Saying goodbye to a loved one takes many forms when you’re an expat and traveller. But should we take a chance for ‘goodbye’ lightly? There’s a song I’ve been listening to on repeat recently by a great group out of Glasgow, Chvrches. The track is called Asking For a Friend and is the lead song from their 2021 album release Screen Violence. A lyric near the beginning strikes me every time: “I’m no good at goodbyes”. Those few words resonate strongly and have reminded me lately about the value of “‘goodbye”.
As I write this and reflect, I realise I should add context before continuing with my story. This is the first post on our site in well over a year. While the world stood still this past year thanks to a nasty virus that’s taken over our lives and plans, it seems our website also got the memo to pause on proceedings. We have been plagued by errors and technical issues that rendered much of the back-end useless. But without the motivation to create, it didn’t matter anyway.
Say goodbye, without saying goodbye
This leads me back to my “goodbyes”, or lack thereof. I’ve said a lot of “see you laters” in my life. Perpetually chasing the next travel plan and living as an expat necessitates this strategy. Plus, “goodbye” has always felt so final. I’ve never been one for dramatic departures. I’d rather make it swift, rip it off like a band-aid, so to speak (then have a good cry in the airplane toilets and not to make a scene). I never wanted a fuss made, especially if I was on my way to where I needed to be. It’s just part of life’s rich tapestry, as my Dad would say.
2020 gave me more perspective on all of this though, and has made me wonder, is there more value in a proper “goodbye” than I’d previously given credence to?
Ignoring an opportunity for a heartfelt goodbye is perhaps underplaying how important it might have been for the person on the receiving end of my goodbye. And, perhaps it was sticking my nose up at a privilege that I should have been grateful for. After all, we hear stories each day of heartbreak where we can safely assume that the loved-ones involved had no chance for “goodbyes”. That, my friends, is ever so sad.
No chance to say goodbye to people or place
Last year… oh wait, I lose track of time… Going on nearly two years ago, we sat at an apocalyptically empty Heathrow Airport. We were forced, for a number of reasons, to leave somewhere that was without a shadow of a doubt, home. We had to pick up in Australia and start everything all over again. When we left England, there was no opportunity for goodbye. COVID was in full flight, the entire world was shut down.
We could not say goodbye to our loved ones there, nor our life. As dejected as I was sitting at that deserted airport late in March 2020 (eerie given Heathrow is usually heaving with commuters and people hurriedly shopping up a storm in Harrods or if you’re me, Accessorize), I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we’d still not be allowed to go back even now. I’m in Queensland, Australia, and still now we have no clear roadmap on how to travel freely around Australia, let alone internationally.
It all makes the fact we could not say goodbye even more difficult to take. It does not get easier. People have explained to us that we still mourn our life in London because we did not get to say goodbye. There was never an end. No closure that we can acknowledge.
Saying goodbye to a loved one, for good
There was a poignant goodbye in 2020. An actual moment saying goodbye to a loved one, forever. One painful moment, but one that was better to have happened than not.
It was Wednesday 6 May when my Dad said he wanted to tell my brother, Josh, and I, that it was “time for him to say goodbye”. He’d been lying in a bed for weeks. His body slowly, painfully and cruelly deteriorated. A once active and proud father, business owner and globe-trotter himself, now rotting away from cancer – unable to move, eat, drink, live. Stubborn to the end, his body held on – too long.
On that day, Josh and I sat with him on his bed. In a very odd twist, we both smelled death in that room that day. We both described it like that to each other later on. I can’t tell you how we knew, but we did. It was a telling and foreboding sense – very hard to process and accept as ‘true’, but it was clear to us.
By this point, our Dad had real trouble talking. He’d all but lost his voice and had zero energy. But he told us that he now needed to go, and that he wanted to say goodbye that day. In floods of tears filled with love, gratitude, regrets and fear about pretty much everything coming from that point on, we did just that. We said goodbye to our ultimate loved one, and for me, I faced my first permanent, real, and excruciatingly raw goodbye.
It’s October 2021 and I can only just bring myself to think about this moment. It was the last time I saw my Dad in this realm. I know he’s still around, but that’s a story for another time.
Hello, what’s next? :)
I stand by my original sentiment on “goodbyes” – they suck. Especially when they’re directed at people, places or experiences that mean the world to you. There is something to be said about having them though.
