Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The One I Hoped I Wouldn't Have to Write
When I started blogging last April after learning we were moving to Seoul, I was busy racking my brains for childhood memories of growing up overseas so that I could pull them out, dust them off, and compare them with what I was getting ready to do as an adult. I planned to write about new friends, unusual food, the astonishingly diverse expatriate community, the sounds and smells of Asia, and even the sure-to-be-nightmarish traffic. But one topic I pushed resolutely out of my mind; the thought of something happening to someone back home while I was over here.
Two years, I reasoned. We'll only be here for two years - no time at all - and then we'll head back where things will be normal again.
Of course, I am not really that naive. I know that things can change in a blink of an eye, that joy can turn to sorrow in an instant, and that someone being well and happy in the morning is no guarantee that they will still be with you in the afternoon. But still left with the hope that all would be well until we came home for good.
As a child in Taipei, I still remember with great clarity, my mother coming into my bedroom, sitting down on my bed and gently telling me that my aunt - her sister, a young woman with two school-aged children - had been killed in a car accident back in Canada. What (I now realize) was even crueler was that my mother - eight months pregnant at the time - could not make the lengthy flight back for the funeral to say her final goodbyes and to share her grief with her family. She could only sit, bereft, on the other side of the world, and, in due time, give her new baby the name that had been her sister's.
In this era of texting and Skype and email and cell phones, being an expat is not as difficult as it was when I was a child. Back then, we kept in touch through letters, snapshots, and occasional cassette tapes; phone calls - due to their prohibitive cost - were reserved for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and dire emergencies. Nowadays, MrLogical and I talk to our families at least once a week, if not more. We Skype so that loved ones can see how the boys are growing, what our apartment looks like, how much we love a gift. We lull ourselves into thinking we aren't really so far away from each other.
Until something happens to remind us just what kind of distance there really is between us.
I woke up yesterday to an email from my mother, asking me to call. Alarms went off immediately: my mother does not email much, and she does not send cryptic emails without referencing a topic. She rarely - if ever - is up at midnight. I could feel my heart thudding in my ears as my shaking hands tried to dial seemingly unending area codes and numbers.
She answered almost immediately, and told me. My sweet uncle, one of her brothers, had died. He had been in his eighties, it had been very sudden, he had been at home, he had been with my cousin - his son. The type of passing that many of us would wish for. But a passing, nonetheless, and one that leaves a void in our family. He leaves behind children, grandchildren, daughters-in-law, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and a host of friends.
Tomorrow, his family and friends will gather together to celebrate his long and fruitful life. They will tell stories about him that will bring a quick smile and a laugh; they will hug each other, wipe eyes, shake heads, and mourn the loss of a gentle and kind presence in all of their lives. Hymns will be sung, scripture will be read, and memories will be shared. Food will be eaten, coffee will be drunk, anecdotes will be told, and 'remember-whens' will abound, as they gather together in their sorrow and comfort each other in their grief.
And no, I will not be there. Time, money, distance, and the lingering aftereffects of the surprise Halloween snowstorm in the Northeast have all combined to keep me here, on the other side of the world, when I would love more than anything to see those familiar faces, share hugs and tears and stories, and be there to say goodbye to a very dear uncle.
Yes, we are grateful for the chance to live and travel in Asia. Yes, we are enjoying a new culture and new horizons for ourselves and our children and the chance to see how others live and work and play. Most of the time, we are very happy to be here.
But there are times when it really, really hurts not to be there.
And this is one of them.