At lunch time I checked my phone and found a message from one of my new friends:
I need to tell you my mother passed away this morning.
I went to the airport and saw her before she went through customs. She’ll be back in less than a week.
Less than a week to bury her mother and return to work.
My experience with death has been limited. Aside from an extremely serious case of pneumonia that saw my Dad on life support in 2009, my family has been fit, healthy, and living. My maternal grandparents bounce around with my younger cousins (and with me, via Skype) and while Granny is plagued by arthritis and Pa is plagued by Granny, they’re a pretty healthy pair for two old bats in their seventies. (Hi Gran, enjoying my blog?) We are a close family. We love, we laugh, and we are physically very far away from each other. It’s been like this my whole life, and I wouldn’t change a thing – without my family being where they are, I wouldn’t have been to the places I’ve been, seen the things I’ve seen, and become the person I am. Anywhere I live will be far away from someone I love.
There were conversations before I left around what was and was not expected of me if something did and did not happen to certain people. The general rule agreed upon (actually, it was given to me rather vehemently): “Why would you come back? It’s not like you can do anything.”
It’s very easy to talk about the “what ifs” at a distance. It’s also very easy to talk about the “what ifs” when you have a somewhat young and healthy family because it’s never more than a “what if”. At least, you like to think it is.
I’m not good at naming “it”. Then again, I don’t think I’m expected to be – the English language has a plethora of euphemisms for death. Passed away. At rest. Gone.
I know what it’s like to be far away from someone only to wake up one morning and discover that you’ll never see them again.
Tonight, on the bus to the airport, I cried.
When I arrived, my face was dry and my mascara – thankfully – intact. I met my friend, listened, hugged, and made sure she had my number and email so that if she needs anything I can be contacted.
Part of me was hoping that, by now, I’d break my toe and have an x-ray for “X” in the Expat Alphabet. Instead, I have hope. Xi Wang is Chinese Mandarin for the verbs wish, hope, desire. (I hope – please let me know if this is completely wrong.) I have hope that my friend reconciles her regrets over the death of her mother. I have hope that the people I love know that I love them. I have hope that – when the “what ifs” become a “what is” – I will give myself permission to grieve. Death isn’t just about the person in the grave. It’s also about the people they’ve left behind.