Grief. It’s a rather all-consuming emotion. It comes in many shapes and sizes, in many feelings and emotions. It’s an animal that ravages the weak and brings even the strongest to their knees. Over this past year, I’ve learned what it means to be an expat and grieving from over 2000 miles away. It’s nothing I could’ve prepared for. But it’s reality for me this year and for so many other expats around the world. Saying goodbye to someone you love from so far away is difficult, but unfortunately, is a part of life abroad. But how do you really say goodbye from 2000+ miles away?
This past week, I found out that a friend from college passed away this past weekend. It rocked my world a bit in a lot of different ways. He was 19 years old and an “adopted” brother of sorts. He and my brother were good friends, which immediately turned me into a big sister for him.
As I processed yesterday, something inside me screamed against the fact that people aren’t supposed to die before they’ve begun to live. It seems like just yesterday my brother and I were hanging out with our friend in the school cafeteria and I was watching in amusement as the boys built a tower with the random plates and dishes from lunch. It seems like just yesterday, I was sitting with him, studying for a test. He was a TCK and I remember having numerous conversations about my desire to teach abroad and his experiences in international schools growing up. I can hardly believe he’s really gone.
I’ve begun to process this new grief as I continue to process the grief from the loss of my youth pastor (who was a second father and mentor to me), who entered into Eternity in October. Grief is a funny thing, and it’s even more difficult when there’s not the closure that perhaps a funeral or a memorial service brings, grieving with others who knew them. I’ve learned to grieve, thousands of miles away, away from friends and family who knew those people who have passed on.
I was blessed in one regard because I was able to have a bit of closure as I said goodbye to my youth pastor Brian. He had pastored at several churches and now a large number of his former youth students are living abroad as expats, serving and working. As a result and because a large number of people couldn’t come to his funeral, they did a livestream of his funeral. I went to bed early and woke up at 2 AM to get online and watch his funeral in real time.
It was incredible seeing how many others, like me, were up late or in the middle of the night where they lived to be a part of a service that commemorated the life of someone so important and instrumental in our lives. There were people watching in Europe, Asia, and in other places around the world. It was incredible seeing just what kind of impact he had.
Learning to say goodbye to people from a distance is not something I wish I ever had to learn. It’s an ugly, messy, confusing whirlwind of grief. While I got a bit of closure by watching the service, I never really got to grieve or process with friends. I never really got to work through the ups and downs of the loss, because in some ways, it hasn’t really hit me yet. Grief abroad is a longer process. It’s a process that involves working through what you can from 2000 miles away and then working through the ton of bricks that hit you the first time you’re back in America.
The comfort I find as I grieve from far away is the reality that the goodbyes I have said to Brian and to Daniel are not forever goodbyes. They are merely an “I’ll see you later.” While it doesn’t make the pain any less raw, it’s a comfort to know that I will see them again… not on this side of Eternity, but on the other.
What’s your experience with grief at a distance?
Head shot photo credit: Kelly Lemon Photography