It’s something most expats don’t even consider when planning to move abroad and hopefully for most it doesn’t occur. However if you end up living abroad for an extended amount of time you have to be ready as it may just happen.
For me it’s happened twice. Both sudden. Both dearly loved family members. Both heartbreakingly sad.
Being on the other side of the world has this strange way of making you feel like time stands still at home. You know it doesn’t but you experience this odd disconnect with the daily life of home that sadly you are just not a part of now. So when a situation like this occurs it almost doesn’t feel real. It’s like a bad dream. One that you can’t wake up from.
Both times I got the phone call whilst at work surrounded by people in my new life that didn’t know my family, didn’t know my relationships with those dear to me, that I didn’t feel I could talk to about what had happened at home. In that moment you already feel alone but feeling alone in your grief on the other side of the world is a whole different kettle of fish. Thankfully I have an amazing partner and the very best friends and family both here and at home that I could lean on. But I couldn’t imagine if I was somewhere where I didn’t have that.
The decision to go home for me was always an easy one. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to support them and wanted to say my own goodbyes. I was lucky enough to have a manager who understood this and gave me the time off, I had my emergency fund for a flight home and a family who knew however much they told me not to come that I wouldn’t listen. One thing I would say is to not just go home for the funeral try and stay longer as this is when people need it the most and when you need it. Once the dust of the funeral settles and everyone starts going back to normal life is actually when your family most need the support.
It’s hard posting about a topic like this as it’s so deeply personal and everyone deals with grief in different ways. That said it’s a fact of expat life and if this helps someone in a similar situation then it was worth it. If you are reading this while in this unfortunate situation then here are a few things to remember ..
Its ok if you can’t make it home to say goodbye or for the funeral.
Your first reaction is always going to be to get straight to the airport to get home. But what if you can’t get the time off work as you’ll likely need a week or two to get back home. What if you can’t afford it? What if the funeral is straight away and you’ve not got the time to get back. These are all very real situations and as much as you desperately want to be there you might just not be able to. And that sucks and as much as it will hurt remember it is ok if you can’t make it back. Your family will understand and to be honest they will likely tell you not to come back (numerous times!). If you can’t get back then make peace with the decision and don’t be too hard on yourself. Trying to get back at a later stage will mean just as much as if you flew out straight away.
The world isn’t that big
It’s really not. It will feel massive and the distance between you and home will feel like it will take an eternity to get back. For most places, it will take no more than 2 days to get back. If you are able to get home then you’ve got flights ahead of you which will be the hardest flights you’ll ever have to take. All these people around you excited about their holidays and your in a weird limbo of being happy that you will soon be with the family and sad that you didn’t want to go home in these situations. The time on the plane will give you the chance to reflect and reminisce and once you’ll step off it will feel like it took no time at all getting back.
To think about having an emergency fund
I’ve always tried to make sure I always have enough money in my account just in case I need to go home. It’s worth it sometimes just putting a little extra away each month so if the time comes when you need to decide if you’re going home that you can afford it.
To rely on your network both here and at home
Talk, reminisce, cry, shout, laugh, sob, whatever you do just make sure you get it out. You have family and friends that love you and that want to help you through this sad time. If you are abroad and haven’t yet made your network then call home. We are fortunate enough to live in an era where you can facetime/skype/call over the internet without the extortionate prices. Speaking to friends and family will be the comfort blanket you need at this time.
That the pain will be intensified but it will subside
When you first get the phone call. It breaks you. It’s a hard enough to have the phone call when you are in the same country but when abroad it’s intensified tenfold. You just have to ride through it and know it’s all part of the grief process. Just trust me the pain subsides. Eventually.
That time heals
It’s the oldest cliche in the book but it’s true. Whoever has passed would not want you giving up on the experiences you initially set out to have. So try to not let the sadness take over. Every day will get easier and just by moving forward every day and by taking in every new experience will help. Enjoy it for them as much as you need to enjoy it for yourself. Make the most of your life and just be thankful that they encouraged you to travel, inspired you to look for the best in life and that they helped make you the person you are today.
At the end of the day, you need to follow your heart, enjoy your memories and be there for those you love. Death is a part of life and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it whether we are back in our home countries or in our new countries. If you have any other advice to impart or want to share your story please do leave a comment below.
To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.
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