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The Ripple Effects of Grief as an Expat

Photo by Beth Chobanova on Unsplash CC0

Is it different to live abroad when you no longer have a home to return to?    

For many of us, when we first leave home to live abroad, our parents are keeping the nest safe and warm for us. This was certainly my experience too. I hopped on a solo flight to Copenhagen, Denmark, not a care in the world. An attic full of possessions safely stowed away in my parents’ house, and a bed always there to welcome me home should I need it. In my early 20s, home was wherever I chose it to be, but the “safety net” home was where Mum and Dad were. I didn’t have to sell all of my belongings to move across the world. I always knew they would be there waiting for me if things went wrong. All I had to do was ask for help and it would be there. So, I may have moved abroad alone, but I was never truly alone.

In 2009, I was living in Ireland with my husband, when my mother sadly passed away. A series of events resulted in the decision for me and my husband to move back to the UK. One of those reasons was to be closer to my father, who was now on his own. I still felt I could move away again the future, as long as my father was okay. But somehow it never happened and in 2021, I sadly lost him too.

Knowing your parents are at home—especially when you’ve moved across the world—is a mental comfort blanket that I never really knew was there. Until it wasn’t.

I’d been feeling the pull of new adventures for some years, but now—once everything relating to estate matters, the pandemic and funerals were dealt with—there was literally nothing holding me back. However, this didn’t feel that freeing. It was a new world without my parents having my back, so to speak. One in which I didn’t yet know how to live.

Despite the grief, the decision to get up and go would now literally mean leaving my entire life behind and starting a new one. There could be no boxes stored in the attic. There would be no spare room to return to (unless I left the house empty, which was financially not sensible). No one to help me if it all went wrong. Just me and my husband. (Who is fantastic, by the way, but that doesn’t take away from the loneliness you feel as an adult-orphan.)

As an only child, there was no family to convince me to stay. So, we made plans. Sold houses. Sold belongings. Donated clothes. Wow. What a different experience.

Having made it to Portugal two years ago, I can safely say I love living in Lisbon and the lifestyle it has afforded us. However, I do have bad days, of course—we all do. On those days, I can’t hop on a plane and get a hug from my Mum or Dad. I can’t go back and sleep in the warm embrace of my childhood home. And I am constantly reminded that I have no physical “safety net” as it were. Sure, we could sleep on a friend’s sofa or an auntie’s spare room, but it’s not the same. That safety net of knowing your parents are there, especially when you’ve moved across the world, is a mental comfort blanket that I never really knew was there, until it wasn’t.

I do not regret moving for one moment, but I just wanted to share the empty, lonely feeling that can come from living abroad in those years after your parents have gone. Many retirees do this all the time, and I wonder if it hits them in the same way too. Having no siblings I feel, may make it that extra bit strange for me. If you’ve had any experience of this, I’d absolutely love to hear from you. Sometimes it can help to share.

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Lynsey Clayton

Lynsey Clayton is a freelance writer. She writes about the vegan lifestyle, environmental issues and sustainability. Lynsey lives in Lisbon, Portugal with her husband Martin and little black cat, Kitty.

Website: https://www.monsoonofrandom.com

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