Expat Guilt – The Cross We All Have to Bear

This morning I woke up from one of those dreams that you only have once in a while, those dreams that touch you deeply because they feel so real. It wasn’t a pleasant dream unfortunately. In my dream I saw my grandma and she was not well at all. I woke up worried but told myself that I was overreacting. Later that very day, my mum texted me saying that my grandma fell down and had to be taken to the hospital, where they found out she had broken her arm and shoulder.

For me as an expat, my biggest fear of all is something bad happening to a family member and me not being there. Or worse: Someone dying. I’ve seen it happen far too many times to my international friends. It was heart-wrenching every time and I always prayed that something like that would never happen to me. But now that I’m in Japan indefinitely, things were bound to happen. And now they have.

How does it make me feel? Sad, lost, and of course: Guilty. Guilty for not being there. Guilty for ’abandoning’ my family because of my urge to roam the world. Living an ’exciting’ life abroad comes at a cost. I recently got my visa extension, which means for the imminent future that I can stay in Japan for one more year guaranteed. But at the same time you gain something, you lose something else. I’m choosing the life abroad over living close to my family, for yet another year.

Before moving to Japan, the toughest thing for me was telling my grandma. I was pretty calm telling everyone else, but when I told her, I was crying my eyes out. Her response surprised me. She laughed and said: “Is that what you’ve been wanting to tell me? And I thought it was something bad!“ I shared my worries about the whole something happening to someone when I’m not there issue and what she said to me then I will never forget:

“It doesn’t matter who comes flying in when someone dies, to attend the funeral. What actually matters is who cares while you are still alive. Who calls and writes and stays connected. That’s what matters.“

And connected we are. To a point where it surprises me time and again, like when I log into my e-mail account to send her a message and find that she literally just sent one to me. This has happened many times over the years, no matter the time difference. I suspect there must be some kind of freaky mental connection. Nevertheless, I still feel guilty and selfish, and I know I always will, as long as I live abroad. That’s just part of the deal.

I don’t really have a neat conclusion to all of this, other than the fact that I can’t wait to see my grandma and the rest of my family when I go ’Germany-home’ for summer break in three weeks time. Because no, being far away from your family isn’t easy. It’s a big, heavy cross.




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