Since researching this topic and becoming aware of times when I’ve avoided goodbyes in the past, I have discovered some helpful resources and discussions. One is here, on The Five Reasons to Say Goodbye, and another from The American Psychological Association on why goodbyes are so important, whether it be to a person or a stage in your life. I now know I’m not alone: it’s difficult subject matter to talk about sometimes, and even harder to act on. But the awareness that we should go deeper, is really important.
We’re currently still stuck in an unrealistic and unreasonable travel ban throughout Queensland and Australia. I do hope we’re all rid of it soon (I’ll be very happy to say goodbye to many COVID rules, if I’m honest – get vaccinated, people – seriously). I’m hopeful we’ve got many “hellos” in our near future, and while they may be brimming with tears, they’ll be happy ones, as we are reunited with the people and places we never got to say “goodbye” to all those months (years) ago.
If you come across this post, drop me a line in the comments. How do you see it? I’m, you know, asking for a friend…
I spent the first few months of this year hiding from turning 40 on 25 April, wondering if it was all a conspiracy that my parents decided would be a laugh ‘back then’.
Turning 40. That’s not a number I’ve ever thought about much. But then, I’m one of those strange people who gravitates towards the number ’13’, and who would really go back to that age again?
I don’t feel 40 (however turning 40 is meant to feel).
Whatever ’40’ looks like, I’m not sure that I’m it. Maybe you’ll tell me?
In the spirit of marking some of my special birthdays with unique perspectives and gratitude, like I did here five years ago, I figured I’d step up and have a think about what life is like at this milestone too. I can get away with it. It’s my birthday!
I have a friend who I won’t name and shame (Lisa – love you 😘) who declared recently that she’s worried about turning 30… next year!
Stop that. Seriously.
On a truly serious note, my 30s have been ace!
I moved and lived abroad, twice (as you’ll spot if you’re visiting our blog), which has not been without its challenges but is absolutely worth pushing yourself to do.
Jobs have kept me feeling proud, I’ve loved my colleagues in communications and editing magazines, all on my own terms.
True friends’ identities became clear, and I cherish those people. Some are 10 years younger, some older. Different backgrounds and beliefs. But we are all the same as we gossip around the table at lunch.
I’ve helped people and people have helped me.
I’m seeing the world and spot plenty of dogs. Many, many dogs.
I grew into a (crazy) dog person, and that’s fine.
Clarity, strength and intuition thrive, it’s true – this piece on the topic of turning 40 in Huffington Post covers it nicely.
I appreciate my family – all of them, immediate and extended – so much more. They are there for me despite distance and time.
I finally got to Ibiza, my spiritual dancing home (vlog coming soon!) – and will be back.
I know my way around London which is incredible considering my sense of direction is rubbish. We’ve marked ANZAC Day in London too. And perhaps this year Cooper and I will meet the Queen, a fellow April baby.
I’ve experienced and subsequently face head-on hurt, anxiety, stress and mental health challenges. Let me know if you want to chat 👍
I appreciate good health more and more each day. I’ve witnessed near misses in my inner circle. Some of my friends never got to turn 40 years old, and that makes me remember to be grateful more than anything else.
Things on this side of turning 40 seem fairly cool, now that I think about it.
I hand out Post-it Notes at work with my main learning:
All IS well.
I freely express creativity and joy.
I seek experiences, not stuff.
I’ve grown and love and I’m proud of this.
It’s funny, because I don’t like the no.40. but I reckon it’ll be ok, because I have Cooper, and loved ones and great adventures ahead. I truly hope you do too, my friend, no matter what that number is for you this year.
I’m not defined by my age. All it does is make me wiser and happier in many ways.
You can’t go back but we can look forward.
So fine, I’ll own turning 40, and it’ll be excellent, I’m sure. Especially if you leave a comment below. Go on – it’s my birthday! 😊
It was late one afternoon last week when a friend and colleague, Erika, popped over to my desk to have a chat. Bright and bubbly, full of fun dreams and goals, I enjoy her visits, tea in hand and the promise of gossip in her eyes.
I knew she’d had a tough month where some of those aforementioned dreams and goals had been rocked, predominantly because of the insensitive actions of a boy who did not deserve her affection.
Dreams and goals – careful of comparison
In her usual style, she wandered over to me with a warm smile, perched on my desk and commenced with a monologue about how she saw herself, saying she’d been thinking a lot lately about how by now she should be ‘more successful and further ahead in her life and career’.
