7 ways to say a good expat goodbye

7 ways to say a good expat goodbye

We’re saying goodbye to some friends this week.

I can’t believe I’m saying that. I don’t want to believe I’m saying that. But it’s true.

We’re saying goodbye to some really good friends this week and I don’t know how to handle it.

Like really good friends

Friends who I never, in a million years, could have hoped to have met here. Friends who have become like family. Our Things are the same age and we quickly knew we would be seeing a lot of each other. We had similar interests and we socialised together – with Things and without.

Good Expat Goodbye - my and my favourite person in Doha at a brunch, This was the only picture we managed to get of just the 2 of us!

Our immediate bond was the timing of our arrivals in Doha. We were new together and shared that inexplicable connection of exploring a new city together. For the first summer we probably saw each other twice a day.

You can’t argue with that sort of intensity.

Balance

Don’t worry. We branched out. We made other friends and did other things.

But the friendship strengthened.

There’s nothing like the camaraderie of another parent whose Thing is melting down / not sleeping / has become obsessively competitive to bring 2 people together. There’s nothing like the frustration of local bureaucracy, getting lost again or just a healthy dose of homesickness to bring 2 expats together. And we were no different.

Self deprecating humour, sympathy and alcohol have got us through most of it.

And now they’re leaving

And I don’t know how to handle it.

It’s not a surprise move. We’ve all been expecting it, waiting for it, even.

But the news still took my breath away when it came.

Denial

Of course I did what I always do when faced with an imminent goodbye.

I avoided it.

It wasn’t until after Christmas, I told myself. Then it was New Year. Then the 10k race I ran last weekend. Time and time again I moved the goal posts.

Avoiding the subject. Avoiding the reality.

Occasionally a rogue thought would pop into my head and a lump would appear in my throat while my eyes stang.

The thought got pushed away, pushed down.

Pushed to anywhere where I just didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Until their goodbye party last weekend when alcohol tore down the wall of denial and the tears came.

And they haven’t really stopped.

Support

I’ve been very focussed on other people with this goodbye.

What the family needs as they pack up their lives. Giving them advice on leaving here and on repatriation.

Good expat goodbye - the Things with 2 of our friends' Things early on in our Doha adventure. They're all holding hands and laughing.

I’ve thought about how our kids will handle their friends leaving. And about other friends who will miss these guys as much as I will and how I can support them.

As the emotions bubbled to the surface last weekend and the text messages have come in this week checking up on me, it occurred to me that maybe I’m the one they’re all keeping an eye on.

It’s not a familiar feeling

I’m not used to doing anything other than packing these feelings neatly into a box and moving on. I’m not used to almost compulsively putting myself in situations where I can’t push the thoughts and feelings away to another time or place.

I’m painfully aware that there are far worse goodbyes to say and that this feeling is insignificant by comparison. Indulgent, even. But maybe that’s what makes me feel differently to how I have for previous expat goodbyes. Suddenly, the thought of wasting the opportunity of seeing our lovely friends even for another 5 minutes is suddenly worse than the alternative.

So I’m finding myself chatting mindlessly at drop off about nothing just because it might be the last time. I pop over while the packers are there even though the sound of packing tape practically brings me out in hives because it might be our last chance for a cup of tea together. I invite the kids over for dinner because I know next week I won’t be able to do it any more.

And I’m doing all that because I’m also kicking myself for not realising it was our last cuppa on their sofa or our last dinner together. I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate it all when I had the chance.

But I guess that’s life right?

Maybe I’m growing up?!

Since I wrote a post last year about avoiding the expat goodbye I’ve become even more aware of how I approach this part of our expat life. They don’t get any easier but I’m realising that avoiding the issue doesn’t help us in the long run. As society gets better at handling hard emotions, it’s teaching me that dealing with the situation at the time will save carrying around all that emotional baggage in the long run.

But what if you don’t know how?

I don’t know how, Wanderlusters. But I have done a lot of thinking about this particular farewell. I don’t know why but it feels important that I get it right.

So for this, my hardest expat goodbye to date, here are my new ways to say it well.

7 ways to say a good expat goodbye

Talk

This is probably the hardest one for me but I think in this day and age of it being ok not to be ok we still need to get better about talking things through. I make my kids do it. I let my friends do it.

