Death and the Expat
After four years, this settling down thing still chafes. As one fellow expat says “it’s like being squeezed into a box that’s too small” and she is talking about returning to her own community after several years abroad.
I think I wasn’t wired for settling down.
Even changing the furniture around, which I start doing after a couple years in one place, doesn’t really satisfy that urge for new challenges, new ways of thinking, a need to be on your toes, to be observant of all around you because nothing is the same as where you came from.
But one thing about settling down is a huge challenge – death.
When you are living in Expat World, death barely touches you. For one thing, you’re in a working environment, which implies you are young enough and healthy enough to be working. If someone dies, you fly back home and grieve the person, then fly back to where you are working and life goes on. That person isn’t missing from your daily life. You are distracted from grieving by the differences; there are not so many things around to remind you that the person is no longer there.
Being settled, it is an entirely different story. You get used to people, and then, often suddenly, that person is no longer around. You’re still going to all the places you used to see that person, but that person is not there, and never will be again. You think “I’ll just call so-and-so” and then you realize she’ll never answer your call again.
This is all new. Sure, expats move away, but there is always that chance you will run into them again – happens all the time in Expat World. You can call and make plans to meet up somewhere, you can gather for kids weddings. In settled-down world, death puts a big stop to that. It’s a screeching, endless dead-end.
I lost a friend this week, a woman who has been kind to me since the day I walked into the church. She made me feel welcome and she made me feel loved, and like I belonged there. It wasn’t just me, she was kind and welcoming to everyone, and a lot of fun to be around. I hugged her the day before she died as we had a quick greeting in the Parish Hall. I adored her, and I admired her, and she leaves a big hole in my heart.
I don’t wish her alive again; she lost her husband just months ago, and I know in my heart that my grief is my own, that she is happy to be with her departed husband. But this death stuff is painful. It makes me want to run get on a plane and go somewhere else, to go away from this infinite feeling of loss. To my chagrin, I also think this is a piece of growing up that I ran away from for a long time, and am learning later in life than most people.
We are still grieving the loss of Pete. He is buried in the butterfly garden, so he is nearby. We second-guess ourselves all the time, going over our choices, regretting having caused him any pain and anguish as he lived his last week. I hear the tinkle of his little name tag and forget it can’t be Pete; my husband steps over where he would lie in the hallway, equidistant between our offices. This death stuff is hard.