The Difficulty of being an Expat

There are pros and cons to being an expat.  There are pros and cons to staying in your hometown for life and never venturing out.  No one situation is perfect and they all have their highs and lows.

This week, I had one of my biggest lows of being an expat.  My grandmother died.  I was lucky enough that last month, I managed to get home to Atlantic Canada for 6 days to see her, but it doesn’t feel right not having been able to say good bye or attend her services & funeral.

On 30 May, she went in for a pretty major surgery, especially at her age and level of health.  She recovered from the surgery relatively well, given the circumstances, but being in the hospital actually made her sicker.  She contracted infections, wasn’t eating, and her health just deteriorated so much more.

Whilst my husband and I were in Morocco, my mum called and said that things were not good, that she really didn’t want to worry me, but that it didn’t look like she would ever be able to get out of the hospital.  On our last night in Morocco, my mum called and said if I could get home, that I really should.

We arrived back in London on 11 June and on 13 June I flew to Canada.  I stayed with her until the 18th.  She was not well.   She couldn’t eat or drink, couldn’t sit up or walk, and couldn’t go to the bathroom on her own.  She had tubes coming out of her chest, and was hooked up to oxygen and on every kind of drug known to man.

I spent every single day, upwards of 10 hours a day by her bed, feeding her water on a sponge and talking with her for the short bursts that she was awake.

I had to return to London when I did as I was needed back at work and there was no way I could get more time off.  Reluctantly, and after many tears, I boarded my flight back to London, realistically knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.

This week she got even worse, before they decided to move her to palliative care.  They wanted her to be more comfortable and said she only had about 24 hours to live.  Once in palliative, they took her off her oxygen and any other medication, aside from something to keep her calm.  She ended up developing delirium and spent her last 24 hours screaming & crying before she finally passed away on Wednesday, 18th July.

My brother sent me a message when I was at work.  “Nan’s gone.”  As it was late afternoon and there weren’t many people around, I was able to cry a little bit before I managed to make a few phone calls to my brothers.

Because things move quickly in Canada after someone dies, I knew, realistically, I would never get home for any of the services or the funeral.  My grandmother, a strict Catholic, always talked about having a Catholic ceremony and burial, but after her closest friend (and sister in law) passed a year ago and the service was held at a funeral home and not a church, my nan decided to do the same.

Because of this, it also meant that they had to take whatever time slots were available.  Her visitation would be on Thursday, 19th July with the funeral on Friday, 20th July.  Obviously, I’d never make it home for this.

Thursday morning, I arranged for flowers to be sent and assisted my family where I could with arrangments.  I provided my email address to the funeral home so I could be there for part of the service, via live stream.

How weird is it to watch a funeral via live stream?  I can now say that this is something I’ve had to do, unfortunately.

I booked Friday off as compassionate leave, curled up on my couch with my husband and dog and a box of tissues, and watched the entire service from my house, 4800 kilometres away.

I felt like such a dickhead.  I wasn’t there for my family or my nan.  I wasn’t able to see her before she passed.  I wasn’t able to be hands on with the preparations.  And I won’t be there to assist with everything after, from dealing with the administrative side of things that need to happen, to cleaning up her house, and making sure everything is sorted for her accounts, etc.

I feel guilty.  I feel like I should be home doing this.  But here I am, in London, so far away and not able to do anything.

It doesn’t even seem real.  It doesn’t feel like my nan has actually passed away, because I wasn’t there for any of it.  I did watch it, and I know it was my family in the room, and her in the closed casket, but I wasn’t there so the reality hasn’t set in.

In speaking with my brothers, they said it was really weird to go to her house after.  It doesn’t seem real to them and they’re there.

I lived with my grandparents for a while as a teenager.  I visited my grandmother nearly every other day when I lived in Canada.  I took her to do her food shopping and pay her bills.  I went to her house to check in on how she was and if she needed anything.  It’ll be so strange going back to my hometown next time we do go.

How do you cope with loss?  How do you cope with loss when you’re so far away from your family?

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