Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Down Side

In May, my uncle Bill died. It was completely unexpected and we were all shocked by the loss. My uncle Bill wasn't related to my parents and wasn't married to a relative. He and my aunt Becky were the family we chose. Close friends of my parents who love us like their own. I used to go to Thanksgiving dinner at their house when I was in college. I would stay up till 4 in the morning with Bill rehashing every. single. detail of what had happened in my life during the year since my last visit, my sides in stitches as he made his running commentary on all my stories. He made everyone laugh; he was always the life of every party he was invited to (and even some he wasn't!).

The phone call I got that day in May is the worst down side that the mister and I can think of with regards to living overseas. We have no control over family emergencies, but being overseas means we don't get to call out of work and take a long weekend to be with our loved ones. My throat still gets tight when I think about how I missed getting to hug my aunt Becky and lend a supportive hand when everyone was in town for the memorial service and then again for her daughter's wedding two weeks later. There's something to be said for being able to hold each other while you cry it out. Phone calls and FaceTime just don't cut it, and I am nagged by the feeling that my visit this summer was a case of too little too late. "I wish I could have been here..." just sounds so selfish.

The fear of unexpected deaths and family emergencies is enough to cripple some dreams of living abroad. The Mister and I knew the risks when we signed up for this gig. We talked a big talk about "Making sure everyone knows we love them" and laid out the pros and cons to friends who asked, "But aren't you worried that..." It was all so easy.

Until I got The Call.

And here I sit, on pins and needles because The Call is coming again, only this time I've been warned. My aunt Jackie, who has fought bravely against stomach cancer for almost a year, is losing the fight. Everyone in my family is pouring into my mom's hometown to say their goodbyes and hug her one last time.

Everyone except me.

I can't decide which is worse: knowing The Call is coming, thereby prolonging the guilt, or being surprised and experiencing a heart wrenching sense of loss.

Here is what I have decided:

  • I hate Facebook right now. Facebook is always a frenemy to expats. We are looking through the windows of friends who have had babies and are the strangers who comment "What a beautiful bundle of joy" instead of visiting in the hospital. We like the connected-ness, but at a time like this my biggest fear is signing in and finding out that my aunt has passed and no one remembered to call me.
  • I can't handle the sudden waves of guilt I'm hit with at random times throughout the day. My last conversation with my aunt this summer was rushed and trite. I was cheesy and casual. There are things I want to say and I probably never will and I have no idea how to deal with that.
  • The Mister is absolutely, beyond a doubt, the best partner I could have. He understands that cooking dinner gives me time to think, which means I'm usually crying and it's not because of the onions. He knows to just hug me and let me wipe my nose on his shirt. He knows nothing can make it better right now, so he simply tells me he loves me and doesn't ask "Is there anything I can do?" He has helped me start the grieving process even though my aunt hasn't passed yet because he knows there's not a plane that can get me home in time to grieve with the people I most want to be with. 
  • This is absolutely, beyond a doubt, the worst part of living overseas. It's the only down side, but it is a doozy. 
Vicariously yours,


  1. I love you. I cannot imagine how hard it is to be far away, but I do know that loss sucks.

  2. I don't pretend to understand how the separation and the distance feel when you're grieving but I do know it when I hear the melody of two people truly loving each other. How much better when they are my cousins! At times like these I'm especially glad God gave you to each other. ~ Kevin