Mociexpat tells us about her feelings towards her family of origin while living abroad.
Being an expatriate, living and traveling around the world is a life I really enjoy (at least until now, being just two of us and at my first destinations). I love the challenge of starting from scratch, of having to make myself a home in each destination, of learning a different language each time (to be honest, countries where Spanish -my native language- is the official language are far less attractive to me), of meeting new people and making new friends. All this may sound very exciting (at least to some, others certainly consider this as a crazy life and cannot understand why some people not only choose it but also enjoy it!), but as with everything in life, pleasure is often followed by sorrow. In the end, despite enjoying many adventures, expatriates also face many sacrifices.
For me, by far and without a doubt, the greatest sacrifice of all is being far from my family. Missing my parents´ and my brother´s birthdays, the celebrations for the 85 or 90 years of my grandmothers, my nephews´ birthday parties, my cousins´ marriages, father´s and mother´s days, the death of my dog (I know that this may sound strange to many of you and I do not want to be insensitive towards those who have lost a loved one while being away, but those who have been lucky enough to share their life with an animal for many years, know how sad an event its departure is), not having been there when my mom underwent knee surgery and had to stay in bed for 10 days – these are just some of the events one would like to be present to and that expatriates –unfortunately- cannot attend (unless they are lucky enough to match an event with the annual trip to visit the country -if they can afford to have an annual trip).
Luckily, I have a wonderful family and great friends that do what they can (and much more than they should) to cover my absence (and now also my brother´s, who, like me, at least temporarily, has decided to live abroad) and to be there in the moments when I should be (and I take this opportunity to thank them all), giving a hand, providing both physical and emotional support, sometimes even cooking or helping out around the house. I do not know what I would do without them (but I certainly would be unable to enjoy expatriation as much and would not have started this article the way I did).
And this is just the beginning of the list, there are more things that I will miss and I will not share in the future. I won´t see my nephews grow, my children will not see their grandparents or uncles very often, they will not visit their cousins and will always be the “cousins that live abroad” (happily, looking at my family´s migration pattern, at least they will not be the only ones), I will not be able to give break the news of my first pregnancy in person and to share it with my family with the closeness that I would have liked. And the list could go on…
In addition, there will be sad times I’ll have to live from away, not being there there to provide support or a comforting hug (or receive one). I believe this is the hardest thing to face for those of us who have chosen (or just happen to find themselves) to live outside. And it is in these difficult times that one especially feels the need to be with the family, to be close to the loved ones.
More than once I have been told (when my brother was still in Lima), referring to potential emergencies, “but at least your brother is there,” and although I understand the logic of this comment and the good intentions of those who want to comfort me, the truth is that I really do not care if my brother, my friend, my uncle or whoever else is there at the time, I want to be there.
And to make things worse, the sadness of saying good bye to your family every time one goes to visit (or every time they come to visit), does not diminish over time, it doesn´t get easier (as I had naively hoped it would occur). Quite the contrary. Every time I say goodbye to my family, my heart breaks a little, and for a few minutes I have irrational fears. Fortunately enough, I can control them. Then, of course, I start thinking about how lucky I am to have my parents, to see them at least twice a year, to have spent such beautiful days with them (and to spend more when we get together again). I feel grateful for the privilege of having being able to also visit my brother and to surely having come to visit us soon. I think of how fortunate I am to have a family that despite the distance is always in touch with me (and I with them) and is part of my day to day life.
But let’s not be dramatic, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Especially thanks to technology. Thanks to computers -and now also to mobile devices- and the Internet, life is a lot easier for us who live abroad (indeed, it is probably thanks to the Internet that I married my husband and write from Budapest today, since it’s been the net that allowed us to communicate every day and to my husband to send me flowers/cards/chocolates/teddy bears every week during the courting period!).
Skype is basically my best friend (and certainly also my mother´s), it allows me to have lunch with my parents while they eat breakfast or to have dinner with them while they are having lunch. My mom is my best company when I have to iron clothes and helps me to cook when I decide to make a new dish (thanks to the web camera I can show her what I’m doing and she tells me if it is ready or not!). I keep company to my brother when he has a break from work and connects through his mobile phone and I can even see him in action in the kitchen of the restaurant where he is the chef when he puts his phone on the counter and lets me silently observe everything. Thanks to Skype, I was somehow in the process of recovery of my mom´s knee surgery, it is not the same, but it’s better than nothing, don´t you think?
And not only is Skype to thank, I thank e-mail in general, Picasa and Google’s other products, the various enterprises that currently have online stores and make home deliveries that allow me to be present with a bouquet of flowers or some little something on special occasions, and even Facebook, which allows me to feel closer to my family and share with them a bit of my life. In the end, if life gives you lemons, you need to learn how to make lemonade and that’s what we expats do when we use all these wonderful technological tools in our attempt to shorten the distance.
Can you imagine how difficult it must have been before, without all these advances, when there was only snail mail and it arrived by ship? At the end of the day, we just need to be thankful for the good fortune of being expatriates in these days of technology and modernization!