Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The One I Hoped I Wouldn't Have to Write





When I started blogging last April after learning we were moving to Seoul, I was busy racking my brains for childhood memories of growing up overseas so that I could pull them out, dust them off, and compare them with what I was getting ready to do as an adult.  I planned to write about new friends, unusual food, the astonishingly diverse expatriate community, the sounds and smells of Asia, and even the sure-to-be-nightmarish traffic.  But one topic I pushed resolutely out of my mind; the thought of something happening to someone back home while I was over here.

Two years, I reasoned.  We'll only be here for two years - no time at all - and then we'll head back where things will be normal again.  


Of course, I am not really that naive.  I know that things can change in a blink of an eye, that joy can turn to sorrow in an instant, and that someone being well and happy in the morning is no guarantee that they will still be with you in the afternoon.  But still left with the hope that all would be well until we came home for good.

As a child in Taipei, I still remember with great clarity, my mother coming into my bedroom, sitting down on my bed and gently telling me that my aunt - her sister, a young woman with two school-aged children - had been killed in a car accident back in Canada.  What (I now realize) was even crueler was that my mother - eight months pregnant at the time - could not make the lengthy flight back for the funeral to say her final goodbyes and to share her grief with her family.  She could only sit, bereft, on the other side of the world, and, in due time, give her new baby the name that had been her sister's.

In this era of texting and Skype and email and cell phones,  being an expat is not as difficult as it was when I was a child.  Back then, we kept in touch through letters, snapshots, and occasional cassette tapes; phone calls - due to their prohibitive cost - were reserved for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and dire emergencies.  Nowadays, MrLogical and I talk to our families at least once a week, if not more.  We Skype so that loved ones can see how the boys are growing, what our apartment looks like, how much we love a gift.  We lull ourselves into thinking we aren't really so far away from each other.

Until something happens to remind us just what kind of distance there really is between us.

I woke up yesterday to an email from my mother, asking me to call.  Alarms went off immediately:  my mother does not email much, and she does not send cryptic emails without referencing a topic.  She rarely - if ever - is up at midnight.  I could feel my heart thudding in my ears as my shaking hands tried to dial seemingly unending area codes and numbers.

She answered almost immediately, and told me.  My sweet uncle, one of her brothers, had died.  He had been in his eighties, it had been very sudden, he had been at home, he had been with my cousin - his son.  The type of passing that many of us would wish for.  But a passing, nonetheless, and one that leaves a void in our family.  He leaves behind children, grandchildren, daughters-in-law, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and a host of friends.

Tomorrow, his family and friends will gather together to celebrate his long and fruitful life.  They will tell stories about him that will bring a quick smile and a laugh; they will hug each other, wipe eyes, shake heads, and mourn the loss of a gentle and kind presence in all of their lives.  Hymns will be sung, scripture will be read, and memories will be shared.  Food will be eaten, coffee will be drunk, anecdotes will be told, and 'remember-whens' will abound, as they gather together in their sorrow and comfort each other in their grief.

And no, I will not be there.  Time, money, distance, and the lingering aftereffects of the surprise Halloween snowstorm in the Northeast have all combined to keep me here, on the other side of the world, when I would love more than anything to see those familiar faces, share hugs and tears and stories, and be there to say goodbye to a very dear uncle.

Yes, we are grateful for the chance to live and travel in Asia.  Yes, we are enjoying a new culture and new horizons for ourselves and our children and the chance to see how others live and work and play.  Most of the time, we are very happy to be here.

But there are times when it really, really hurts not to be there.

 And this is one of them.

17 comments:

Wilma said...

I'm crying for you, Carolyne. I've never lived overseas like you but I grew up across the country from my family and I wasn't able to go to any of my grandparents' funerals. It still hurts to this day and when I read your post I knew exactly how you feel inside. Big hugs!!!

Karen said...

So very sorry, Carolyne. I can only imagine your pain at not being able to be with your family to mourn and celebrate your uncle's life. Hug your little family close and know that I am thinking of and praying for all of you.

MsCaroline said...

Thanks so much, both of you. The saddest part really is not being there with my family. We always kind of joke that we only seem to see each other at weddings and funerals, and that we should really plan better. I'm so glad we were able to make that trip to Providence for the reunion in 2006. I am also just really grateful that my boys were able to get to know their great-uncle, even if a little bit. He was such a sweet person. Wilma, you will also appreciate that he had always wanted to see the Grand Canyon and he and my aunt came out to visit when we were living in Tempe. He thought AZ was wonderful. So glad he made that trip.

Wilma said...

Of course he thought AZ was wonderful. It IS! *grin* Seriously, I'm glad he was able to do that. It's great to get to do something you've always wanted to do.

Barbara said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, and so sorry that you can't be with the whole family back at home.

Mr and Mrs C. said...

I am lucky to see your Mum and Dennis every wednesday for coffee and a natter. It's always a lovely time and we catch up on "family." She has come to know mine, who all live in England or Hawaii, and I know yours from each time your mum would leave to visit a brother, sister, child and the likes. She'd return with lovely stories and funnies. I feel it a privilege to read your blog and get to know such a wonderful family some more. When sadness happens, I cry along with you, and when the sun shines on you, I celebrate with you... My deepest sympathy for you in your time of tears and reflection. Thank you for letting me share the rain and sunshine in your life. You are all special people.

MsCaroline said...

Thank you, Barbara; I will definitely miss being with everyone.

MsCaroline said...

Thanks, Kai, I know they enjoy their time with you, too. It's good to know my mum has such good friends around her when I am so far away. Thanks so much for your kind comments on the blog; I never blogged before this, and it has turned out to be such a wonderful experience and a surprisingly good opportunity for self-reflection.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

I think I understand how you must feel. There is something about a funeral, along with births and marriages, which calls for family to be together. I'm so sorry about your uncle and sorry too that you can't join your family and feel the strength which comes from such a bond. Xx

MsCaroline said...

Thanks, Trish. Most of the time, I feel pretty connected with folks back home via technology, but this was the first time I've so keenly felt the distance.

nappy valley girl said...

Very sorry to hear that. You are right, it is one of the hardest things about living abroad. Since we've been in the US we've missed one family funeral, a couple of weddings and (slightly less important but still a shame) several friends' 40th birthdays. These are the times I feel it the most.

Circles in the Sand said...

Oh I'm so sorry- it is just the hardest thing, being so far at times like this. Can u find a church and go there to say your own personal goodbye? I know it's not the same as attending the funeral but it might help you to feel a little more at peace. A candle at home? Frame some lovely photos of him and have a special place where u can go and think for a little while. So sorry for your loss. He sounded a really lovely man. As you so eloquently say, it is what every expat fears. Love Circles

MsCaroline said...

nvg - Thanks so much; yes, you are absolutely right; I am really finding that's the part I simply hadn't anticipated...


Circles - Thank you. That's a lovely idea; at our church back home you can make a donation for flowers at Christmas or at Easter in honor of or in memory of someone; I will see if our church here does something similar. I also have an especially sweet photo of him with my boys when he came to visit us in AZ - now if I can only find it...

Holly said...

Oh, Carolyne...

Marion said...

Carolyne, I am so sorry for your loss. Hugs and healing thoughts to you and your family.

MsCaroline said...

Thanks so much, Marion. This will be a hard holiday season for his kids and grandkids.

anneli000 said...

I'm sorry you lost your uncle. That stinks that you couldn't make it home to be with family.