March 20, 2017

Sharing Personal Tragedy: A Different Kind of International Travel Story

In 1996, Marcia Mauter and her Cleveland family hosted Cem Cakiroglu, a CIP guest professional from Turkey. Cem was employed as an environmental engineer by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.  
In 1997, Marcia’s family hosted Nadine Rogue from France who was in human resources at Baker Hostetler.    
Since then, there have been many “back and forths” across the ocean to deepen these connections, and the circle of friendship has expanded—Nadine’s friends Mustafa in Turkey and Ansu in Finland are now friends with Cem and Marcia!


Sharing Personal Tragedy:  A Different Kind of International Travel Story


This past summer, I rendezvoused with my dear international Turkish, French and Finnish families along the coast of Turkey, and on the island of Boczaada. There was great joy in our heartfelt reunion as we simply enjoyed doing what families/friends do:  wedding and anniversary celebrations, beaching and burkini watching, motorcycling and auto-stopping (hitchhiking), eastern yoga and hip hop dancing, everything food and drink, and with the young teens, snapchatting, tennis, card games and kickball American-style. Having shared our lives “here, there, and elsewhere” for over two decades, we considered ourselves the ideal poster children for CIP. 
But, in the middle of my travels, dark shadows fell on July 14—literally and figuratively. As we lit night candles at midnight to celebrate Bastille Day, a terrorist mowed down close to 100 people in Nice, France. Several hours later, the coup d’etat broke out in the Turkish cities of Istanbul and Ankara, with damage to lives and property. And several hours after that, my dear mom passed away unexpectedly back in Cleveland. Our little “United Nations” family was challenged to pull together to support and console each other through our collective and shared shock and grief.   
Nadine, for example, had come to Turkey to get away from the bombings in her Paris arrondisement the year before. She was understandably distraught, and needed to reach out to people back in France. How could we best support her? 
Ansu had come from Finland to relax with Mustafa at their beautiful summer home. How was the coup going to change their remaining time together?
Cem and Gultac were waiting my arrival in Ankara in a couple of days. Should I go or stay put? Delay the funeral or make my way back to Cleveland?
This was all very complex, and we instinctively knew that the best gift to give each other, besides family love, was the space to just “be” in ways that flowed naturally, authentically, and culturally rich.    
As it relates to my situation, I was invited to share the thought of my mom, Jane, through my own stories and reflections. The sparkling sun, water, and sands of the Turkish beach provided the perfect backdrop and I easily recounted the rhythms of my mom’s life as she cared for and nurtured her large family.  
Mustafa roared off on his motorcycle and came back moments later with cold beers in hand. Who cares that it is only morning - let’s toast to the memory of Jane! Next, we made our way over to the beach kiosk, where a small henna tattoo placed on my shoulder would remind me for the next couple of weeks of the floral patterns mom loved. A small dove pin was purchased in the little town market; Ansu explained that in the Finnish service house where she works, surviving family members are given a pin to remind them that their loved one was free from their Alzheimer’s disease, and from all earthly worries and cares.  

Later that afternoon, we planted small seedling trees ceremoniously on the island, each of us dedicating ourseedling to a loved one lost. We feasted on a brick oven grilled fish dinner, and the gentle sea breezes were soothing to the soul.

At dusk, we made wine and cheese stops at all the prominent ocean vistas.  Mustafa offered a final prayer, “As the sun sets and nightfall creeps in, so to are the shades drawn on a life well lived.” I could hear mom’s resounding “amen”!  
I look back on that day, as I will for years to come, grateful for my international family, and for the reminder that we can go beyond borders and get through personal tragedy when all hearts beat as one.   


Posted by Lindsey Walsh on March 20, 2017 at 4:44 PM in Participant Permalink
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