I objected, not just on the grounds that I’m her friend, but because of my own burning question: ‘What is the definition of being ahead?’
Predictably the response involved comparisons to what fellow university graduates from the recent class of 201…? are doing, and her reflections on the aforementioned relationship that went cold.
As someone (vaguely) older looking at her situation, I’ve seen Erika secure an excellent job in a respected business where she started working as a temp; she impressed people personally and professionally, put in a lot of hard work and has in a short space of time developed into a PR pro. She learns every day, as we all do, but continues to ride the wave gracefully.
I believe Erika’s story is impressive. For her to tell me she feels disappointed about the success that I can see clearly, well, I had to give her a loving nudge! Aside from the proud job situation, she’d also completed a Master’s degree in the past year, and diligently dealt with personal life challenges.
With age arguably comes wisdom, and I’m going to stick with that logic. I shared with Erika that from my perspective there are two important things you can use to ‘measure your success’: how happy you are, and your ability to cover expenses. Yes, if these elements need to be addressed, then do so! But when all was said and done, Erika admitted she’s happy, and can cover her rent plus purchase wine on the weekend.
‘Success’ at any age is not about comparison to what your friends are doing.
Social media poses a problem for many on this front, and if you relate, switch if off for a while. If we did the same thing at the same time as our contemporaries, would we necessarily love life? No.
In my humble view, success is being happy. It is simple. It is your gratitude for life and acceptance of choices.
It is not ‘how far ahead you are’ – whatever that is supposed to mean.
Someone said to me not so long ago that I should be further ahead in my career. While I respect their opinion, that view is narrow. Granted, it is one that is still understood by a wide range of education, media, and corporate types, but it’s not relevant, especially in 2018.
I’m incredibly proud of everything I’ve done – the cool, the crazy, the difficult, the brave moves that have meant my ‘career’ path has not been linear. Confidently I declare that it’s been liberating and exciting and varied.
I’ve been happy. And I pay my debts, just like a Lannister (apologies, couldn’t resist).
So, I write to “Erika” here, that aspirations are amazing and reveal passion and drive, things I stand for in life.
Go after what lights you up; but turn comparison and an immediate feeling that you want more, into intention. This will bring awesome things to you in good time.
For now live in the moment, embrace it. Think about what life presently holds that you love, nurture that, and you’ll get ahead for sure.
Recently my graduating class from high school caught up in Toowoomba, Queensland, for a significant reunion, and I’ve found myself reflecting on the big life changes like moving to the UK from Australia.
Being over here in London, sadly I was unable to attend, but things aren’t all bad.
Thanks to a closed Facebook page though, most of us were still able to communicate and share photos coming up to the big event.
One of the organisers, Clare, kindly gathered together some short histories from those of us living abroad, to find out about our experiences since school wrapped up.
Mine speaks a lot about the value of travel, and embracing change such as moving to the UK from Australia, so I’m sharing my high school reunion reflections here, in the hope that I can inspire someone else.
The story – moving to the UK from Australia
We spend a lot of our time looking back at what happened in the past; about what used to be good. With our twenty year reunion top of mind, it’s easy to reflect like this.
When I was 30 though, I was hit with an important lesson on the necessity of looking forward.
I’ve been lucky; I’ve worked hard, tried to do the right thing (as much as I knew how), and things have generally gone pretty well for me.
Somehow though – between a job I was unhappy in, a city where I didn’t belong, and draining personal relationships taking a toll − I found myself in an emotional rut.
I felt like all my options for creating change were gone. If I’m completely honest, I was depressed, and I spent each day believing the best of my life was behind me.
What I really wanted to do was travel and live abroad, possibly even moving to the UK from Australia to live and work for a while.
My parents were some of the original backpackers of the world, contemporaries of the founders of Lonely Planet, and I’d grown up hearing stories of adventures everywhere from Cape Town to Lima, Buenos Aires, Kathmandu and everywhere in between.
Wonder over worry
Then there were the numerous mates from high school and my brother who had all ‘done the backpacker thing’, living and growing while making friends on the road over a cheeky beer (or ten).
While I’ve always been career-driven and don’t regret a moment of my experience, back then I felt a sadness about not experiencing the world.
In my heart I wanted that adventure. It’s not for everyone, however I knew it was for me.
But my time to get a working visa had passed, right?
