Wednesday, 8 September 2010

My Most Surreal Moment

by JustOneLook

[Note: We've had a few minor technical problems, so please forgive the late publication of this lovely and moving blog entry from Linda.]

'll try to keep this lighthearted. I thought this would be a good date to write this... September 5th., to share with my new friends (tribe that is)!

I have lived away from England for many years and 'adjusted' to not being around for special events; weddings, births, birthdays, etc., although I have managed to fly 'home' for both my nieces' weddings but when my elderly mother was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery , it was really hard.

Should I go now?-will she be too sedated to know I'm there, should I wait until she's home from the hospital ? or will she think I don't want to be there, will she make it through?....dilemma, dilemma! Finally I went over when she came out, to help my sister.

The next few years were tough, with a young family to care for in America and my mother in and out of hospital in England as though she was checking into a hotel for the weekend! She insisted on living on her own and when she didn't feel well she'd call the doctor and she'd be right back in the hospital. I never knew if it was serious or not.

The last time she was hospitalized I was booked to fly over for my niece's wedding and Mum was unable to attend...she was in fact far worse than I had realized. Leaving her in a hospital bed to come back to my husband and children was by far the hardest thing I have ever done and it tore me apart. I knew it was the last time I would see her.

Weeks passed and the expected news came late one night on September 5th. My sister called to say that Mum had 'checked out of the hospital' for good this time. (Not being flippant,...just trying to keep this lighthearted)!

I immediately said 'Oh no it's .........(my niece's) birthday' and my sister said 'No it's not it's .......(my nephew's) birthday'. (They have back to back birthdays 5th & 6th). We had this back and forth conversation for a minute or so then I realized!! While I was standing in my kitchen in South Florida on 5th September, my sister was calling me from England and telling me our mum had died on 6th September...the next day for me!! THE most surreal feeling ever. I still get goosebumps when I think of it. Some people don't 'get' it. I think you ladies will.

It's been 10years since my mother passed away and I will buy some chrysanthemums (for my mum) haha as I usually do and I will try to keep them alive, as I usually don't! Perhaps they are annuals?!

Thanks for being here to listen,



  1. Aw this is lovely. Yes, I totally get this!! This kind of time warp we live in being far from home with time differences to cope with, locals do not understand!

    Family is the hardest. I have started worrying about what I would do if [if!] my Grandad passes, he is such an amazing man and we are so close. Do I start a savings fund?! Its so morbid but a reality of being so far from home. I would want to be there to see him off, but its so much money each time to get home! I'm currently trying to save for my sisters wedding, AND for an extension of my Visa in 3 years when it expires. Yeesh. I've decided I'm just credit carding the wedding!

    Sorry, I don't know why I started rambling about my savings funds there... xxx

  2. That was very moving, Linda. I'm sorry for your loss. I've had that feeling before, when I visited my Granma in a nursing home while I was there for Easter a few years back. She had suffered a stroke and didn't recognise people or indeed speak. She probably just knew that it was someone she cared for, because she looked excited in her drousy state. I knew it was the last time I saw her and indeed she died a month later. It cost me an arm and a leg to get home for the funeral. The first ticket I looked into was astronomical and I was told by my family not to come, because it was too expensive. It was only at that point that I really broke down. I then found a slightly less expensive ticket and attended the funeral. It was cathartic to be with the family. Unfortunately I have missed other funerals of dear aunts and uncles and the surreal feeling for me is that I've never really said goodbye or properly mourned for them. It's a disconnected feeling where you always imagine them to still be there in that other country, only they're not. And you weren't there to mark their passing.

  3. Thank you Anakit and Dianne (I'm sorry I don't know if I've met you under your shop name Dianne). Yes, you do get it. It is just as you say Alja, it's as though you haven't said goodbye properly if you're not there.
    Going back for the funeral was another story in itself. There was a strike in France over petrol. My brother was in Chili and had to take at least 3 different connections, his wife was in the South of France where they live and we were afraid she wouldn't get out and I was flying in from Miami. We arranged it perfectly to the point of us all meeting in Heathrow within 2 hours of each other to hire a car and drive to our home town together.
    However, .....
    I got dropped off in Miami only to find out that my plane had not even left England! (does the round trip) so after hours of waiting I finally got re-routed to France...of all places! I had a total meltdown at this point!!! I spent the night in the airport and my brother and his wife spent the night in a hotel in London...waiting for me!

