This is not a subject I particularly want to talk about and is unashamedly personal but it’s something I’m sure many people will relate to.
I’m talking the bad, sad side of living in an expat community when friends move on. Now before everyone starts giving me a hard time and reminds me I promised not to mention this again, I can only say this is a big deal for many people every year and we can’t ignore it.
Expats talk about moving, the transition period, settling in, saying goodbye well and learning to build up a certain emotional resilience. What I want to talk about is those of us left behind, who once again wave friends off to pastures new. Our lives are forever changed by their leaving yet everything else remains the same.
I have spent today putting the final touches to a memory book for my dear friend Rosemary, whose leaving bash is being held tonight. Reading through the wonderful tributes sent to her from friends all over the world, something deep inside has welled up and I’m bawling my darn eyes out. Better now in private, than publically tonight, so long as we all keep clear of the alcohol. Like that’s going to happen.
It’s not just the loss of Rosemary, but memories of all the friends who have left. They are still a part of the fabric of our lives, we hold them dear, we miss them, we wish they were here to share the everyday ups and downs of life.
I met Rosemary online before I set foot in the Netherlands; she was the Volunteer Parent Welcomer assigned to me by school when we registered Harry. Four months before we arrived she was emailing me with information, answering questions – being a friend before we’d set eyes on each other.
When we finally did meet she was anxious to introduce me to as many people as she could. It was only later I understood her drive; she had said goodbye to so many people over the years (she has been here eight and a half ) the only way to survive was to make new ones. Year after year the same relentless round of hellos and goodbyes.
I’ve often heard veteran expats say they have one or two moves left in them then “that’s it, I’m done” and I understand and sympathise with their feelings. Perhaps it’s age, or stage of life but something happens and the making of friends becomes harder. Or perhaps we become drained of the emotional energy we need to go out there and connect.
It seems relatively easy if you have younger children, making friends through them has always been the way of things, more so in a different country and in an alien culture. As the children grow it becomes harder; when they leave home and you find yourself parenting by email and Skype things change again. Friends become more important for support. Yet it’s at this point in your life the emotional energy bank starts to run dry. You don’t want to make the investment anymore. The return sometimes doesn’t seem worth the effort.
We all know what we have to do to make new friends, how to reach out and connect but some days the little voice inside says “no more”. Finding the way to replenish the emotional batteries is a tough one; it seems there’s no tried and tested method, everyone has to find their own path. At a time of life when so many other changes are happening it can seem like an uphill struggle.
The next few weeks will fly by, the final goodbyes will be said but it will be two or three months from now when the mind slips a little, I’ll see a car like Rosemary’s, pip the horn and wave before that slamming realisation hits the brain and the gut and I realise she’s really gone.
I had a similar experience the other week. Driving locally I spotted a light blue people carrier, I waved thinking “I wonder where Emma’s off to today?”
Emma and I were friends in Louisiana ten years ago before she left America to return to England, but for that split second the memory linked car and friend as if no time had passed at all.
So what do we do?
Get on with it. Do what we have to do because that will get us through, move us on and we will connect with new people. By doing that we will meet great new friends who will add wonderful memories to an already rich life.
In the meantime there’s nothing wrong with taking some quiet time, letting the tears flow, letting go, accepting. It’s life; it’s a wonderful journey and feeling pain allows us to appreciate and embrace the joys which will come. They always do.
Brings up memories of me saying good bye as well as the good byes to friends who left the year before me. I was only with you all for two years; the times and friendshp are a beautiful chapter in my life. Reading about Rosemary leaving makes me miss you all even more. Likewise, I envy those who will move in who will become your friends. Jane, thanks for the blog and keeping connected with a lovely part of my life.
Friends who have left are still held dear; as if you’ve just left for a while on vacation . . .
I can’t tell you how touched I was by your blog and now I know why you didn’t post it until I had left for the party.
You are a wonderful friend and will always be part of my life, wherever we are.I am amazed and very thankful for the memory book you have put together for me.
I will treasure it.
Have to say – great party! Love and laughter the best combination. Carry us in your heart as we carry you. Wishing you calm seas and a safe harbour always
As I sat at Rosemary’s party, I looked across the room and forgot for a moment why we were there…I forgot for a moment that sadness of them leaving. I saw instead a room full of good friends having a wonderful time together, laughing, bonding, swapping small stories or life tales, and appreciating each other. And I thought how many of these people are friends now because they met through Rosemary. It is this exponential, wild-flower-seeding-of-friendship thing that goes on, and it made me happy to realize that this network of friendships that she helped to create will carry on…
Best leaving bash I’ve been to, full of fun, optimism and strengthened connections. Gotta love this life!
No doubt about it, it’s difficult. Some of these folks have been like second family, seeing you through good times and not so good times. If they didn’t mean so much to us, it wouldn’t hurt so much. But boy it sure does. As you say, we have to do our best to say our goodbyes well to help with the transition for both those leaving and those of us staying. Mourn our losses, stay in touch as best we can, and remain open to the new friends we aren’t expecting but who will appear. Lovely post.
Thanks Linda – sometimes I think we have to step back and allow ourselves some space to let go, recharge and move forward. I know a day being miserable is the quickest way to buck me up and get me back out there!
I have attended 2 good bye parties this past month. I hate it. I know it’s part of expat life, but it makes me sad. I can relate with your feelings that you don’t have the energy to go out and make some more new friends. Sometimes it’s just too much work. But if you don’t do it then one day all your friends will have moved away and you are stuck on your own.
Thanks for commenting – it’s the same for all of us I know, but somehow we’re not allowed to acknowledge how painful it can be. The leaving party Friday was for one friend, but four others there will go this summer. That said it was a heck of a party!
Welling up as I read it. Well done, yet again.