The obvious thing about living abroad is that you are no longer living in your own back yard. Your exciting journey brings new discoveries and for the first few months old home is viewed as the mundane routine of normal life and you feel freedom by escaping to your new adventure. You are away; away from home, away from the norm, away from everything familiar which makes it both exciting and scary.
Our life in Prague was a good “toe dipping” experience into expat life. A European city which wasn’t too big but was a big enough change from my little island life and at the end of the day was Europe, so wasn’t too hard to make the adjustment. Luckily by the power of the little orange planes, we were less that two hours from London, straight into Gatwick, perfect for my island hopper connection home. I could leave my Czech loft apartment at 7am and be on Jersey soil by 2pm. It was far enough to feel away but close enough to get home comforts by lunchtime and all on a budget.
Looking back this was my safety net, always knowing I was able to go back and due to work I was back every five weeks. It felt like I had the best of both worlds, I was on my adventure but could get a mum hug once a month. I never felt that far away and so over the next four years, when new babies arrived, weddings, 60th and 21st weekends took place, we jumped on plane and celebrated with the rest of the gang, not missing out anything. Distance really didn’t matter, we were there for all the good stuff and it was perfect.
What’s 800 miles between family and friends?
So after dipping my toe, our move to Kuwait didn’t seem so scary. After surviving my first four years of expat life, I thought, hey I can do this, I’m good at this life and Hubby and I can go anywhere together, this is our adventure and if the desert was calling then so be it. I felt like I was on a roll and perhaps a little naively thought I’ve done this for four years how hard can it be?! The reality is that I have coped, I have survived, I can do this, however the reality of distance has also kicked in. My budget airline, 800 mile, 7 hour door to door trip every 5 weeks had become 3,000 miles, long haul flight prices, 19 hour door to door and only one guaranteed trip home per year.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the distance is an all consuming thought in my head and our first year desert style was pretty easy, as I already had my “going home” safety net. Our Kuwait move had been coupled with a promise that we would have our first Christmas away back in Jersey. I wanted that quintessential British Christmas in the cold, snuggled up with movies, mince pies and my mum’s legendary turkey dinner, not in the sun with Hubby working. So when I landed in Kuwait, I knew in 6 months whatever happened, however hard it got, home was in touching distance (well if 3,000 miles is touching distance!). When saying goodbye after gaining 10lb that Christmas, I said with a smile on my newly chunky face and holding a few tears back I yellped ” see you in 6 months” for my sister’s wedding of the year. So my new year blues didn’t last long, as the now infamous, bridesmaid boot camp started up and I counted down to home sweet home.
Whilst distance was parked in the back of my head during the new year, it came to the forefront once again, when 2015 seemed to become the year of celebrations and the year we became über popular. We had three wedding invitations, a Christening and friends and family all wanting the pleasure of our company. This is where it gets really hard, we couldn’t do it all, the cost alone was a major factor but it was no longer a quick trip back. For all the good news and celebrations that come in Prague we didn’t think twice about attending, in desert life they were debated in-depth and the reality that we can not attend RSVPs had to be sent with disappointment and guilt. Even in the good times distance matters, even when you wish it didn’t.
A few months after the gorgeous bride said her I dos, I was elated to hear I was to become an auntie. I was so excited about being the cool aunt and had already promised weekly face times when he/she same along proving that me being away would make no difference. This also meant another guaranteed trip home for the new arrival, which made time go quicker knowing there were more good times waiting when we went back.
Then comes the unthinkable.
When you move abroad this is the aspect you never want to think about, the thought you put way way back in your mind, the thing that you hope and pray you never have to face. What is something happens to our loved ones, should we be this far away. It’s something you of course factor in to your discussions about moving, but you never want to admit could happen. So when something did happen, I can honestly say I was not prepared.
One day in November, I eagerly awaited an excited call from baby sis to tell me whether I was going to be an aunt to a niece or nephew. Over dinner that night I said to Hubby I sensed something was wrong and I’d still not heard from her, which seemed odd. Then my worse nightmare, coming home to dozens of missed calls on my phone (which uncharacteristically I had left at home, which as it turned out, was the worse time for my forgetfulness). I instantly got a sickening feeling in my stomach, I knew something was wrong. My mum confirmed my worse fear, my sister and her new husband had lost their baby and would have to go through a heart breaking labor in the following days.
I was reeling and instantly offered to come home. Of course mum insisted it was ok and I was due back in a month so don’t worry. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about what they were all going through. By lunch time the next day I said to Hubby I wanted to go back, I couldn’t sit there knowing they were going through all this heartbreak. We got me on the next available flight and as I threw everything into a case I just wanted to get home. Another sleepless night. What followed was the longest day of my life. I sat on the first flight, thinking I still had hours before I would even reach home. I cried, about having to leave Hubby so suddenly, for my sister and her husband and for the unknown awaiting me. I felt nervous and at that point, I hated the fact that we had chosen this life, if only I had been there, if only I could get back faster. I eventually touched down in Jersey 19 hours later, tired and emotional, the only comfort was to see my sister’s face full of surprise and relief that I was there.
As we supported each other through their hardest days saying goodbye to baby Archie, I felt blessed. Even though I was miles away, I still made it, I was there, I was still able, thanks to my wonderful husband, to drop everything and go when needed.
It was the hardest thing to have to face, knowing there maybe possibilities in the future where we may be further away not able to get back in time or so easily.
I left after that emotional trip home and was I inconsolable. I really didn’t know when I would be back, the likelihood was in 11 months time for Christmas. I didn’t want to think about it. The trip back always feels longer and I tried to get back into life without hankering for home but it was harder than usual after such sadness. By March, Hubby and I had both felt waiting till December was too long. We were dreaming of home and seeing our families. Distance gives you perspective and after the recent events we had had a reality check.
Distance means everything, whether it’s for the good times or the bad times. Living aboard impacts your life and the lives of your loved ones. You are far away and nothing can change that, you just need to accept that you miss out on moments, good and sad. There will be times you feel helpless, that ocean may stop you physically but it doesn’t stop you emotionally. I maybe far away but I’m celebrating with you and crying with you all the same. I’ll be home again in November, to welcome my beautiful niece to the world, a year on , the distance will still there but this time the journey will end in happiness.