04/11/2016

WHEN FAR AWAY IS TOO FAR AWAY


There are times when living abroad feels like the best idea ever, and then there are times when you wish you never left. This is a story about the latter one.

Emigration is fun when things go as planned. Life goes on in your new country, and your entourage back home doesn't have much to report about - nothing negative, at least. It's easy to fall into this expat bubble where everything else outside of it kind of stops existing. My problems are in Dublin, my errands are in Dublin, my worries and duties are in Dublin. The thin linkage back to Finland only reminds of itself when I occasionally have a chance to skype or whatsapp my friends and family in Helsinki. When there's not much happening in Finland, I'm content, because I can be sure I'm not missing out on anything.

Living abroad gives you so many things: independence, confidence, experience. I have had the chance to see the most marvellous of things - the snowy mountains of Greenland piercing a carpet of clouds moments before I landed in Reykjavik, the people of the huron-wendat tribe perform a traditional Native American hunting dance during their 3-day dance festival. I have stared at the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean at the coast of Western Canada and admired the silhouette of skyscrapers of New York from the top of Empire State Building. But in the end none of that matters, because despite all of the different wonders of the world I have seen, all hospitals look the same.

And there is something so indescribably terrifying, something so excruciatingly painful in that moment when you follow a nurse pushing your loved one's hospital bed into the room where you know she will die.


A month and a half after receiving the news of my 71-year old grandmother's cancer diagnosis I find myself back in Finland, having booked the last possible flight still available with a week's notice. I have next to nothing in my bag: a tooth brush, a pyjama and a set of undies and socks (which of course looked slightly suspicious in the airport security check and probably was the reason I was pulled aside for a "random swabs test" for strains of chemicals in my luggage). I only brought myself, my stuttering Finnish I haven't had a chance to speak in 4 months, and my heavy guilt of ever having left my family.

She died 2 days after my arrival. The moment I heard about her death, 3 hours after visiting her in the hospital, I had this film-like rewind of all of those brief moments we had together during her last years - and they are few, as I spent her last Christmas in Canada, and I only saw her once between my return from Québec and move to Dublin. I found myself asking "what if": what if I had never left? What if I had spent the last 3 years in Finland with my family instead of travelling in god knows where? Would I have more memories with her? Would I have more to cling on to now that she's gone, when everything I have left of her are those few whatsapp messages she sent me to Dublin?

My last message to her says "Always." I stared at this word for quite some time afterwards, trying to realise there will never be anything after it.

Time is limited when you live abroad. Every moment spent away is one more moment for you to live the life you wanted, and one moment less to be close to your loved ones. Finding the balance is painful.

Have you lost someone while living abroad? How have you found the balance of living your own life and visiting your home country? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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