Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sometimes It's Hard Being 'Away'

A friend's friend has passed away today. I don't know the lady who passed away. And the lady I do know, I am closer with over Facebook than when we were in Japan.  She lived in Tokyo and I was in Yokohama. We were part of the same Australian and New Zealand lunch group that met on a monthly basis.

Along with other friends, I sent her ((((((((((((((HUGS)))))))))))))) and told her how sorry I was her friend had passed away. We then started chatting behind the scenes and our conversation made me think, this is a side of expat life that most people don't acknowledge out loud and maybe some one should.

Most expats share the high's - heck, most people do that, don't they? Who wants to go on and on about the crap life sometimes throw us? But isn't that the ying/yang of friendship? We shout to the world about about long lunches, cultural excursions, days out with friends, guests visits, girls nights/girls weekends/girls lunches and more. There's something wonderful seeing a photo with friends who you knew 'there' together again somewhere else. No wonder people think expat wives live the high life.

Friends also share the tough times - sick kids, work troubles, relationship stuff, MIL's - you know.

The advent of social media has meant that a lot of the tough stuff gets hidden behind the scenes, in private messages or emails.

An example was only last week I posted a pic of MissM and her friends at home, doing a craft project we'd planned. Accolades of positive comments came rushing in ...... what a great mum you are, can we do summer holidays with you ............ and my comment was 'you caught me on a good day' and several friends laughed. As if you'd stop mid-fight over homework and take a photo and pop it up on FB, really!?!?!?!?!?

I've tried to convey a more real version of expat life thru ms-havachat. While the long lunches, cultural excursions, days out with friends, guests visits, girls nights/girls weekends/girls lunches and more does go on,  most of us are simply trying to cope living 'away from home' and all that means. We're volunteering at school, joining clubs, filling in long days as our visa's are usually stamped in such a way to limit employment opportunities, we're working hard at making new friends, fitting in to our new environment, making sure the kids settle well, are coping with yet another education system while husband is at work or travelling for work.

But today, it hit me again as MrsW shared her sad news of her friends untimely passing. While we gain so much, we loose a lot too.

We can never be where we need/want to be.

Think we share stuff online these days simply because so many friends, or friends of friends might know the person but lost contact and we are reaching out for those friends to comfort us, despite the miles between us. Several friends have broken the news of loosing a parent, or the family pet on Facebook. It feels weird to comment there, but gosh, a card takes forever to arrive on the other side of the world. Mum has kept every card, every note from when Dad passed away. She often reads them. Remembering. I wonder what people will keep now days???????? Print outs of FB comments?

Fortunately, MrsW is visiting family in Brisbane and the funeral is in Canberra (about an hour and 45 minutes flying time) on Friday. She's thinking of postponing her return trip to Japan and going.

She should.

She'll be with friends.

She'll remember her friend, and all the memories of their time on Christmas Island together, a million years ago but really, it only feels like yesterday.

See, that's the shitty downside of expat life that people don't talk about.When not-so-good things happen and you're too far away to offer support or indeed, the GOOD stuff happen and there's a celebration (and you are too far away to participate).

Depending on long you've lived overseas for, and how many cities you've lived in, if you mapped out the friendships, you'd probably end up with something representing an intricate spiders web.

An acquaintance in Dublin is moving to Shanghai, and a dear friend we met in Yokohama is living there - so I've connected them via email. Another friend from Dublin moved to Singapore a few years after we moved to Yokohama and I was able to hook her up with friends who'd moved from Yokohama to Singapore; the examples are endless. When we were moving from Yokohama to Winchester, the network got busy hooking me up with potential friends. One of my lovely new friends in Dublin was in Tokyo with MrsW and attended the same lunches as me. We missed each other by a few months.

Before moving to Dublin you might recall we had an opportunity to move to Brazil. I emailed a friend I'd met in Dublin, who is currently in the US but was born in Brazil. She was very happy to hear from me after goodness knows how long, and was a great source of information.

Distance isn't an issue. Neither is the time you've spent apart.  Most of the time. Then something GOOD or not-so-good happens and you're heart breaks with the thought of not being there to share the moments.

One can only imagine how the callers feel prior to sharing news that someone has passed away; or has been diagnosed with an illness. It's probably harder to say the words than hear them.

Friends good news makes you wish you were closer.

Friends bad news makes you wish you were closer.

No news makes you feel like you have been away too long.

Sometimes you can't win.

But you are a huge winner in the fact you have LOTS of wonderful, interesting, funny friends, from all over the world, and you are as involved in their lives to the very best of your ability, regardless of where you are in the world. Every friend adds a new dimension to YOU, no matter how small that influence may be, no matter how long or short a time you're together.

So, rather than dwelling on what we miss out on, we ensure that when we are together we celebrate, and reconnect. We keep in touch with Facebook, Skype and email. We keep international florists in business and the postal system busy.

Hold onto the friends who are close by a little bit longer when you next hug them.

Phone a friend who lives far away from you.

Send a card, or flowers to let them know you are thinking of them. 

Lend a hand to whoever you can, the best way you know how.

I sincerely hope MrsW gets to Canberra for her friends funeral on Friday. 

With friendship