When we decide to move abroad, we initially encounter many feelings: excitement and joy, fear about the unknown, and discomfort and frustration. They are all natural in the process. Yet there is a feeling which sneaks upon us, yet we rarely know how to name it: grief, or perhaps some of us may recognize it when we say that we “miss” people or things from the places we used to live before.
We associate grief with when we lose someone to death. At the same time, when we move away from people and things, we lose them as we knew them when we left them. We will change, and they will change, and the next time we see them again, both we and them will be different. Being away, we also lose the transformations they go through while we are away, and they lose the changes we go through. We meet again, yet we are different people.
What are Grief and Mourning?
In our context, we speak of the grief of loss. So, mourning is not only about someone’s death but about any loss that can be related to a person, but not necessarily. We can mourn because we have lost our freedom of movement, for example, or because our plans didn’t work out as we thought they would. We grieve the loss of our dream, and the feeling is natural and just as painful because it is ours.
Why do we rarely speak of grief? Because we feel other feelings around it.
First, there is the denial
When we don’t want to believe that what is happening to us is accurate and we do all kinds of gestures that, if we look at them with an objective eye after a certain period, seem to have been crazy: we laugh as if it was a good joke, we set out to convince everyone that things aren’t the way they are, or, we find comfort in apparently “unguilty pleasures”: foods, drinks, work, other people’s company where we get distracted with their problems, and we forget our own.
Then there is anger
When we resent everyone and everything, including the world and the Universe, for allowing such a thing to happen, when we can see conspiracy theories everywhere we turn, or we find someone to take anger on, a scapegoat who has nothing to do with the grief we are going through. Then we become bullies.
Then there is negotiation
When, out of pain, we begin to negotiate with people, ourselves, and the Universe. When we replay the movie of events in our minds repeatedly, we wonder what would have happened if we had stayed and tried harder to make a life where we were. Advantages and disadvantages and we make sense of our decisions.
Then there is depression
When nothing around us is pleasing enough, when we cannot find joy in anything, every word from work colleagues, random people, or family members pushes our buttons so hard that we want to punch them. Everything we need to do every day is hard: even to shower and eat, and it is difficult to get out of the house, and we want to hide and see no one. And yet we push through daily because we were taught that only “weak” people are “depressed,” and we don’t like ourselves being weak.
And finally, acceptance
When we start to find meaning or come to terms with what happened, with the fact that we cannot be two places at once, and that we have to choose one place we want and need to be and create a life there, in the here and now, when we are ready to see the lessons too, extract the beauty and choose to keep that one in our soul and let the rest go, let the family and friends stay behind and be at peace with the thought that we will have to start the relationship again every time we meet them.
Only these feelings are not like that, one after the other. They come as they want and when they want and use our bodies as it would be a guest house. And it is only up to us to choose which feelings we want to keep and which we need to let go of. So I suggest feeling them all and then letting them go, eventually keeping their tolerance and acceptance.
It is all a process, and it is important to acknowledge Grief, because if we do not see it and do not let it go, it will only pile up with all the other feelings and hold us in the past.
Whatever the process is for you, please share it with someone you trust. If you don’t have anyone, let me know, and we can chat in confidentiality. Just let me know here.
Best from your best ex-pat counselor