  4. wow, at least you made it in the end. Imagine you got delayed even longer. You feel so helpless when that happens. I missed a funeral once because my return flight got cancelled and there was no other way out.

  5. It's times like that when you really feel like you're 'out there'. Like no on else can comprehend what just happened to you and most of the time.... they don't! That's what I love about this group.

  6. I know exactly where you are coming from trying to get back for the happy occassions are hard enough let alone when you are called in the middle of the night to be told that your father has passed away and then have to organise plane tickets at the last minute which raises suspicions here so you are searched at every opportunity, planes are late baggage never makes it, etc. etc. It is hard being so far from loved ones it somehow seems to make it harder to deal with loss and you seem so "left out". Thank you for your blog it helps to know that we aren't alone

  7. Linda, I think it is the worst when you lose a parent while living abroad. I lost my dad unxpectedly about this time last year and it has changed my whole perspective of living away from home. I always get that feeling that something could be wrong back home. I think when you are staying away and you get told that your loved one has died you start to wonder what am I doing here? I am so glad you get your mom flowers every year. I am starting that for my dad, got him some mini roses on the 6mo. Its so hard! Glad to know I am not alone.

  8. I'm going to keep this short. Because even though I usually play the battle axe, this is exactly the kind of story that will get me into tears. And that would not be very lighthearted of me.

    Thanks for sharing your story Linda.

    I think missing family is the hardest part of being away. Sometimes I feel like I live two lives. As two people.


  9. I'm so glad I decided to share this with you all. I knew you would have similar experiences. Lisa I am so sorry for your recent loss... the unexpected ones are the hardest. I know that feeling of wondering why you are doing what you are doing instead of being there like a good daughter... we all have our own lives to live though... and yes Tangentine, I agree, sometimes it feels like two lives!

  10. I am so sorry Linda! I went through a similar thing when my Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in '97. I went back for a month to help her through her first round of chemo and then back in '98 to help when she started radiation treatment. I was back here for a month when I got the call.
    Thank goodness for credit cards!

    I understand how difficult it is for all of us to be part of two cultures. Missing one to be with the other. When I was in Scotland my daughters, who were 4, 5 and 11 would call me to say how much they missed me. Awful!

    I think being separated from my sisters after she died was the hardest thing. It might have been easier if we could have met and help each other through the grieving process but at least we called each other a lot. Not quite the same though...

    Monique, where are you? That sounds awful!

    Shirl. : )

  11. Monique(Uniquenique) and Dianne (DearOhDeer) I realize now that I can click on your names too and go to your site so now I see who you are:)
    Monique I know travelling is not as simple as it used to be. It can be a nightmare when you are already feeling so dreadful.

  12. Thank you ladies it is good not to be alone on this so many people seem unable to understand the fact that you have to not only deal with your grief but with the guilt of not being there too. Shirl I live in the U.S. and my Dad passed away totally unexpectedly so we had to book the flight to leave within 24hrs and had no idea when I would return so booked one way - the best way to get singled out for security checks as it turned out and I had to go through a few airports so between that and delays and almost missing flights it was a nightmare.
    On another note though when we miss friends and family that have passed on we launch balloons with notes of what we would like to say attached, sounds childish I know but it is great therapy.

  13. Aw, Linda. Your story moved me to tears. I'm sorry for your loss. And it is unfortunate that many of us share similar stories. I was so fortunate to be there when my Grandma passed last year. It was just as you described....should I go now, should I wait? Is it too soon, what if I'm too late? It meant so much to me to have been there with her and my family. That said, I feel it helps so much for me to have a little ritual to honor her in my own way when I'm so far from home. This year I lit a pink candle for her on the anniversary of her passing and I plan to do that every year.


  14. You know, as awful as it sounds, an unexpected end might be a blessing in disguise. What I've been dreading every since I moved to another country is what would/will happen when my parents become old and senile. Who will take care of them? I have a sister, but it's not fair to let her deal with it alone. Being in a foreign country I couldn't even have them come live with me, if needed, because of the language barrier. I couldn't get a nurse, because they wouldn't understand eachother. It's a terrible feeling. As somebody said I should probably start a fund for the frequent flying that lies in the future.

