Ask anyone living away from their family and/or homeland what weighs heavily on their minds and you will often hear such things as:
-missing out on family events
-not being there for weddings, births, graduations, first steps, etc
-not feeling connected enough to friends and family ‘back home’
Yet, there is one, often unspoken topic that comes to mind too quickly for those of us that have moved thousands of miles from home. We don’t talk about it much but it is there, hovering like a dark cloud, and it remains present from the moment we are first offered or choose to move far away: What if something bad happens?
I know this question is not unique to expats/internationals, but when you have thousands and thousands of miles placed between you and the ones you love, this question can seem unbearable. In fact, many people have reported to me over the years that they didn’t take an international assignment because of this one very thought. What if something bad happens?
I can’t say I’ve reconciled this question for myself other than to say I try not to focus on it. That doesn’t always work and this past August we were smacked in the face with grief as my father-in-law ended his year long battle with pancreatic cancer. We traveled unexpectedly to my husband’s passport country which thankfully, isn’t as far as mine. The pain of the last 15 years of my husband being abroad surged through his heart…should he have moved overseas? Would he have had more time with his father? Did he miss out on too much? Guilt. Anger. Pain. Upset. Real life. These are not easy moments in our lives and the impact of realising your what if has become a reality brings a lot of the early emotions of moving abroad to the surface again.
Despite the emotional doubts, my husband can take solace in the fact that his father was beyond proud of his achievements and the life he made for himself abroad. We met many wonderful people that told us how he often boasted about his children and they knew we lived in Switzerland, loved to ski, etc. To us, that meant that even if we weren’t physically present all the time, we had presence in my father-in-law’s life. It is important to remain attached and communicative with those left behind when we move. A simple text, phone call, email of photos, social media tag, etc. These are the things that help us pick up where we left off on our next visit. When you only see friends and family once year or more, you have to fill the void with information and tales of your real life. If that gap grows too big, you can feel a painful distance begin to grow, one which is hard to close.
When someone’s life comes to an end, no matter if you lived next door or ten thousand miles away, you will realise there was simply never enough time. Grief does not have a fixed address.