I was in a train headed for Munich when I heard the news. The curse of the expat is that no matter where you are, you are always too far away or otherwise in the wrong place when it comes to any major family event. My uncle had died and I had no one to turn to. I don’t think there is anything that has ever made me feel more alone than being in that packed train going to a strange city and realizing that he was gone.
The next morning I made it through my meeting (or so I thought, but apparently not, people lie, another story for another time) and went back to my hotel and cried. I’ve been a zombie ever since, stuck in survival mode. My grief is different in that for the past several weeks I didn’t give myself permission to feel and some would argue I didn’t have the time. Now it is all coming back to me.
I have had two family members die since the last time I went to the United States. So I am in this state of suspended disbelief where in my mind I can just pretend that they are there and I am here. But they aren’t there any more and aren’t coming back, and that makes me very sad. Losing them I am also losing pieces of my personal landscape. New Orleans, already scarred by Katrina, loses even more place in my memory with the loss of the people in it who were important to me. The truth is that I can never go back to what it used to be for me. I can never go back to my childhood. I can never go back.
I know I am one of the lucky ones. I got to speak to my uncle and say proper goodbyes. Not everyone is granted that. Some would say that he was in ill health and leaving was a blessing for him. But selfishly I want him back. I know he knew when he died that I loved him. My regret is that he didn’t know how much.