August 6, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

Grieving from Abroad

Handling delayed grief while living away

Grieving from Abroad
Travel is a wonderful way of gaining perspective. But life goes on when you're away, and that means you might be faced with grieving a loss from abroad. (Shutterstock)

As the world becomes more connected, folks are able to travel across the globe. Many of our ancestors lived in only one place their whole lives. Nowadays it's common for people to move around and live in multiple cities as they explore, change careers and settle away from home. With all the excitement of traveling, it's easy to forget that life goes on at home. 

Unfortunately, tragedy can strike at any moment. If you're living abroad and a loved one dies, the grieving process might be totally different. Mourning from afar offers its own unique set of complications, for those who are unfortunate enough to lose someone while away. 

Returning home for the funeral

Depending on your relationship to the deceased person, you might have feelings one way or the other about returning home for the funeral. Finances, obligations and your own relationship to funerals are factors in making this decision. If you dislike funerals, and would rather not mourn together with others, flying back home for the funeral won't be a desirable option. 

Though no one likes funerals, collectively mourning with others who knew the deceased person is an important part of the grieving process. It allows you to openly acknowledge the death and find closure. Because many people experience initial feelings of denial when someone passes away, the funeral is a chance to see with your own eyes that the death has occured. If you're living abroad and processing a recent loss, it will be even easier to subconsciously deny the loss and its impact.

Attending the memorial service remotely

Luckily today there are many ways to tune in to experiences remotely, and technology is available for funerals too. Most modern funeral homes are able to live stream the funeral service for guests who are unable to attend in person. This benefits folks who experience mobility issues, but also those who live out of town. If the funeral director isn't able to provide this service, anyone with a webcam can set up a video feed. Even if you can't attend in person, hearing others share memories from afar will help you take the first step on your journey through grief.

Staying connected to those who share your grief

Having an emotional support system in place is an important part of healing from the loss of a loved one. However, it might be more difficult to access the people you rely on for support if you are living away from them. Instead of trying to tough it out alone, it's even more important to seek emotional connection. Make sure that you aren't alone in your grief. Share with friends, and find a grief counselor in your area who can help. 

It's worth considering a trip back home for the funeral, if you are able. If not, it's still important to work through your grief from afar. (Shutterstock)

You should also reach out to those who knew your loved one and share with them. Video calling can help you reach the people who share your grief, and it's worth scheduling time to connect. Talking to people who are dealing with the effects of the loss each day can help you process the changes within yourself. 

Numbness and delayed grief 

While living away from home, your routine is likely to be very different from the schedule you normally keep at home. More variety and new experiences is good for keeping your mind busy, but it might be a little too easy to forget about or deny the death that has occured. Because you aren't living in the community where the deceased person lived, or frequently interacting with those who are affected by the loss, you aren't immersed in the new reality of a world without the person you loved. The true pain of this might not hit you for some time. When it does, it could be more disruptive than if you had faced grief earlier on. 

Going back home

When you return from your travels, you might experience a sudden and intense period of mourning. Even years after a death, visiting with the people who knew your loved one, and witnessing the effect of their absence, can be very shocking. Possibly the most disturbing part of grief is seeing the world continue to function without the person who has died. Without them, things are certainly different, but life does go on. The full effect of this is unlikely to fully hit you until you have returned to the place where you knew them. 

Be prepared to feel differently when you return home from abroad. Whether it's for the funeral, a later visit or a permanent move, you're bound to experience the loss a second time. If you've suffered a loss while living abroad, do your best to deal with emotions as they arise, stay connected with those who knew the deceased person and be prepared for an alternative grief experience. 

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