Yet the idea of opening up and letting the world (or even just my closest friends) know I’m feeling vulnerable… now that’s hard.

Talking breaks the taboos. Talking releases emotions. It’s uncomfortable and it puts us out there a bit.

It needs to be done.

You’ll all feel better.

Find the positives

I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal. We try to make the most of any situation we’re in. We’ve looked on the bright side of any location we’ve lived rather than thinking about the downsides.

They say it’s better to have loved and to have lost than never to have loved at all and it’s true.

If an expat goodbye has to be so so hard then surely it’s because you’ve found your tribe. You’ve found friends who are hard to lose. And you’re grieving because you made memories with these people that will stay with you for life.

Think about how dull life would have been without these people in your life.

You’ll all feel better.

Be grateful

I’m so grateful for the experiences we’ve had living here and in all the other places we’ve lived.

But the reality is that it’s the people that have made the experiences, not the places. And I’m willing to bet that, wherever you have lived or worked or travelled, it’s the same for you.

The people who have been with us through the incredible highs of expat life. And who have helped us through the toughest times of living far away from home.

Being grateful for good friendships is surely one of the best things you can be grateful for in the whole world. And the world needs more friendships like these.

Gratitude journals haven’t become a ‘thing’ by accident. I’m sure it’s been proven that they can help us.

Be grateful.

You’ll all feel better.

Laugh

I love to laugh. I love to hear other people laugh. The endorphin kick is a high that I wouldn’t want to get any other way.

Laughter is there at the start of a friendship – a giggle over a shared experience, a petulant child or a story from back home. Laughing gets you through sleepless nights of small kids or jet lag.

And laughter can diffuse the intensity of a farewell.

Yes, it’s important to face up to things and deal with them head on. But we don’t have to be doom and gloom and sadness about everything. Lighten the mood. Make fun of yourself. Recall those funny memories.

Have a laugh.

You’ll all feel better.

Cry

On the flip side, you need let those emotions out. Bottling them up or pushing them away… they don’t go anywhere. Sooner or later they’ll come bubbling up again anyway.

It’s ok not to be ok.

Remember the past and grieve for it.

Have a cry.

You’ll all feel better.

Look forward

I mean you know me, Wanderlusters. I love a good plan!

Make plans to see each other if you can. Make plans to write or message or call. Stay in touch however works for you.

The harder part is to make plans for after the goodbye. If you’re the one leaving then make plans for your new location. Make plans for house hunting and new schools and finding your new tribe.

If you’re the one left behind make plans to stay busy. And make plans to keep expanding your tribe. Your tribe will be an ever evolving one so keeping it topped up means you’ve always got friends around you!

Make plans.

You’ll all feel better.

Say it

Don’t do what I do. Don’t avoid the goodbye.

Avoiding it keeps your feelings intact. It shields people from knowing how upset you are or that you’re vulnerable.

It’s self preservation. I get it. Believe me, I get it.

It also denies the other person the knowledge that they mattered enough to make you sad. That they mattered enough for you to say goodbye.

I hate the word closure but saying goodbye gives you all just that.

In the long run, it makes you feel better.

What will I do?

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to say “goodbye”.

I’ll probably say something rubbish like “see you soon” (which we won’t) or “take care” (what does that even mean? Like they’re not going to!).

Or maybe, like last time I had a hard goodbye to say I’ll say “hello in advance for the next time”.

What I know I will do is I’ll show up. I’ll say something. And I’ll give them a hug.

It might not be perfect but it might be the best I can do.

Good Expat Goodbye - pinnacle image
Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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2 Comments

  1. 3rd February 2019 / 11:10

    Oh Emma, sorry to read that your friends have moved but I have to say that your take on how to deal with it has touched me. I have a goodbye coming up later this year and I truly don’t know how to deal with it. I did plan the whole avoid it strategy but they way you rationalised ‘saying it’ has made me pause for thought.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings with us.

    • 3rd February 2019 / 13:12

      Thanks Maria. Goodbyes are hands down the worst part of expat life and saying goodbye was every bit as bad as I thought it would be but I am glad that I did it. I would have avoided them and missed out on quality time with them right up until the end.

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