Have you ever experienced this: Someone in your family, a colleague, or a friend announces that he or she is moving far away and possibly to another country for a job promotion or perhaps returning to one’s country after an overseas stint or just moving to be closer to family.
“Great!” you say, feeling somewhat taken back yet wanting to be happy for that person.
“When’s the big move?” you ask trying to be cheerful but in your heart you feel an overwhelming wave of sadness.
Relocating for a new career opportunity or any other reason is exciting, but it comes with a price.
Sometimes that cost is unintentional grief left behind like an empty suitcase that family members and dear friends lug silently.
One of my research participants, Belinda (not her real name), said her husband, Chris, still feels angry that his sister moved from England to New Zealand a few years ago.
“There was a huge void for Chris’s sister when she and her kids departed. The family doesn’t travel, and the parents are too old to make a long flight to New Zealand. They feel hurt that they cannot see grandkids watch them grow and build a relationship with them,” she said.
There are unforeseen consequences—powerful emotions that occur when a close family member moves away.
“Chris’s parents did so much for them, taking care of the grandchild, helping them out financially, that when they moved so far away they felt taken for granted. They were bereft,” she lamented.
Sometimes there is resentment associated with the move. In Belinda’s case, the family put the blame on the son-in-law because he accepted the overseas position. This finger pointing put stress on the family relationship. As a result, he avoids communicating with the in-laws even to this day.
I have a similar story. In 2008, Volkswagen offered my husband, Joerg, a three-year contract to work at VW headquarters in Herndon, VA. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to live and work in the US. The children would attend the German School of Washington D.C. to keep up their German language skills. For us, it was a win-win situation.
I was disappointed to learn that not everyone shared in our happiness, especially my in-laws. I thought it shouldn’t have come as a surprise because we’d moved already four times in seven years. I found out I was wrong.
When we talked about the move it was met with tight mouths and disappointed faces. I was hurt that they didn’t see the benefit in the move for us as a bilingual, bicultural family. The grieving process had started before we even departed.
Even my own mother in California stated her concern. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing by leaving Germany and moving to crime-ridden America? What about the kids?” she said with a hint of doubt in her voice.
What about my kids, I wanted to scream. They finally get to live in my country, learn English properly, build a bond with my family, and to understand my cultural influences.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would question our motives.
The move was so important to us. Joerg was excited about his new job. It was a dream-come-true for me to be living on an expatriate contract in my own country, which meant VW would be picking up the bill for the school and housing. I knew the move would be hard on our then 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, but that’s a topic for another blog. The future benefits would by far outweigh any regret.
Eventually, my in-laws came to terms with our relocation. They even graciously helped me pack. We promised to call and Skype, but I realized there are some things that Skype cannot fix: Our physical presence would be missed dearly.
There is no compensation insurance for the pain and suffering of loved ones who mourn your absence. In today’s world, we have social media to help us stay connected to those far away. Yet it doesn’t replace the intimacy or the real closeness of being in the same room or sitting together face to face.
The only advice I have is to accept that it is hard on both parties and try to be supportive and sensitive to each other’s emotions. Staying angry or sad doesn’t help the situation: it only makes it more painful.
Over To You
Have you ever had to move and felt guilty about it? Or have you ever felt left behind when a loved-one moved away? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions so please leave a comment.
Also, if you have ever been in this situation I offer a 30-minute Skype coaching session to listen to your story. Please fill out a contact form and submit it.