The worst fear of all expats is losing someone you love while you are abroad. To face Expat Grief.
We live with this fear; we try coping with it as well as we can. Stay on the present, mindfulness. We visit home as often as we can and seize every opportunity we have to spend time with them.
Until it happens. Our most terrible fear comes true. And it’s awful. Always.
My dad died 2 years ago. He was ill and it was getting worse, so when I saw the missed calls from various members of my family all at the same time, I knew it.
It was horrible. I cried for hours, feeling guilty because my mom and my brother had to handle everything without me. I had no chance to fly to Chile at that time. Not being able to be with them, that was the worst of all.
It took me a while to assume I needed to cope with it. I did, thanks to my inner strength, the support of my husband and the help of my psychologist. (If I tell you all the time that if you struggle you should find help, of course, I’ll do it too.)
Several sessions of talking about my life with him, how hard it was (We had a very problematic relationship.). Grieving. Accepting. Letting go. Saying goodbye.
Why do I tell you all this? To let you know you are not alone with these fears. To forewarn you that if something happens to someone you love back home, it will be complicated and painful. However, if you surround yourself with the affection and support you need (from your loved ones and from within), you’ll get through it. I did, and lots of my clients too, even the ones who thought they never will.
The Grieving Process
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages on the grieving process:
If you have grieved before, you know they are not unidirectional: you can start on stage 4 and then move to 3 and 1 and after that 5. It has no specific order, and you can go back and forth. Grief is not a continuous process; it takes time and varies. How long? That’s individual. There is no standard or average time; it doesn’t matter what others say. When you feel prepared, you’ll know it.
In case you are unable to go home to attend the funerals or to say goodbye, it might be harder for you to let go and carry on. That doesn’t mean it’s undoable, remember you are strong and brave!
How to Cope with Expat Grief
– Talk about it. As often as you need. Don’t refrain yourself. The people who love you will understand. Take my word for it; it is beneficial and necessary.
– Be super extra kind to yourself. What happened is terrible. Acknowledge it, don’t diminish the way you feel!
– Rituals are extremely important and necessary to ease transitions, and in this case, you will need them as part of the grieving process. Celebrate the time you shared. That trip you couldn’t do together, or that special dish that she/he loved. It’s a beautiful and symbolic way of saying goodbye.
– Write a goodbye letter. Put on paper all the things you wanted to express, good and/or bad, whatever you need. You can keep it for a while and then when you feel prepared, you can burn it or bury it, and let go.
– Accept what you are experiencing. What do I always say? All emotions are useful and providers of information. If you feel anger towards the person that “abandoned you”, feel it. Allow yourself to feel the way you do, whatever it is!
I send you a big hug if you are struggling with this fear. Please know you are not alone. I know what you are going through. Send me a message, let’s talk.
By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.