I am named after my grandma Joy who passed away recently. I wasn’t there to say goodbye to her. I wasn’t at her funeral. And it was all so terribly wrong and unnatural. It was so wrong that I didn’t get to hold my grandma’s hand one last time. It was so wrong that I didn’t get to grieve with my family. It was so wrong that my mom had to pack up Grandma’s house without me. It was all so wrong, but it is just the way it was because I live an ocean away.
My husband and I had our reasons why we couldn’t make the trip from Ethiopia to America for the funeral. This time the reason was that I was 30 weeks pregnant. But it was not the first time we had to make hard a decision to miss a special occasion because of money, timing or travel. If you live abroad, you know exactly what I am talking about. In the last two years I have missed 4 weddings of close family or best girlfriends and now a funeral— my grandmother’s funeral.
I missed a wedding this summer where I was asked to be a bridesmaid. I ached over the decision. I ached when I made the decision not to go and told the bride. I ached during the wedding and afterward seeing all the photos. We sent a gift and well wishes, but there is no way to fill the void of not being there.
For me there are three emotions that arise when I miss a special occasion. The first emotion revolves around not being able to be there for the people I love; not being able to celebrate or cry with them. The second emotion is just plain and simple guilt over the choices we have made and continue to make to live far away. And the final emotion is purely selfish — I don’t like missing out and I have a bad case of FOMO.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any hacks or a 5-step process for dealing with the disappointment of missing weddings and funerals, but I have two concepts that I am still working to improve myself: acknowledge the disappointment to myself as well as the people that I am not there for.
The first step of acknowledging the disappointment to myself is a lot easier said than done and I haven’t done a great job with this. I try to act like it isn’t that big of deal or I don’t really care that much. When my husband asked how I was feeling about missing one of my best friend’s weddings I put a logical spin on the whole thing, “I am fine not being there. It’s just a wedding.” When my Grandma died I found myself internally criticizing all my siblings and relatives of making such a big effort to be there to say goodbye. The truth was that everyone else’s effort made me feel guilty for my apparent lack of effort.
I wish that I was better at sitting in my own disappointment, but I can tend to shift my excuses and blame onto other people. It’s hard to acknowledge the limitations that living overseas brings and the how it affects being able to be there for family and loved-ones. When faced with our limitations in such situations I can tend to question the call for us to be overseas. Questioning the call is not a bad thing and it always leads to really good conversations with my husband about whether we both still feel the call and the purpose to be overseas. So far we always land back on “the call” still being real, but maybe one day that will change.
Second, it’s important to acknowledge that disappointment to the people you aren’t there for. Because I can’t deal with the role I play in letting people down, I just try and brush it under the rug. It was so hard for me to find the words to say I was sorry to my mom for not being there for her and my grandmother. I barely squeaked out a “I am sorry I can’t be there.” It was important for me to say that and I hope my mom heard the sincerity behind my mumbled mess of words. Without an apology, I can keep kidding myself that I don’t care and the people that are being affected can continue to assume that I really don’t care.
Sometimes, regardless of the limitation, I just have to go and stop being logical about the money or the timing. Sometimes my mom or my best friend might need me and I just have to go. I am not sure I have always made the right decisions about when to go and when stay back, but I try to listen to my heart and not just react my to fear or guilt.