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Monday, December 7, 2015

experiencing grief as an expat

My dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly less than four months after I moved to Taiwan. That was in 2012. Since then, we have all been grieving. Grieving is not something you do for X amount of time. It is something that comes and goes. Sometimes, it comes in a giant tidal wave, and sometimes, it's a gentle lapping. I am 29 years old. I lost my dad when I was 26 years old. I will still grieve his death when I am 86 and 89. The loss of a loved one as pivotal as a father is something that cannot be "got over" or fixed.

My dad is the first person I have ever grieved, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I can say that grieving has felt really difficult because I am an expat living in Taiwan. 

First, there is the literal distance that separates me from those I want to be with. I miss my family every day, but I miss them so much more in December and April. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays. Skype is no substitute for a long hug or a hand to hold. I hope to be able to return home some Decembers in the future to lessen this hardship, both for me and for my family. 

Then, there is the complete and total disconnect that comes from being abroad. I used to take off December 10th, my dad's death day, because it felt wrong to treat it like just any other day, but then I found myself asking: where can I go here in Taiwan to feel closer to my dad? To remember him? To honor his memory? And the truth is: no where. There is not one place in Taiwan that evokes anything of my dad. Back home, my family hikes trails in the forests that he loved. They eat at his favorite restaurants. The scatter his ashes. I don't get any of that. Here, my dad is a complete stranger. 

All of this is greatly compounded by the fact that not one single person I have befriended here in Taiwan knew my dad. And even worse, when he died, our friendships were still in their infancies. We had only known each other for three months, and then the worst thing that has ever happened to me happened. Most people would not want to touch that with a 10 foot pole, and I can understand that. When I returned to Taiwan after his passing, it was as if nothing happened. No one asked me about my dad, and besides Sean, there was no one to talk to. It was just business as usual. 

A few days ago, I changed my Facebook profile to a photo of my dad. Within minutes, friends from my childhood were leaving comments about his terrible fashion sense and silly laugh and sharing memories. I never get that here in Taiwan. Here, it's as if my dad never existed, and that is beyond strange.

I know that moving home wouldn't "fix" his death, but I also know that it would mend a few hurts. Moving home is just not something that we are going to do, at least anytime soon, so in the meantime, I am just kinda making this up as I go.

There are many strange aspects of expat life, but for me, this is by far one of the most difficult to adapt to and figure out.

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  1. I am so sorry for you loss, my grandmother died while I was living abroad too and now my mom is going through a lot of pain due to a heart attack she had 2 months ago. I have been going back and forth to my hometown but I dont see how can this be healthy for me in the long term or if I am really helping her at all with all of those goodbyes. I have a life here (Slovenia) and most of my family members don't understand what is like to choose a life abroad. I really feel for you, I do. I think there is not a thing you can do to feel 100% adapted, but there are things you can figure out for yourself to create your own solace. It will be hard for sure but this is your journey. Thank you for sharing this with us. It makes me feel a little less confused and a little braver.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It is such a journey, especially from overseas.

  2. You know what Jacqueline, this happened to me and moving home is what i did and boy has it helped !! it cant change what happened but everyone here relates to Dad and its just great that i have been home for a year now.