One of the best things I did in 2011 was begin blogging. But I still feel new to the blogosphere.
As I read the 20+ blogs that regularly arrive in my email inbox, it seems almost mandatory to write a post on “the best of…” or “reflections on…” the current year.
In this final post of 2011, I’m taking a risk by employing a more serious tone. This year, while full of lots of highlights, was a bit of a heartbreaker for me. Please don’t think the purpose of this post is for the reader to say, Oh…poor you. I’m writing because it’s most honest to share tough stuff as well as funny stuff.
My mom got sick this year. Cancer. Twice.
Family illness is something most expats face at some time or another. If I had the ambition to do actual research on the topic, I would hypothesize that a large percentage of expats return to their home country because they can no longer be away from specific family members. And, I suspect one of the tipping points that get expats on a plane is a family health concern.
Initial shock. Feelings of absolute helplessness. My mind spiraled through all the worst-case scenarios of treatment. What could I possibly do from 15,000 miles away?
Fly to her as soon as possible.
I accompanied Dad to many appointments, meeting the doctors and nurses. I read up on the treatments, and stayed in the hospital as long as work would allow. I was confident that, regardless of the harshness of treatment, Mom’s medical care was excellent.
Then I had to go back overseas. While with Mom, it was easy to hold myself together emotionally – I had to be strong for her. I returned physically to Hong Kong, but my heart was still in Portland.
Mom got worse. I got an incredibly sad update from Dad. My students were taking standardized tests and I needed to read portions aloud. I couldn’t lose composure.
I went up for a staff “Happy Birthday” celebration and the worst of all possible middle-of-the-day things happened: A colleague put her hand on my forearm, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. How is she doing?”
I lost it. I completely lost all composure. My poor colleague. All I could do was mumble, “Thanks for asking. It’s been a rough day” before I headed to a little alcove by the coffee pot, crunched down into a fetal position, and sobbed.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. I know I left for home as soon as the students left. When I got home, all I could do was lay on the bed and continue to let the floodgates open.
Poor Road Warrior (my hubby). He wanted to help but all he could do was hug me.
It seems like I should have advice for expats living through similar circumstances. I don’t. I know that a few things helped immensely:
- Skype. Even in the worst of times, I could see Mom. I could see Dad. I could make my own assessment as to how bad or good things were at present.
- Offers of help from those closer to Mom’s location. While I was helpless to do much myself, I could email friends and family, tell them what I saw with Mom and Dad and ask them to help in specific ways. I was always touched by the immediate response.
- A spiritual foundation. Because I believe in an omnipresent God, I knew that He bridged the distance and kept an ever-watchful eye on things.
- Expat friends who had experienced similar circumstances. One colleague would ask, “Do you want to talk about it or do you need me to help you hold it together?” What a perfect question.
- Income that allowed me to see mom whenever I had a week break or long weekend.
I love so many things about living overseas – you read about those things in other posts. However, I can’t pretend that life overseas is always wonderful. Sometimes it really bites. In these cases, you breathe, sob, and get on with it.