I have a cute little card that’s been sitting on my desk since early January this year. It has a cartoon picture of a bear riding a bicycle, towing a little trailer full of suitcases. The caption below says: “Goodbye. I am really rather sad that you’re leaving. I miss you already”.
It’s a sad sentiment because it implies loss, but I absolutely love it because it was given to us by our maid who was leaving to go back to her home country to have her baby. And as English wasn’t her first language (although she did bloody well to understand most of our heavily Kiwi-accented butchery of our mother-tongue), and the card is meant for leaver rather than the leavee, the sentiment was really sweet. We were really rather sad that She was leaving, but she was equally sad to be going.
And it makes me think often about loss and leaving. Given we live as expats in a country that can never be our forever home, there will be a point in time when we, or our friends, will leave to go back to home countries, or on to new ones. It’s just a fact.
But even though we know it’s inevitable, it’s still hard to deal with. We build quick and deep relationships with people as expats, as we are all out of our comfort zones and away from family support. Our expat friends become our family, warts and all, and the bond is strong as we deal with adversity together (some countries more than others admittedly). So it seems harder to say goodbye.
So how do we deal with it?
Well after being away from ‘home’ for the last 20 years, there are a few things I’ve observed that help expats get through:
- Don’t get too close in the first place. Keep a bit of yourself back and don’t go too deep into the relationship so it doesn’t hurt too much when the time comes to leave. Mostly used by serial expatters on projects that require multiple moves over short-ish times,
- Be the leaver, not the leavee. The leaver gets to go on to new adventures and their days are filled with new experiences which helps dim the memory of the place and people just left. It’s just that much harder being left behind with the same routine but friend-sized chunk missing (think about that when you leave your friends behind and why they might react like they do to your social media posts of your new life).
- Jump in boots and all and form those deep relationships, knowing in the back of your mind that it is going to hurt to say goodbye, but knowing it’s better to have ‘loved and lost, than never have loved at all’, or some version of that. Knowing you have friends around the globe is pretty cool, especially when you want to go and visit.
- Embrace inevitability. Similar to above but a bit more pragmatic in that you live in the moment, and things change. Things always change. Adapt and change with it, and it will be easier to cope with.
At this current point in time, other than my maid (who had a beautiful, healthy baby girl on 1 April), I haven’t had any of my close friends leave. But I know that given the situation the world is going through right now there will be changes. Jobs will change, life-styles will change and priorities will change. We’ll just have to go with the flow and remember good friends are for life, not just for Christmas.
And wash your hands!
How do you cope with leaving or loss? Let us know.
Love, Kat xxx