Expat LifeLoss & Grief

How to cope with loss at a distance?

Expatriation Series – Episode 2

Grief is a natural response to loss. Coping with the loss of a loved one is a really tough challenge and may seem overwhelming and impossible. It is even tougher on us when we live abroad and the deceased used to live at a distance. How to bear the unbearable? How to accept the unacceptable?

1. Be kind to yourself

Living abroad is an incredibly rich and intense experience that we love sharing with our loved ones when we visit them. It is all part of staying connected, trying our best to make them part of our lives. In turn, we try hard not to miss out on their key moments.

However, living at a distance, we do miss out on special happenings, the lovely and the sad ones. We all know how important it is to be with our loved ones in tough times, to say goodbye when the time has come. You surely have thought, ‘I wish I had been there’ or ‘I wish I was there’, but you sincerely can’t and this feeling is excruciating.

The pain is unbearable and you also have to cope with this feeling of guilt… please be kind to yourself. You could not be there and if you cannot join your family or friends right now, it is surely not your fault. Feelings of loneliness and the isolation you may go through can be even more agonizing. Try to find a few friends to whom you can talk safely in the area you live in. Do not hesitate to share your feelings, you need to express them!

Stay connected to your loved ones abroad. You may not express your pain in the same way as they do but you all do share the same loss and you are all wounded. This connection is powerful and can help you heal gradually even at a distance. And remember… be kind to yourself, it is an awfully tough time and you need to be as kind to yourself as you would be/have been to your lost loved one.

2. Find your own mourning ritual

Each one of us handles death differently. I lost many loved ones at a distance and each time, I tried to connect with them, or our shared memories, by doing something we had both enjoyed doing together. It could be anything from a typical restaurant (Lebanese cuisine for my father) or parks in London (my aunt was a great admirer of London parks). Find your own way, like passing on their memory or making them part of your life in a different way, gradually.

Try to get ‘me times’ as often as you need them, but please do not fall into the trap of isolating yourself which could lead to severe depression. Stay connected to your loved ones and find people you can talk to.

If you need a different type of support, join an online bereavement support group. You can also look for groups or mental health organisations that have professional therapists, counsellors. You may also think of Animal-Assisted Therapy or any form of therapy/counselling that meets your current needs.

Make sure you do not isolate yourself, stay connected to your friends and family, and find your own way to go through your feelings, which may mean asking for the help of a professional. And that is extremely courageous!

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