Life, death and expatriation

It’s my grandad’s funeral today. I’m thousands of miles away listening to my son having his drum lesson before going home to cook dinner and head out to rehearsal for an improv show. Just another day. And the third time I have not made it home to say goodbye to one of my wonderful grandparents. Words cannot convey how desperately sad I feel.

The thing is, I could have gone back. I could have put us on a plane and headed back for a week or so. It’s the Easter holidays and we have the time. But my son’s starting a new school and I don’t want to disrupt him before we begin. In a few months we have to undertake seven weeks of travelling across the world (other people know this as ‘summer’) and I really don’t want to ship him overseas before then if I can help it. And it feels like I only just got back from the last batch of trips, dealing with the sudden and devastating loss of my dad. (Yes, 2014 has been an excellent year so far. Not).

So instead, I’ve elected to stay. I will get home from rehearsal tonight and log into the webcast, and watch the recorded version from the comfort of my living room. It’s great in one way, that technology means I don’t miss it entirely. But it’s a bit macabre watching a funeral on an ipad; it’s not the same as saying goodbye in person, and it doesn’t take into account the complete and utter loneliness of being so far away from everyone else, of not being able to hold my sisters’ hands, or hug my mum, or just have time to reflect and raise a toast with everyone afterwards.

Worse still, no-one who hasn’t had to make the decision understands. I’m sure that there are people reading this and thinking ‘well you should have got on the bloody plane then, if you feel so bad’ – or alternatively, ‘well you get to be away from it all, so it’s not as bad for you.’ Well, this year I’ve done both – made one, missed one. Neither is ideal. Attending your dad’s funeral and then heading straight to the airport because, between the emotional toll, two return trips and the ensuing jet lag you haven’t seen your 4 year old son for the best part of two weeks isn’t exactly a choice I enjoyed making. Not being there at all this time around just fills me with untold amounts of guilt and unresolved grief that I will have to store up for a moment in time when I’m not running about like a nutter or completely dog tired and have a moment to myself to think about it all. The third way – being there already so you don’t have to make all these decisions – isn’t really in my control.

It’s the worst, most terrible thing about being an expat – being torn between two lives and knowing that commitment to either at a time like this will always, in some way, be the wrong decision. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about being here: this deep sadness that the choice we have made makes some things harder than they need to be. I know it will pass, that the rawness will fade and be replaced by small, less intense moments of regret. But for today, I think it’s okay to feel sad.


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