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* Disclaimer: Heavy content ahead. This post is not intended to exploit grief but share my experience. If you’re here for uplifting content with fun facts I’ll be back writing posts about London next week. This is an honest depiction of the reality of an Expat/Traveller’s life and not intended to offend or exploit those mentioned *
I lost a friend last week. The kind of friend who lit up your life for a short, bright period and helped you grow. The kind of friend you have when you are young and fearless and broke and ‘out for a drink’ nearly every night of the week. He worked his arse off in most aspects of life and took care of his friends. We had lost touch, grown up, moved on in our lives and I had literally moved on from the city and the job where we met. But the group of people you meet in your early Twenties stay close to your heart. And this one was a bright spark for a lot of people,
Hearing Bad News – the Expat Edition
Inevitably, I checked my Facebook on Monday morning. It was 11am. A perfectly ordinary time on a perfectly ordinary day. But in Australia it was evening and posts were starting to flood my feed. ‘Shocked’. ‘Heartbroken’. ‘Cannot believe’ ‘So sad’. Nervous alarms were ringing in my head.The plight of modern life and every expat/traveller is to piece together real news from Mark Zuckerburg’s perverted ‘feed algorithm’. Sometimes the most harrowing thing you learn in weeks will be revealed between ads for noodle soup and dating websites. Sometimes your friends will try to save you from this by emailing minutes later with the subject line DO NOT CHECK FACEBOOK. These are good friends, but this was very bad news.
Bad news brings the choices you’ve made as an expat into sharpened focus.
Being an expat (or immigrant, or digital nomad or whatever trendy phrase you choose) is meant to be glamorous, exciting, full of exotic food, new cultures, different languages and thrilling adventures.
The reality? Let me calculate that for you:
78% of the time Expat life is glamorous, exciting and the most wonderful decision ever.
12% of the time it is mundane. Full of grocery shopping and doing laundry just like back home, now with added woolly socks for freezing winters.
8% of the time it is frustrating and annoying as you navigate red-tape disasters and miscommunication.
The last little 2%? It’s heartbreak.
It’s the teeny-tiny-oh-so-small no one ever mentions part.The heartbreak of knowing you can’t be home and wishing you could. Knowing that you are making the right decision, but hurting for it. This heartbreak only turns up along with bad news, but it is acute and can shake your resolve.
My Grandfather passed away in September of 2013. I had been away from Melbourne for 2 years. It was not unexpected, but it was extremely painful for my family and my Dad in particular. I found out via text message. Called the family. Did what I could from afar. I was scheduled to return to Australia just 3 weeks later. We debated changing my flights and coming back early so I could be a part of the funeral, the communal grieving and the celebration of his extraordinary life. He flew planes in WW2, wrote multiple books on Business & Accounting and grew up on a farm in country Victoria with barely any electricity. A life truly worth celebrating and honouring. But rationality and finances meant I couldn’t make it back. The day of the funeral, I called my Dad from work, while standing in an unused office space overlooking Prater Park and silently wept as he told me how it was, who attended, the speech he gave and what the finger food at the wake was. My heart broke for not being there and I still regret it.
Are these the necessary sacrifices that we make when choosing to live overseas? I definitely feel its unavoidable, but if you have a different approach I’m all ears right now.
Living at home out of fear your loved ones may get hurt is no way to live.
This week I am feeling a long way from home. This week I am missing out on long-overdue catch ups with a wonderful group of old friends who shared ridiculously long shift work in a cafe in Melbourne. Friends who knew how to party, knew the best Karaoke bars open at 3am and knew how to support each other no matter how ridiculous your day was. Grieving a friend – especially a young friend, gone too soon – needs to be a shared experience. To reminisce, to celebrate, to laugh at the memories and to hug each other when there’s nothing else to say. Instead I’m here in Austria, living a ridiculously happy life.
This kind of heartbreak hurts like hell, and it’s the part that no glossy Expat interview will talk about.
Being an Expat breaks your heart, but only in the very best and worst times.
** My struggle is, on the scale of suffering, very very minor. If you – yes YOU – or anyone else you know is struggling with depression, or is feeling like they have no way out or no one to talk to, please please ask, ‘Are you Ok?’. Contact a local help line or support group, or hell, start a blog to share your feelings. Don’t ever feel you have to struggle alone or that there is no way out. You are loved and you are important. **