I’ve just said goodbye to my parents who have been with me for a month. I love that they stay a month—now that they’re retired they can do that and it makes the visit so much easier, almost like they’re living just next door and I can pop by and see them whenever. That’s what I miss most about living so far away from them, their involvement in my everyday life.
And yes, I was getting a headache at Heathrow as I tried to hold back the tears. Then we hugged and I sobbed. I stood next to girlfriends and mums and dads, all waiting for their people to go through the passport control to The Other Side, Out of Sight, and we all had wet eyes and tissues. I wondered how many of them would sit with family that night, being grumpy and moody, like I knew I probably would. I thought about all of us expats who deal with this all the time and wondered what different coping strategies everyone has.
Some of you will say good-bye to visitors with a great wave of relief, while others of you will be sobbing at the departure gates.I have experienced both ends of the spectrum and most shades in between. Whatever your experience you may find at least one of these tips useful:
1. Have a good time with your people
If you plan well for their stay you won’t be full of regrets when they go. Take as much time off work as you can. Reschedule as many kids’ activities or recruit friends to help with some school runs as well. Interested relatives (i.e. grandparents) will probably want to be as involved as possible, attending some of the kids’ activities and events.
2. Don’t build up to The Goodbye with too much anxiety
Just be prepared to be sad but know that you will see them again either here or there. Enjoy their stay without adding this negative anxiety to the mix, or at least save the sadness until the day they leave.
3. Here’s the wishy-washy bit: Allow yourself to go through the emotions
If you just let them out then you won’t have them building up through the day in time for a big explosion later when someone commits a minor offence at the dinner table. If you don’t want to cry at the airport in front of people, then wait till you get back to the car to have a good cry. You have something like a 15 minute grace period from when you pay for your parking at the machine and when you have to leave, plenty of time for a good cry. The drive home will be easier if you get it out of your system.
4. Let your partner/friends/children know you’re sad
That will explain why you’re moody. Empathy is not natural to everyone; not everyone will understand that saying goodbye to your family until the next year (or longer) is harder than saying goodbye until next weekend. Good communication with your partner will help them be more patient.
5. Go online to other expat sites or speak to your other expat friends
If you’re particularly blue this will help. Not everyone will have had the same experience as you but they will all understand some part of what you’re feeling. Am I right? Tell me about it in the comments. (I’m not just writing this article to help you; I’m hoping for some help myself here!)
6. If you can, it’s helpful to have the next visit booked or at least pencilled in
I travel to my family one year and they travel to me the next and I have always found saying goodbye much easier when we’ve made and discussed plans for the following year.
7. When you return home after the airport do what feels right
When I’m hassled I clean house. I open all the windows, Hoover, dust, scrub bathrooms, get laundry done, clean the fridge. And yes, my house is squeaky clean right now. The cats are cowering in the corner from my overuse of brooms and hoovers.
Some people may want to go home to the quiet house and enjoy a long bath, a good book, and a nap if they’re lucky. Exercise is an excellent option if you can, because it’ll raise your endorphin levels and get rid of all that negative energy. Whatever you do, don’t do ‘nothing’!
8. And don’t feel sorry for yourself
It was nice having mom help with dinner or having dad build a tree house for the kids and wouldn’t it be great if they lived as close as my partner’s parents, blah blah blah. But they don’t. This is just how it is so I need to start focusing on the good things about my situation again.
9. Maintain or set up good communication
Skype, email and phone are all easiest but if the friends or rellies are not IT literate then letters are wonderful as well, tres retro!
10. if you’re relieved to say goodbye, try to not show it
It’s nice to have your home back to yourself but the drive to the airport is not the time to talk about that. Perhaps you’ve had a major argument during their stay. Now is the time to call a truce and say goodbye without the hard feelings. Yep, I speak from experience.
I had one moody relative come to stay and I couldn’t wait till she left again, but I bit my lip and drove her to the airport talking about how nice it was that she made the effort and how much I enjoyed showing her my life here. That was about 14 years ago and she hasn’t been back since. She was probably relived to get home too.
11. If you’re not upset but the visitors are
Tell them how much you enjoyed their stay and thank them for making the effort to visit. It cost them money and time, try to be respectful of that if nothing else. If you don’t want them to visit again, now is not the time to tell them! I guess what I do is try to think of the whole relationship; it’s so much more than this one visit. If you want to maintain a good relationship with these people, just do whatever you can to get through the visit diplomatically. I know. It can be tough. Been there, too.
Ok readers, over to you! Any tips or stories about how you deal with The Goodbyes?
Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!
Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.