No more goodbyes

As August draws to a close it’s a time of year when many goodbyes are being said. Vacations are over and expats are heading back “home.” It’s also a time when many expat teenagers are packing up and leaving for university, an exciting and scary time for them, and for parents a time of anxiety mixed with pride over their soon-to-be independent offspring. But all involve goodbyes.

Our repatriation two years ago wasn’t planned. As I tried to get my head around it and find the positives in the situation, one of them was that there would be far fewer goodbyes in my life. I had always hated saying goodbye to expat friends as they moved on and goodbyes to my son and friends in Canada after our annual visits. The life of a global nomad is full of goodbyes.

When we set off on our last expat assignment we left our then 18 year old son behind in Canada at university. That was probably the most difficult goodbye of all. As we waited in the front hallway for the airport taxi to arrive, he said wryly “Isn’t it the kid who’s supposed to leave home to start university?” I cried all the way to the airport and the birthday card he sent me, just a few weeks later, didn’t help any either. But the excitement and activity of setting up a new home soon distracted me. At least I was spared the heartache of walking past his empty bedroom every morning.

He has a knack for always choosing great cards. He also calls me “Chief,” reflecting my true status in our family 😉

We soon fell into a routine of emails and Skype calls, he came to visit us for Christmas, we visited him during the summer. If I count the hours we spent together, we probably had as much time in each other’s company as many non-expat families and yet the goodbyes each time we parted never got easier and the next visit seemed aeons away. I believe expat life brought us closer together as a family. We three were close before we started living overseas and perhaps that helped us to deal with the transitions.  But I also think the shared adversity, dealing with the initial strangeness and loneliness each time we moved, made us more reliant on each other and brought us closer than before. It’s a good thing, except when you have to part.

So my heart goes out to those who are currently saying goodbye and I’m relieved I’m not amongst you. I know it may not always be this way. One day no doubt my son will move away, or who knows, maybe we’ll move away again. But until then I’m happy not to have to say goodbye.


6 thoughts on “No more goodbyes

  1. I agree that as expats we probably build more resilience as we learned how to cope with so many goodbyes but it is always hard and actually it is getting harder as we age. Saying goodbyes again to my aging parents last June before we embarked to a new life in America was the hardest I ever experienced. They are very active and healthy and have 4 other grand-children in France but they are in their 80s and this scares me.

    • I know how you feel. My mother-in-law is in her 80s and lives alone in the UK. Every time we say goodbye, there is always the fear that this might be the last time. Like so many life stages, everyone goes through it, but being an expatriate just adds a whole other layer of complication. I wrote a post on elderly parents last year.

  2. Timely post for me – just yesterday (or the day before yesterday? I’m all confused with the time change) I was a blubbering mess at the airport as I said goodbye to my parents and sis. The guy who was helping me with my bags didn’t know what to do! ha! Agreed – goodbyes are definitely one of the worst parts of expat life.

  3. Airport workers must be pretty used to it. Hope you soon feel better – homesickness and jet lag are not a good combination.

  4. Ah – you got me! As you say, it never gets easier. My mother was commiserating with me as I went through the pain of my firstborn leaving for college. I’ve been in the States for 21 years and she said when I leave England after our annual summer visit, she’s just as bereft as the first time.

    • Once we left our son behind my husband just tortured himself realizing what his own parents had been through when we left the UK 30 odd years ago. The guilt haunts him still. Why do we do this to ourselves? 😉

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