as I journey around Switzerland.
I’ve also been working at my home parish, Saint Luke’s, since June of 2021. Saying goodbye to my colleagues there proved to be difficult in a different way. While my colleagues had provided me with such support and friendship, just as those at the store had, they also had been very involved in the aftermath of my mom’s death. My family has been attending Saint Luke’s weekly since before I was born, and my mom was a staple figure at the church, especially in the office, as she helped with everything from graphic design to publications to photography. When I started to work in the office, it felt almost overwhelmingly too much of a reminder of my mom, and her valued, consistent presence in this place we cherish so deeply. It seemed frustrating to me at first– how was I supposed to be responding to emails at 9am on a Tuesday, when remnants of my mom surrounded me? The loss of her was a pain I felt all the time, and I wanted work to be an escape from that, not a furthering of it. Over time, however, I began to appreciate the presence of her memory there. It was a way to feel close to her, even if it still hurt greatly, and I was thankful for that.
Anyway, my coworkers at the church had been involved in the planning of my mom’s funeral, as well as her memorial service. These are people who have known me and my family for a long time, and felt, alongside us, the pain of losing her far too soon and in such an awful way. Leaving this space, a place that felt safe, familiar, and so deeply of my mom, to go to Switzerland of my own volition seemed a bit crazy at times. I didn’t know what awaited me once I stepped off the plane in Geneva. But, the support of my colleagues was unwavering (especially Naomi, who drew on her own experience in YASC) and helped me know I was making the right choice. I am so thankful for their love and support, and miss them dearly already.
At my last staff meeting, chocolate cake was served and champagne was poured, as we sat around the table and celebrated together. I was told that everyone would miss my stories about Marylin Bunroe, my three-legged foster bunny– luckily for them, I will keep them updated forever about her (except for Dave, who said he would eat her). On my final Sunday at church, which happened to be the day before I flew out, Ryan led the congregation in prayers for me. This was a truly humbling and impactful moment for me, as I felt the faith and the goodwill of the congregation directed towards me. I hope to make them all proud during my time here, as they have truly helped shape me into the person I am today.
Last, but not least, I said goodbye to my friends and family. This is something I consider myself quite adept at, having now lived away from home for around 7 years. Boarding school, Thailand, St Andrews– goodbyes are plentiful and often. That doesn’t really make them easier, though. Saying goodbye to those in some of my most cherished relationships– James, Liv, Eva– was more painful than normal. I think that’s likely due to the amount of time I’ve spent at home during COVID, which was the longest period since before I went to boarding school. It had started to feel a bit more like home again– and to leave those connections (physically) felt awful. However, these connections remain, and we speak frequently, thanks to the wonders of modern technology that include Facetime and sending TikTok videos to each other.
Saying goodbye to my family is always difficult, but it felt rather foreign this time around. While I was away from home previously, my mom was my go-to person to Facetime randomly, or call when I was in any sort of crisis, big or small. Without having her here, suddenly I found myself reaching to Facetime her or let her know a minute detail about my day. However, I know my dad and sister will be stalwart supports for me while I’m gone, and have plans to visit multiple times throughout the year, which I’m so looking forward to.
One of my most difficult goodbyes, a bit embarrassingly, was to our pets. Mimi, our family cat, is such a lively, expressive animal, and I love her dearly. Charmin, my sister’s rabbit, is also a lively, silly animal, and faces quite a lot of health issues, so I’m always worried that I may not see him again, in the event he has a health crisis. But, of course, Marylin Bunroe was the most difficult goodbye out of the three. Mary was supposed to be a short term foster during Hurricane Henri this summer, just in case the basement of the sanctuary she lived in was flooded. She’s never gone back, though, because I am so dearly attached to her. A few weeks after she came to stay with us, a previous infection in her leg resurfaced and infected the bone, which meant she had to have her back right leg amputated. This may sound silly, but seeing Mary’s resilience throughout the whole ordeal has helped me greatly with my depression. Post leg surgery, she was back to hopping almost as normal instantly, and has adapted beautifully to life without a key limb. Having someone other than myself to take care of has been a massive help in taking care of myself properly and boosting my mood, and I miss her so much already. However, I’m lucky in that my dad and sister have been taking excellent care of her, so I know she’s in safe hands.
Anyway, all this to say that I am safely in Geneva, and having an excellent time! I’ll expand much more on this in later posts, but I’ve noticed that since arriving, that what feels like omnipresent anxiety has really taken a back seat. This is very surprising– normally, big changes in my life tend to exacerbate my predisposition to irrational worrying and feeling perpetually ill. However, I’m taking this in stride, and I choose not to question it too much right now. I’m taking it as a sign that I’m right where I need to be right now, and that I truly am ready to take this next step in my life.
Every day, as I cross the bridge from Rive to Montblanc, and then walk alongside the glistening lake to get to the church, I thank God for how blessed I am to be here, at this moment. And, I thank all those that make saying goodbye so hard, for their love, support, and kindness as I embark on this journey.
1 Peter 5:10: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.