Growing up I lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house, only moving to go to college. My mom has lived in the same town her entire life, and all four of my siblings still live within 20 minutes of that town. I didn’t grow up saying too many good-byes for the first 18 years of my life. The second 18 years, however, were quite opposite. College, grad school, first job, marriage, and then life overseas; lots of changes and lots of moves. Since my husband and I first moved overseas, we have lived in three different countries, four different cities, and five different apartments.
While not every expat moves often, saying good-bye to people and places is a common part of the expat lifestyle. Even if you are one who stays put in the same foreign country for many years, you must still say good-bye to the others who filter through year after year. And then add factors like childbirth, children’s schooling, medical needs and a revolution, and there are good-byes all over the place.
Good-byes are a reality for us, but they don’t have to be a negative aspect of expat living. Before traveling overseas, my husband and I took a course in grief counseling. We didn’t exactly realize it at the time, but it was great training for this lifestyle. Every good-bye is a loss. And every loss causes grief. Sure there are some losses more painful than others, but all losses are felt at 100%. Given this reality, how can we keep from shutting ourselves off to new friendships or new opportunities that we know may eventually require another farewell?
Stay ‘complete’ in your relationships
You never know when a relationship could end or be interrupted. There were people I could not physically say good-bye to when the revolution occurred two years ago. I didn’t anticipate needing to say good-bye, and so I wasn’t complete in all my relationships. I wasn’t able to tell people I was thankful for them, or that I loved them, or that I was glad they were in my life because….
On the other side of that spectrum, we have to deal with the difficulties that come between us and another person. If we work through the problems, we won’t let the pain of a strained relationship be a burden to carry into our next assignment.
We’ve all heard people lament, “I just wish I had said this to her before she died.” Or, “If only I told him I loved him before he left.” Living with those ‘unsaid statements’ makes you less free to join in a new relationship. Communicating them does not remove the pain of saying good-bye, but it does help to heal the pain.
Say ‘good-bye’ to people, places and things
This is one of the most practical points I took from the training those many years ago. Don’t be afraid to say good-bye. Embrace it. Hug. Cry. Say the words you hold within you. Saying something simple instead, like “See you later,” may seem like it will hurt less, but if you know the good-bye is for a significant period of time, you must say it.
This is especially true for our children. We hate to see them hurting as they say good-bye to yet another friend. Sometimes we try to comfort them by telling them we can visit their friend next year, or maybe the friend will visit us again. But instead of offering such hope, which often proves false, grieve with your children. Agree with them that saying good-bye is really hard, that the friend they just said good-bye to can’t be replaced. That’s it. You don’t need to make promises or try to make it hurt less. Let them grieve and help them to say good-bye well.
Saying good-bye to places was a new concept for me, but we have done it in every flat we’ve lived in since living overseas. I am sure our 9-month old daughter doesn’t remember our apartment in Tunisia, but we still walked with her through each room of the flat and said good-bye to the rooms. We talked about what we enjoyed doing in those rooms or how we would miss them. It may seem trivial, but if you think about it, you can probably vividly picture some special places in the home where you grew up.
While the flat you have lived in for the last year may not seem as significant as your childhood home, it is still good to treat it as a place to say good-bye to. Again, for your children, you may not know what their special memories are in that place.
For some, Cairo is a tough place to live. As you move onto your next assignment, or return home, you may do so with a sense of relief. And yet, living here has changed you. The people you’ve met have affected you, for good or for bad. Even if you joyfully skip through you apartment on moving day, and say good riddance to your bawwab as you walk out of the building, it would still be good to close off those relationships and places completely.
Life overseas is exciting: It is a chance to visit ancient sites, interact with people so different from yourselves, perhaps also to help the poorest of the poor. But it also has its challenges, and the ‘good-byes’ are among the greatest. Learn to be complete in every relationship and say good-bye well, and this challenge will be just a little bit easier.
This article was originally published on Maadi Messenger.