I vividly remember the day my partner, Cooper, came home excited because unexpectedly he’d been approached about teaching in London.
We’d never explored Cooper’s right to an ancestral visa in the UK, and as it turned out there were options for me too. All of a sudden, moving to the UK from Australia was happening!
Life altered in an instant, when we decided to take a massive chance on a complete change at the very point I really thought that the ‘good bit’ of my life was done.
Now in 2016, we are in the third year of our second stint living and working in the UK (the first was across 2010 to 2011 with some time working in North America as well).
I constantly worried when I was younger about ‘missing out’ at home if I was overseas.
Personally, you learn the value of exploration and how change can be very positive and helpful.
I’m passionate about media content (with experience in radio, magazines and online), and from a base in London I’ve had the chance to hone my digital skills. This education far surpasses any a university could offer at this point, particularly in an industry that’s constantly evolving and in a city on the cutting edge of this change.
I make friends with travellers, expats and people with open minds. Life in London for me is exciting, enlightening and fulfilling.
Of course there’s sacrifice – living far away from loved ones being the critical factor. But challenges I’ve faced over the past twenty years have taught me that we all have our own journey. We are grateful our family members support this view too.
To make the world around us a better place, we need to pursue that which lights us up as individuals.
As much as it is possible, we have to look forward and anticipate a positive outcome.
I’ve also learned to trust that my true friends are always there, regardless of time and physical distance. I’m certain a couple of mine are reading this now.
And whatever you do, don’t consider the reasons why you can’t travel … to that new job, different life, dream destination.
“Rip it off like a band-aid,” I said.
“What?” Replied my brother.
“Rip it off like a band-aid,” I repeated, “You know, make it quick.”
“Oh, right,” he answered.
I was referring, of course, to our final goodbyes – the worst and only bad part about leaving one home to go and live in another that just happens to be far across the seas. I once had a conversation with a friend of mine, Melissa, who loves the UK like I do. We only wish England and Australia were closer. Yes, theoretically it’s only a flight away, but it’s a big one, and in some instances seems rather too long, tiring and expensive. Of course, these aren’t points I bring up when trying to make my mum feel better about me leaving, or things I dwell on when I’m sad about leaving my loved ones and my dog.
This past week was lovely but quite draining. If I could leave without saying goodbye to anyone I would. Not because I’m heartless and rude – the opposite in fact. I don’t like goodbyes and really didn’t know how it would all end.
Last time around I left with a heavy heart and eyes overflowing with tears. It’s not that I didn’t feel the same this time, but I discovered the way to deal with such situations – humour. I can thank my brother for that. I’d spent weeks worrying about final goodbyes with some of my best friends and my lovely mum-in-law, sisters-in-law and of course my immediate family. On the Gold Coast though, my time with good friends was spent laughing, not being sad. And at home with mum in Brisbane, Josh, my brother, simply turned potentially teary moments into funny ones. Like when my mum started to get upset over a lunch, instead of telling her to turn off the tears (the only tactic I know!), he made a reference to the “Last Supper”, and then we were laughing.
Leading up to my departure too, we had a terrific dinner at a fab Japanese Izakaya restaurant called Wagaya, which was filled with laughter and bubbles (champagne, that is – my idea, of course). We transformed trembling lips into fun moments, and instead of “consoling ourselves” about the end of things as they are, we planned for the future and talked about all the good things we’ll do together.
We reached the train station with only a few minutes to spare, which was ideal because there wasn’t time to get too upset. Hug it out, wipe away tears and bid a quick farewell. Rip it off like a band-aid. It’s just easier that way, in my opinion.
3 lessons I’ve learned on how to cope with the goodbyes that matter
1. Don’t dwell on the negative or on being sad. You can end up in that space for hours, and to what end?
2. Love and laughter are the answer – laughing trumps tears every time.
3. Drink champagne and celebrate all the things you have to be grateful for and happy about. Life is an adventure – always drink to that.
On a final note though, I’ve realised something else important – that I’m lucky to have even one person, let alone a few, who would shed a tear about me not being closer by, just as I shed a broken-hearted tear (or rather, several) over having to leave my dog behind. Is that really how my mum feels? It’s traumatising, but that’s a whole other post, unless I take my own advice written down here.
Fellow expats – what’s your experience saying goodbye? Do you have tips to share for those who are leaving and/or those that stay behind?
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