This may be the most quintessential expat emotion.
It’s the simultaneous desire to go and to stay. It’s loneliness wrapped in joy, blanketed in longing, softened by comfort.
Going somewhere can be so sweet – the new adventure, the new friends, the new food and culture. But staying is so sweet too – all those nooks and crannies you’ve come to love, your friends, the strange things that are now familiar. It’s nice to make a home some place.
And going somewhere is sadness too. Saying goodbye to what’s behind is sad. Saying hello to something new – being the stranger, the language-mangler, the wrong-way-doer – is sad sometimes too.
And what’s to be done about it?
Perhaps the only thing is to feel it. Really feel it. Cry and smile at the same time. Admit that this up and down is both good and bad. Know that the coming and the going both matter. Recognize that you are the person you were and the person you’re going to be. You’re both people…even right now. That’s sweet sadness.
Sometimes we’ll say, “This life is so awesome! I’ll do this forever!”
Sometimes we’ll say, “It’s just too much. I am alone. I can’t do this forever!”
But maybe most of the time we say both. It’s okay. Let’s just admit it’s complicated.
Today I had sweetness in a café lunch overlooking the quiet bustle of a Japanese shopping street with my beautiful three-year-old daughter who says smart and funny things and is right before my eyes becoming my very best friend in the world.
And in her I see my mother’s dimples. And then there’s the sadness. I am here in this new and sparkling world of an often-mysterious culture and an unforgiving language that is the backdrop of cute things made of paper and incense and she, my mother, is back there newly widowed, returned briefly to her hometown to care for my grandparents as they enter what is likely the final months of their lives. And maybe part of me knows that part of me should be there. Sadness.
And the two things are mirrored – mother and daughter and daughter and mother. And it is sweet to be here. And it is sadness not to be there. Those things are both happening. There’s no other way to look at it. It is sweet. It is sadness. Sweet sadness.
So I say – I’ll have both – the sweet and the sad. Because in the end, I think, it must be so much deeper and bigger and fuller than simply having it all just one way.
Jodi- I linked to this post from Trailing Houses. I don’t really Co tribute/post there often (its grown so huge – a blessing and a curse.) This post just resonated with me. You have a way with words. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.
Thank you for your kind words. I feel the same about TH. In fact, I really debated about posting this there because it’s such a personal post. But, I also felt like if nothing else, I want to be a person that (A) reminds people that all the ways we feel are okay and (B) that we’re not alone in this – even those of us that willingly chose this crazy lifestyle. Thank you so much for reading. I’m pleased it resonated with you.
Jodi, thank you. We’re on post #6 and completely agree. It’s nice to know we’re not alone and there are others who love this life as much as we do.
Thank you for reading Mindy :). It’s always nice, isn’t it, to find people with whom you share an appreciation for the complexities…God knows there’s no way around them!
I needed to read this today as my husband is on the other side of world to attend the funeral of his father and I am here alone with two boys who need all my attention. If I had thousands of dollars lying about I would join him to grieve together but I don’t so I can only share in the sadness as we continue on with our lives. Thank you for posting.
Caroline, thank you for reading. My sincerest condolences for the death of your father-in-law. We dealt with something similar back in November when my step-dad went into hospice and then passed away just 4 days after I made it back to the states to be with him and the rest of my family. My husband stayed behind here with our three kids because the journey is so long and the costs so outrageous. In this lifestyle we are continually in the position of having to look at all of these difficult times through a lens of creativity and invention….and yet we have to do that at the very times where we’re feeling weak and vulnerable (and definitely NOT creative or inventive!). While it’s never easy, I do find I learn at every turn and with every loss. Thank you again for reading. I am pleased that these were words that found a place in your life at a time when you needed them. Blessings to you.
In my time – when my children were little I
would spend the holidays – summer breaks – (4 months), with my parents – we didn’t have Skype / face time or what’s app. This decade a friend has
cams in her home where her 90 year old father is cared for.. while she is in Paris..
I would do all of the above. We also invited our parents to every posts… we used our miles.
Thank you for reading Bee. Yes – we try for those things too. Home time, skype time, and as many visits as we can all manage. It isn’t always easy, but it is very much our life. Our life – both sweet and sometimes sad.
This article is amazing. Thank you so much for writing this and publishing it! You have said what so many of us are feeling. I feel so blessed to have gotten the opportunity to get to know you in person at Oakwood.
Thank you for reading dear friend!! Miss you terribly and often think of your smiling face. Here’s to the time when we laugh and hang out and enjoy a beer together again! Much love!! xoxo
Cally shared this, and so glad she did. You are a talented writer! I could feel your duality. I’ve had two sisters live and raise children overseas, now looking back at that time in a new way. Kudos!
Thank you for reading! I think there are more and more people doing this (and not just expats). Maybe the duality is just becoming the norm of living in a modern world?
Beautifully written Jodi… I know just how you feel.
Thank you for reading 🙂
Hi Jodi! New friend and fellow Expat Coach 😉
I really love this piece as you truly nailed it for a lot of us expats and the confusing feelings our lifestyles can surface. Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to reading more of your work!
(And thank you for the follow on Twitter!)
Thank you for reading and for your kind feedback! Thank you as well for following on Twitter. Please stay connected. I’ll do the same 🙂
I found your blog from My Expat Family, and I’m so happy I did. Your piece is so well written, and it speaks volumes to me. We do have to embrace both or I think it would make life unbearable. Thank you for writing this.
Callie, Thank you so much for reading. I really find it never exactly gets easier…just perhaps more bearable and familiar. And familiar is sometimes enough I think – “Hello again sweet sadness. Please don’t do me in!” – because we cannot imagine (truly imagine) going back to life at “home.”
This post just gave me goosebumps. We have both linked a post with a similar feeling this month for #myexpatfamily. Sweet Sadness is a wonderful way to sum up that feeling and I think its a phrase I will take with me from now on. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with #myexpatfamily
Thank you for reading. I just read your post (http://www.seychellesmama.com/expat-family-guilt/) – and yes – this feeling is so common and something we all deal with. We can never be two places at once and yet we always are. The depth of it is such a unique experience to our lifestyle. I haven’t shared this yet, but my grandmother (my Mimi) actually passed two days ago. I am here, going about my normal life, but the backdrop of being away from family right now fills me with such a sense of loss. Thank you again for reading and for hosting the #myexpatfamily link up. I look forward to reading other great posts this month.
So very true – constantly torn. Really enjoyed this!
Thank you for reading. I’m happy it spoke to you 🙂
I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother, being far away at these times is probably the hardest thing about this life.
I am in the middle of writing a series of posts on expat depression and I have been truly humbled by what people have shared with me. Sometimes it is too easy to base everyone else’s experiences on your own – but when I read what others have been through, how they feel or have felt, I realise how much need there is for support for us all. Sometimes the starting point is just realising that we are not alone and that many others share your pain.
You are absolutely right. It’s one of the reasons I decided to transition from being a clinical social worker (which was very difficult to continue to do from abroad) to being a coach. While the clients I see now aren’t dealing with serious mental health issues – the lack of sense of home is definitely something that affects everyone and reveals itself in so many different layers of emotion. I find (personally and professionally) that getting up close and personal with these emotions and developing a true understanding and acceptance of all the different things that come up is such a key. When people can do that with support or in groups or with friends they truly trust, the benefits are immeasurable. Thank you for reading Clara and for sharing your thoughts and insights. Best, Jodi