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.