Expat-guilt painful when dealing with bereavement back home It is hard losing a loved one, but then to live far away makes it even more difficult and stressful. – AP File Photo

Dr Masimba Mavaza

It has been a challenging journey. There are issues which have painted going abroad a nightmare.

Many Zimbabweans abroad have suffered from expat guilt. Guilt is a feeling of having committed a wrong or failed in an obligation.

It is the feeling of regret which tickles the emotional being of a human being. If this guilt is caused by being abroad it is called Expat-guilt, this is a feeling of having committed a wrong or failed in an obligation by the virtue of having gone abroad.

Moving abroad is the adventure of a lifetime. It’s scary, exhilarating, intimidating and awe-inspiring in equal measure.

There are ups and downs in every moment of the planning, packing and moving. There is a promise of money which motivates you to go away from home.

The decision to move is usually one that suits the immediate family and can be made for a whole host of reasons – job opportunities being a common one – but ultimately it comes down to choosing a better lifestyle for yourself, your partner and your children.

The trouble is, there are almost always other people who demand your consideration.

Living in a different country brings with it a strange sense of split responsibility. Your primary obligation is to your immediate family, but you also get to feel responsible for those left behind.

Unless you’ve developed a unique ability to split yourself in half, this is something you’re going to have to face up to.

It is true that moving abroad is essentially a selfish decision.

Your parents, siblings and friends are going to miss you horribly and would probably prefer you didn’t go and selfish equals guilty, doesn’t it?

Yes, it is the right decision for you, your partner, your children. But those left behind may not agree and this will inevitably cause sadness, distress and in some cases, even conflict.

The first down size is the bereavement in the family, while you are abroad. Questions are asked by those abroad.

How can I better manage dealing with the death of a parent abroad, or family and friends?

It’s hard losing a loved one, but then to live so far away seems to make it even more difficult and honestly stressful.

The situation of losing a parent while abroad is incredibly hard for you and your family. The death of a parent abroad is very hard to deal with and you start feeling both guilty and upset.

While it was the difficult, but logical consequence of a decision to live abroad, this choice suddenly took an unexpected and much more dramatic and tragic turn.

We can only imagine that one experiences a bunch of mixed feelings during that time. When a decision to move is made, one has no inkling that would end up in this situation.

As humans, we think there’s a blessing in not knowing what lies ahead of us. Certainly from my own perspective, had I known what was lying ahead of me, I might well have ended up a scared little housebound birdie never daring to spread my wings even a tiny bit.

Had you known, would you have still gone abroad? And if not, then what would that have cost you in terms of life experience and growth?

The thing is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have, and little denial here and there to help us find the courage to fly. There is no right and wrong in this situation, only the tragic sadness that life sometimes throws our way.

If we were given the choice, we would have wanted our loved ones to live many happy years.

Remember, the people we love and lose to death, only experience that separation once, while we can sometimes create a living hell for ourselves by experiencing it over and over again.

We blame ourselves for having left them. But would they have lived longer if we had not moved away from them.

The process of grief is the adjustment of the psyche to the absence of something that was present and is now gone.

Death and loss leave an aching hole where once we found emotional, physical, spiritual or mental nourishment. The psyche reacts by ‘looking’ for the missing piece, trying to fill the hole again.

We never thought as much about our loved ones as we did in the months following their deaths

Grief is also about the loss of the imagined future that their loss now causes.

On the way back to London from her father’s funeral, my friend kept repeating to herself, ‘my father is dead, I have no father’, and mentally trying it out in various conversational settings.

She was spontaneously, and perhaps prematurely, trying to give her psyche a crash course in accepting this new and amended identity.

As far as the psyche was concerned, from being a daughter with a dad in Zimbabwe she was now a fatherless daughter.

And that adjustment, that recalibration of who we are in the light of the loss that we’ve suffered, is part of the process of grief.

You stay at home. You miss the amazing opportunities that an expat life offers you and you bend to the will of others.

You’ll always be on hand to deal with the everyday family ups and downs, you’ll never miss a birthday or family Christmas, your children will grow up in the bosom of their extended family and you’ll care for your parents as they get older.

They will all be happy that you’re there. Initially they’ll congratulate you and be thankful that you ‘made the right decision’ but eventually, as time ticks on, your sacrifice will be forgotten and everyone will go about their lives as if nothing momentous ever happened.

You will be left forever wondering what might have been. You won’t feel guilty – but will you feel fulfilled and happy? Grieving from a distance can never be an easy thing.

Doing your grieving abroad is different from experiencing it in the physical intimacy of a shared village, town or even country.

Life takes us all everywhere.

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