Maybe if you have never had to be without the rings of support of family, friends, and colleagues then you will not realize the true meaning behind these words.
Driven by my feelings of loss, from grief, at leaving people I love behind again and again, I cannot escape the emptiness, the huge void that I feel from being far away from those I love.
When Illness comes knocking abroad
Andy had left earlier that evening for a flight to London. His leaving had left me feeling alone and missing my tribe acutely. I tried to blot out the emptiness with sleep but I was woken by my daughter crying in severe pain. In my sleep -deprived state my mind was confused and fuddled as I tried to think what to do. Google was my friend that evening as I asked her to point to where the pain had started and where it was heading. I was sure it was her appendix and I panicked not knowing what to do. But it was only me, it’s always only me. I felt torn in two making the decision to leave the boys in this empty house up the hill, but I had no choice and I felt shaky making this decision alone. With no time to waste, or to grab a bag, we just left to drive down to the city and the nearest A and E.
It was an endless sterile day waiting on cold plastic chairs as my daughter was prodded and tested but my heart and body needed to be with them too. There was no one to call, no one to lean on. For three years we had lived in Adelaide and I still felt like an outsider. This feeling was biting deeper now and was such a stark contrast to my time at The Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague in March. I realized how much I missed that warm feeling of connecting with like-minded souls. I had made a solid group of friends being part of the PPWR, a tribe within a tribe and I felt so far away from them all.
As I stood wrestling with my conscience in the stark empty corridor I felt vulnerable and utterly alone, she needed me right now but so did my sons and I felt drained. On the other side of the world in North Wales, the place I had grown up, my mum was alone too in her hospital room after an operation to replace her knee. This was her first night without my dad, and Dad, well he was in a new place too, a home away from home and a single bed. This was his first night in respite care so that Mum could recover and my heart it hurt so much. At that moment, I felt the raw edge of being an expat and this life I had chosen to lead and I told myself I would never be in this position again, without a tribe.
Have those conversations and keeping communicating
The day still haunts me, during our second year here when my daughter Elise came home from school and said, “Mum I feel like I am standing behind a glass door, I can see them and they can see me, but whenever I try to open the door they shut it back in my face.” What is the point of living if it means being without a community, a friendship group, or extended family? Why had I decided to move here? What was the point? It was a pivotal moment when the planets collided and from the clouds came clarity and sunlight. It takes a tribe to raise a family, and I have always gravitated to others like me and like heat seeking missiles expats usually manage to find each other and friendships form deep and fast. We replace family with each other and form our tribes wherever we go but sometimes it just doesn’t work, and it’s a cold feeling being outside in the dark. Without a tribe we will wither and die, there is no one to feed us and nourish us and as expats we rely on the strength, energy and support of those people who need us as much as we need them. After three years of battling to fit inI knew Adelaide was not the place to raise our family, we were shut out of the tight circles of friends, of tribes that surrounded us, and they didn’t need us. It’s important as expats to have courage, to have those difficult conversations and be honest with each other then new choices can be made and new directions found. Making changes takes courage but from courage great things can happen and so I am moving boldly forward to a new future.