Any time you say goodbye to someone, there’s really no telling if it’s that last time you will see them. Living so far away from family, I am a bit more cognizant of that fact and this is definitely one of the drawbacks to living abroad. If I simply lived in Philadelphia, a last-minute trip to the mid-west would be much more feasible for many reasons.
Ever since I started Peace Corps, goodbyes, especially with my grandparents began to hold a lot more meaning than they used to. The price of a ticket home along with the time it takes (12-15hr for Senegal, 24-30hr for Uganda) would likely prove prohibitive for me.
In the past few months, I have gone through this last goodbye twice with my grandpa. With the help of family, I was able make the last minute trip home to attend my grandma’s funeral in September and at the end of that trip, not knowing when I’d next be home, I anticipated the likelihood that I would not see my grandpa again and I know that he was thinking the same thing.
It was an emotionally stressful time with my grandma’s passing; all the family together, making decisions, etc (Side note: I’m pretty sure the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” was coined at a function where many Jews were in attendance. My Jewish family, with plenty of big personalities is no exception – everyone has their opinion and it’s their way or the highway).
I was able to make the trip home because of some generous relatives and I felt like I needed to be there for my grandpa more than anyone else. Being home for the funeral also turned out to be nice in that I got to see family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years, I would say that one of the high points about living abroad is that when you come home, people are more happy and excited to see me but sometimes I’m also starting to think that it’s wearing off. Since my grandma was 85 years old with 3 sons, 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren, she had lived a very full life and her funeral was much more a celebration of her life than mourning for a life left unlived.
Coincidentally, during my short stay, I celebrated my 30th birthday. Another drawback to living so far away is that I am rarely with family on birthdays or holidays. This was my first birthday home since 2005.
At the end of my visit, I said a tearful goodbye to my grandpa. I should say that the last few times we’ve gone through this, he has also cried – something I can’t ever remember seeing before and something that gets me choked up every time I think about it.
After this experience I decided to make a trip home for the holidays because contrary to what my lifestyle might say about me, family is very important to me and I miss passing the holidays with my family. Again, hadn’t done this since 2004. The trip was great and relaxing and just what I needed but at the end I found myself saying a potentially last goodbye to my grandpa.
The difference is that this time, I don’t know when I’ll be back.