As Covid rises around the globe, and holiday plans are derailed again, we wonder when we will be reunited with loved ones, but for expats living abroad, the pain of separation is magnified by distance. I ache to be with my family so much it feels like a limb is missing.
When the French talk about missing people, they say “Il me manque”, which means, “I miss him”. But literally translated, it’s “he is missing to me”, as though a crucial part of you has been removed. It has.
When my Norwegian ancestors left their fjords to sail across the seas in search of a better life in America, they knew they would never see their families again. As a young girl, my mom’s father always promised her he would take her back to the fjords when she was an adult. Unfortunately, they never made the trip. He died suddenly of cancer when she was only 18.
I have been lucky. I made countless flights across the Pond between Europe and USA to keep my American ties strong not only for me but also for my children. Yet when I first stepped on that Air France flight 40 years ago, my biggest anxiety was not about playing basketball in France, a country where I knew no one and spoke not a word of the language, but the fear that I might not be able to come back to the US and see my loved ones again.
I have always been able to make the trip home until now when a global pandemic changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Now my adult children live there; we are stuck here.
Our situation is not unique.
When I saw my Swiss neighbor, she lamented, -“I don’t know when we will see our kids again. Our son is in Thailand, one daughter is in Canada, her twin in Paris. Their younger brother was expecting his first child this summer and they were all coming to Switzerland to celebrate the event – that reunion is postponed indefinitely.
My German friend Maria, who lives just across the border in France, has one daughter in Belgium, another in Scotland, a son in England and husband in Somaliland. They are separated by Covid between continents.
Even families living in the same country are unable to plan reunions due to risks.
Parents are separated from kids, grandparents from grandchildren, siblings from siblings. My best friend, a former xpat moved back to North Carolina, but her 3 daughters live in Minnesota, Massachusetts and South Carolina. She talks to me about renting an RV, so she could go see them keeping a safe distance in separate living quarters.
My former student, now teaching at the International school of Geneva, has a brother living in Canada, a sister in Australia and her mom in South Africa. Home was whatever continent she and her family could meet up on their destination holidays.
As expats the world is our world, but today that kind of global gathering is out of the question.
Rules between and within countries regarding Covid change daily. In the summer no flights from Europe were allowed to land on US soil. For the moment, we can land, but there are no direct flights. There are few options available and each one has constraints. On our usual Delta/KLM flight there is a risk for a 10 day quarantine in Amsterdam. As a U.S. citizen I would be allowed in the country, but my French husband would require a special visa. And then we aren’t sure if or when we could get back to Switzerland.
When will be able to plan trips again?
We wait and wonder and worry as the number of cases of infection reach alarming rates across Europe and the U.S. Our hearts ache with longing for things we once took for granted…sharing a meal, sitting around reminiscing, embracing in a hug.
In the meantime“Ils me manquent.”They are missing to me.” Pieces of my soul vanished.
I am grieving the loss.
So true, so sad. Even just here in the states, my kids are in Oregon and Nevada. My step children are in Massachusetts and North Carolina. The last set have been here in Illinois to get their house ready to sell, but we’ve not seen them since we are compromised and they’ve been on a plane, to school, soccer ,dance and gymnastics. Miss them all and the worst part is this isn’t going to change anytime soon. Miss hugs the most.
Oh Pat I never knew your family was spread out so far. I am so sorry to hear this and how you must miss seeing those twins growing up. If only everyone around the world would wear a mask and obey the rules, we could end this faster and be able to see loved ones again.
Yes Pat , whilst Some people may miss their holidays, but it’s us expats who just miss seeing and being with our loved ones ? ‘Holidays’ were reuniting with family in the UK and a couple of days en route somewhere back to Aus as a layover. Ils me manquent tellement ? And who knows when Aus will open up their borders again. I don’t want this ‘new normal’ for these reasons. It’s like being in prison with all visiting privileges halted. Thinking of you dear Pat. Courage et bisous ma chère xxx
Yes Rach, I can sympathize with you and your heartache of missing your family especially at difficult times like this when hugging a loved one could be so healing. Hopefully the borders will open again but right now in Europe, Covid is rising in every country and controls are getting stricter. Stay safe dear friend. Lots of love from afar.
Yes Pat, it is sad to see those European second/third waves of COVID-19! There are so many more people in Europe on such a relatively small land mass. And some serious leadership issues too… Sending hugs and love from this kangaroo-filled land as we head into a more cheery spring xxx
So absolutely true. My heart aches for missing out on my 3 y.o. grandson’s life. Used to be his parents would take a cruise once or twice a year and I would go care for him for the week, sharing Grandma duty with his father’s mother. Now we only visit for moments (because he is always moving) on Facetime. Sad to say even the RV adventure is now just a pipe dream with infection rates zooming large in the US. I just can’t take the chance. Besides all the camp sites close down for the winter in the where we had wanted to go for Thanksgiving. And my husband, the pandemic expert (author of “The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It”) just keeps saying, “What can we do to make us feel safer?” The answer is … nothing. We just need to hunker down and wait, and wait, and wait.
We WILL get through this, but it will take some time. If only EVERYONE would (1) wear a mask, (2) believe the science, (3) follow all the social distancing rules, (4) realize that gathering indoors is NOT an option, and (5) have your ventilation systems set up to circulate outside air and buy a MERV filter, we may very well conquer this once a safe and effective is out and distributed.
Thanks Pat for sharing what we all are feeling.
Oh Tina my heart aches with you. I really thought your RV adventure idea was the safe solution to reuniting with family during this global health crisis. Of course I should have known camp sites Up North would be closed. Wisconsin and Minnesota have already had their first snow fall. Thank you for reminding readers of the steps to follow to get through this. Everyone should be listening to your husband who knows best and his book “The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It” is a must read. In the meantime we are following his advice believing in science, wearing masks, avoiding social gatherings and hunkering down. Miss you dear buddy.Stay safe.
I think we’re all grieving, Pat. For the presence of our family and friends, of course, but also for the way of life we’d become accustomed to, the freedom to move around at will, and the security of knowing this scary, dangerous virus has been contained. I haven’t seen my only sis in nearly a year; my aging mom hasn’t seen her family in as long. COVID cases are rising dramatically everywhere, and most of us are tired of hunkering down. This, too, will eventually pass (fingers crossed!)
Oh Debbie you are right. 2020 is the year of grieving. I can imagine how much you long to see your sisters. I ache to see mine who are just a year apart from me. Are you able to see your mom? I think as difficult as this is for us, it is even harder for the elderly who are home bound, in care centers and already feeling so isolated. I hope that you will be reunited with loved ones soon. Thanks for staying connected with me through our blogs.It helps heal, too, like a long distance hugs
Oh Pat, I feel your pain. I miss my family, but not being able to hug my kids is making my heart hurt. Hugs to you my friend.