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A sensitive little expat: Learning to say goodbye

A few days ago, I got to rip out the September page off my wall calendar. I had been looking forward to doing that, but when the time came, I stopped to look at one little square before I crumpled it up.

I stopped to think about that one particular day, and to say goodbye one last time.

On the 4th of September, one of my dearest friends moved back home with her family. I cried like a baby, as I cry now while typing these words. I’d known the day was coming for some time, and yet I still could not deal with it gracefully. For the rest of the month of September, that square, marked with my friend’s name followed by a sad face stared me in the eye, as if challenging me to remain strong and collected, when every bone in my body shook with the urge to break down in a teary mess right there on the kitchen floor.

What I find most ironic about this reaction is that I am supposed to be immune to this. Having been raised in quite a few countries and having attended about ten different schools before going to college, I thought that in my mid thirties I would be better equipped for painful farewells.

Apparently I was wrong.

A Sensitive Little Expat: Learning to say goodbye to good friends

We moved our little family to Singapore over two and half years ago. Singapore is the kind of place where people come and go, due mainly to job relocation. So it’s never a surprise when someone announces they’re leaving, regardless of how long they’ve been here. My son has had to say goodbye to quite a few good friends, and they have been difficult every single time. The older he gets, the longer those sad spells last.

And how do you explain this phenomenon to a highly sensitive child when you have trouble dealing with it yourself? Yes, it makes sense that people have to move sometimes to find what’s best for themselves and for their families. And yes, we have also had to do that and might have to do it again in the not so distant future. But no matter how logical and reasonable this argument sounds, the heart still refuses to accept it.

In the short time we have been here, I have been questioned by my son more than a few times about why we are still here if everyone else seems to be moving back home. So far nothing I’ve said to him has been convincing enough, and I completely understand why because I’m also hurting. And it hurt so bad when I was his age. My head was always filled with whys, the fundamental one being: Why does this always happen when things are finally good?

Even though we haven’t reached that point just yet with our six year old, I know eventually we will. His good friends will continue to leave, and the day will come when he will also have to leave his friends behind and make new ones somewhere else. He is an expat child, and a sensitive one at that. There is so much advice out there about making transitions easier on children when moving; books and blogs and news articles will highlight all the advantages of growing up in different places, with different people and cultures. But to me, this is not at all about convincing the mind, but rather the heart. I know first hand that the sensitive heart has trouble seeing the good when it’s dealing with pain. And I know very well that a sensitive heart will not let go, no matter how often the brain will tell it to. It just won’t, because it can’t. I remember all too clearly when I was seven years old, sitting in my new room trying to deal with the first big move I actually understood. I remember the pain as if I’d felt it yesterday. I’d been told why we moved, but it hurt anyway. And in a way, it still does.

One of the great things about being highly sensitive is that we also feel the good very intensely. We love genuinely and passionately, and when it comes to keeping friends who are oceans away, that helps very much. Today, we have all the right technology at our fingertips to make it possible to stay in touch with friends across the globe, making distances much easier to accept. Once that happens, once the heart is ready to accept the facts and move on, we can start to enjoy the advantages of having dear friends all over the world.

A Sensitive Little Expat: Learning to Say Goodbye

A while back, we started a habit of sending out postcards to family and friends who are far away, to let them know we’re thinking of them and miss them. We do that with regular ol’ postcards as well as with a wonderful application we discovered recently called Touchnote. Electronic messages are a great way of quickly letting someone know what you’re thinking when you’re thinking it, but receiving a postcard in the mail has a whole other charm to it. It gives a deeper sense of reality when such a big part of our lives has become virtual. I love that we started this with our little ones. They’re actually excited about checking the mail because they know they might find something in there for them. They know they have people far away who love them, even though they can’t be with them. And who knows, when the day comes, that just might be the thing they need to help their hearts catch up with their heads.

A new month has begun, and it’s nice to feel that dark cloud slowly moving away. Things are looking brighter and I’m feeling better. Even though my heart still aches and will always ache when I think of her and remember just how much I miss her being around, I know I’ll have her in my life for as long as we’re around. Distances and oceans don’t matter as much now.

And I can only hope that my sensitive little expat will see that, in his own time.

My Sensitive Little Expat: Learning to say goodbye Don't Cry Because It's Over -Dr. Seuss

Do you have any coping strategies that have worked with your children? If so, please do share them with us in the comments section below!

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