At Book Club last month, we got to talking about being ex-pats, and what that means. While we all agreed that it was so much easier to live abroad now than it has been in the past, due to technology and the ease of communication and travel, we also agreed that difficulties remain. We’re not launched off on our own, with little chance for mail and visiting, as in the Old West when the adventurous took off for parts unknown.
Yes, we travel and experience new adventures, new cultures, new people who gift our lives. That’s the amazing part of this life. We are blessed to have this opportunity, and we plan to make the most of it. Everyone at Book Club said as much. But there’s another side to being an ex-pat, a painful side caused by distance.
We miss out on a lot of the important moments in life, big and small.
Our daughter is currently dating a young man. We don’t know him. He doesn’t come from our town or our group of friends. “He’s not our people,” as folks used to say. Aubrey is building a relationship and we have no input. Not that she requires that from us. Still, I am eager to meet him, to create a bond so that we can, well, gauge him. She tells us what she likes about him (he is a gentleman, for one), and we certainly trust her judgment. But it’s hard not to be able to go to dinner with them, or watch a silly movie and see how he reacts. Distance makes that impossible. Almost unbearable.
Our son is preparing to graduate from college. He’s interviewed and has a job lined up for June, and we couldn’t feel prouder. How we would love to take him out to dinner to celebrate his new job offer! We can arrange a celebration with his sister and friends, but it isn’t the same as being there and clapping Scott on the back ourselves. We’ll be there for his graduation, but these are the smaller moments when we ache at being so far away.
Of course, there are some holidays that must be passed apart, as in Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Easter, etc. Fortunately, we haven’t missed a Christmas with the kids. But even the “smaller” holidays are hard. That comes with the territory of being an ex-pat. It isn’t easy, but we accept it. Family members have graciously stepped forward in our absence, offering love and hospitality to the kids on our behalf. If they were alone while we were gone, it would be impossible for me to do this.
Illness and death have been the toughest moments for some of our friends. When death comes for family members, it’s not always possible to get home in time for the funerals, for the grieving as a group. One friend said, “It just feels so unreal … I always have to go visit their graves on my next visit, to make it really sink in.”
We have only been abroad for two years, and, thank God, we have lost no one in that time, but the day will come. We know it, and we think about it, and we blink.
Life changes are difficult to miss, in general: lost pregnancies, precious births, cancer treatments, etc. As to deaths, I’m afraid that will be the hardest of all. It won’t feel real until we see their resting places.
Despite our ability to stay connected in so many ways, we are still a distance from family and life’s myriad cycles. For those of you who know people living abroad, perhaps you can keep that in mind. It’s the little things, as well as the big, that we miss and long for. When you get the urge to call or write, please do so. You have people far from home who would love to hear from you. Trust me.