Loss and Life

It has been colder in Durham but still no snow. The cold bites at your exposed skin and the wind drives right through layers of clothes making you shiver under the weight of a wool coat and even thicker wool jumper. The nights are dark but ever so imperceptibly they are getting shorter and the grey days are getting longer. London feels as far removed in my memory as my first day in Durham over four months ago and January has marched onward to her inevitable conclusion. As I think over the past few weeks I am faced with a series of incredible occurrences; some fantastic happenings and a loss that has left a hole in my heart.
On the 10th of January I lost my grandmother. My last living grandparent and one of the strongest connections to my childhood has slipped away from me. She had been in care for a long while and her worsening dementia had continued to break my heart to the point where I could no longer acknowledge it. I began to write letters to her over the last month, only two. I have to hope she received them and was proud and amazed that I had gone on such an adventure. I will always carry with me the memories of visiting her in the wilds of northern Pennsylvania: trekking up the turkey path and watching deer cross the meadow behind her house. Those exceptionally quiet evenings where everything felt so still and hushed; I can actually put myself there at this very moment and feel that exact same feeling. She can’t honestly be gone. Not when I can still hear her voice in my head singing Red Sails in the Sunset and feel the touch of her hand on my back when I asked for a back rub. She won’t ever really be gone when I can call up those memories which feel so real it is almost like I am there. 

My Grandmom (1923-2014)
With loss also comes a renewed sense of determination and purpose. I feel more determined than ever to succeed in this programme and achieve the highest level I possibly can. I’m already making strides. I discovered that I received a 70 on a mock exam I took just before Christmas break. Now for my American readers you must be thinking that a 70 isn’t a very high score. You must remember that the Brits mark things differently. Few score over an 80 and certainly no one scores over 90. To convert a UK score to a US score add 20 points. A 70 (UK) then becomes a 90 (US). I felt an immediate boost to my confidence when I set eyes on that mark. That’s when I began to really dig my heels in and now I fully intend on moving mountains.
The first mountain came rather quickly. As part of my programme I am required to complete a four week work placement at a museum outside of Durham. Since September I had been hunting in vain to find a place that would take me. Since September I had been met with disappointment and mostly unanswered emails. I was feeling discouraged about the whole process when I ran into one of my professors the week before lectures began. We set up a time to meet to discuss what I needed to do. I had been avoiding the national museums thinking that they would never in a million years take me. Ben told me I should be trying them. He suggested the British Museum and the V&A, the Science Museum since I had loved it so much. I left the meeting feeling I had nothing to lose. That evening I emailed the V&A and the British Museum and then promptly forgot about it. Deadlines had begun to loom and all my thought processes were tied up in research proposals, presentations, and essays. I was going through my emails one afternoon and nearly deleted one when I didn’t recognise the sender. I opened it up and to my utter astonishment time stopped moving.


I wanted to shout and cheer at the top of my lungs. The V&A! One of the most prestigious institutions in the world wanted me. The museum that my course director had specifically told everyone not to waste time applying to because they have never taken a Durham student had decided to take me. It had been the right time, the right place, the right person, and the right email. So stay tuned folks, An American in Durham will be coming to you live from London at the end of March!

January has brought so much more. I have begun working and researching at one of the University museums. I started Crossfit training and I have the sore muscles to attest to how hard I’m working. I’ve begun to have weekly lunches with my good friend, Sam, and I even made my English premier singing in a sextet for a member of staff’s leaving party. I cannot complain about the start of this brand new year. Though I have suffered the first major loss in my life, I know that my grandmother would be proud of me and would be cheering for me if she were here.

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