By Carrie Jones, LCSW
The coming of summer means time off and travel for many of us, something most look forward to all year long with great anticipation. However, it also is the season when many expats tend to repatriate or move on to new assignments, meaning lots of goodbyes which most of us dread.
Friendships and relationships are an important part of life, so there is no way to completely remove the pain from seeing loved ones leave or from being the one to leave, but it is worth spending some time thinking about some ways to try to make the transition a little easier.
Even though it can cause sadness and stir up difficult emotions, it is best to take some time well before the move date to think about the change and how you want to say goodbye. As humans, we need closure in order to move on in a healthy manner, so planning a special last time with your friend or some sort of meaningful way of saying goodbye can be extremely helpful. CCS counselor Andrea Smollan reminds us to remember that saying goodbye is a process and points out the importance of giving your children time to say goodbye to their friends so they don’t fear making new friends in anticipation of suddenly losing them again.
For significant relationships, be intentional about planning how to stay in contact. Fortunately, in the world of technology we live in, this is getting easier and easier. Andrea advises parents to help their children to get their friends contact information and set up scheduled times to talk with them on a regular basis. Keeping in contact and maintaining friendships can help kids better deal with future transitions and encourage secure attachments. Some kids also find it reassuring to do some research and learn a little about the place their friend will be moving.
In addition to staying in contact long-distance, consider planning visits or reunions if possible. In my sessions with children, I always ask them to tell me their sunshine and cloud – the best and worst things that have happened to them since I saw them last. It is remarkable how many times kids tell me their sunshine was visit to or a visit from a friend who had moved away. For kids and adults alike, time with an old friend often can be a huge boost and just what you need to lift your spirits.
Without a doubt, the transient nature of friendships and relationships is one of the most challenging aspects of expat life. As a result, some expats are hesitant to invest too much into developing relationships and making friends, knowing that at some point a goodbye is inevitable. However, it is important to remember that living overseas, removed from the natural support network of friends and family we grew up with, we really need friends here. Try to keep in mind that no matter how long or how short each relationship may be, each friendship is a gift and an experience and can play a significant role in helping you through life here and in preparing you for whatever the future may hold.