Very very recently, my aunt died of breast cancer. I say ‘aunt’. I mean, older female relative so close to us she could be my aunt. She was most likely one of my mother’s favorite relatives and her passing had a devastating effect on my mother.
She was first diagnosed the week before I moved back to Korea in 2010, went into remission and then it came back.
Like my mam, she loved Irish football and had kids that lived abroad. Kids that returned once it looked like she wasn’t going to make it and they arrived home two days before she passed.
Sure, The Canadian One and I sent flowers to the family (with part of the money going to Breast Cancer UK) and sure, I answered the phone to my mother every time she called. I offered to send money to fund her trip to my aunt’s hometown for the funeral. I tried to help in every way I could but it’s not the same as actually being there.
And that’s the problem with living abroad:
If anything ever happens to my family while I’m here, I’m at least 24-36 hours from home.
And I’ve talked to others about this. How scared they are. How they wish the world was smaller, that teleportation exists. It’s a terrifying feeling. A sense of helplessness, of being at a loss of what to do.
The Canadian One’s mother passed while he was in Korea, while he was a week from travelling home to see her. Other friends have had countless loved ones pass while they’ve been abroad. Aunts, Uncles, Grandfathers, Grandmothers.
In my first year here, five months in, my mother took a tumble from a ladder and broke her shoulder, back and did damage to a whole slew of organs inside her body. A fall she will never recover from. She spent two months in hospital, during which time I spiralled into a continuing default setting of ‘worry’, culminating in me requesting time off to return home, something Korean jobs don’t usually allow. I spoke to my boss. He’d noticed the change in my usual outwardly happy demeanor and thought it best if I returned home to deal with things. He allowed me two weeks off, over Christmas, and as a gesture gave me $100 as a get-well-soon present for my mother. He booked my flights for me, taking the money out of my next pay cheque. I packed my bags and left, returning two weeks later feeling better about the situation.
At the same time, I’m sure it’s equally terrifying for the parents. My neighbor’s two sons died, about two years apart, while they were both abroad.
And just this morning, I read of a New Zealand girl who died while studying in the USA.
Yet still, an estimated 3 million people board airplanes every year and leave.
Or we stay where we are for another year, another contract.
And every year, they call us to make sure we’re still alive, we’re still healthy, we’re still eating all our vegetables and putting sunscreen on in the sunshine
But, it’s not the same.
And they worry.
And that’s the problem with living abroad.