  15. I can see I've put so many thoughts into so many of your heads! Ooops. Not a bad idea though to know ahead of time what to expect or think about what would happen if...
    I like the balloon therapy and the candle, similar to my buying flowers. I suppose its whatever makes us feel better and help ease the guilt.
    My initial point was more about the time difference but dealing with the feelings of guilt has obviously struck home. The guilt at both ends that is; for not being home with your daughters, as Shirl said, for not being there to help your sister, as anakit said, for just not being in two places at once... something that ppl, even loved ones who are not expats, do not know about.

  16. Dear LInds, this was such a nice story and it touched me so much because I recieved the call from my sister about my mum's death past December 17. She has been chronically ill from diabetes for years and the comfort that she died peacefully in her sleep helped me some. We were however very close, we talked almost every day on the phone and I had been through the really bad grieving. I feel better now, but I think about her every day which I think is good for me because it keeps the love I feel for her alive.

  17. Oh Billie, I'm so sorry. I really didn't mean to open up any wounds. I'm glad you can think about her and not hurt so much now. It's nice to be able to remember and still feel the love. You can convo me any time if you just want to talk or we can meet in our group. Linda

  18. Linda,
    It's took me all this time to be able to write this post because I have an extremely similar story. In brief. We left England in in summer of 2005 and headed fro Florida, by January 2006 I got the phone call from my sister that my father had got terminal cancer. The next 6months were horrific as you might imagine and each phone call from my sister got worse, We went over in the March but had to return to USA -sole destroying especially leaving my only living family member my sister! By end of July my sister said you have to come home NOW. The next day I took a plane on my own but he died before I got there. I live with that and for some reason I am not proud of myself and feel very selfish, Jacq

  19. That's so sad Jacq. I'm sorry you didn't get there in time. Remember that he may not have known you anyway but you mustn't blame yourself. It's just impossible to be in two places at once and that's what is so hard about living away from family. I don't think family realize though just how hard it is and that's where the guilt comes from. It's not being selfish ... you had 4 children to think about! You can't be in both places.
    I know I would feel better if I thought my sister understood. Fortunately for me my brother and his wife are expats too so they know and understand. (They live near you in the south of France actually).

  20. I feel as though I've opened a can of worms here. The family tragedies have certainly been something we all have kept buried in a part of us that no one else knows about. How nice to be able to talk to others who know what the guilt feels like and perhaps we can help each other move on. Anyone can convo me if they need to just unload...I'm a good listener. Linda

  21. Oh Linda. Please do not feel like you've opened a can of worms.

    I think of it as the expat equivalent of the elephant in the room that no one talks about.

    I think you touched upon that point that we all try to keep out of our minds (well it is with me). And that is also why it resonates with all of us. It's not something everyone understands (I mean really understand) and the common humanity of it forges a bond of empathy and understanding between relative strangers. And it's wonderful to know that there are people you can talk to about this. That can or have the ability/ experience to understand.

    I know my husband understands my fears in theory, but not with the same emotional depth.

    Both my parents are still alive. But I lost my grandmother a few months after we moved. Luckily for me, the old lady and I understood each other and my mum discussed it with her before she died. It helped.

    My parents make me laugh my wry laugh. Because they often discuss death and me being away with me. And even though I roll my eyes at them and make jokes about their *frail* age (it's hard for me to talk about my feelings) I appreciate their frankness. And it also brings us closer together.

    Anyway. My comment is way too long already. Just a big, fat cyber hug to all of you.

    Jacqueline (Tangentine)

  22. Jacqueline, I like the elephant in the room better than a can of worms:)
    It sounds to me that even though you can't discuss your feelings with your parents, they do in fact understand the situation and I think its lovely that they talk to you about it, probably to make you feel better, more than practicality sake. No matter how many miles away, you are definitely there in their hearts. (I know that as a mother; the forgiveness and the totally unconditional love... its the daughter/sister side of me who feels the guilt).
    Thanks for the cyber hug, cyber buddy/team mate or should I call you tribe member:)

  23. I am always scared for moments, like this...I also had to leave my grand dad in the hospital to go back to England. So hard to say good bye...