Expat Life: Living Abroad When a Parent Gets Sick

Hello, blog world! It’s been a while. It’s been a crazy summer and I can’t believe it’s already pumpkin spice latte season and the Christmas lights are officially strewn across Oxford Street. I have been pretty silent on here for the last month and a half as a lot has happened in my life lately and needed time to process everything. I have really missed writing and connecting with other Americans who live abroad as well as Londoners who read my blog and have finally felt inspired to open my laptop and type away.

A few weeks ago, I was out for drinks for a friend’s birthday and just as I was about to take a sip of my rosé, I received a call from my older sister, “Dad’s sick,” she said. Confused, I got up and walked away from the group and the news that followed was horrendous. My dad wasn’t just sick with the flu and I am sure you can all guess the type of illness that he has. It was a lot for me to wrap my head around at that moment in time. We knew that he was going in for some tests because things hadn’t felt right, but never in our wildest dreams would we have guessed that this would be the diagnosis.

It felt like the walls were closing in on me and knew I had to rush home to call the rest of my family. It was one of the worst phone calls of my life and the evening to follow was one I will never forget. We had a wedding in Italy the next day and my dad told me to go and have fun. I am really glad that I pulled myself together and went because I ended up having a really good time despite the heartache. The wedding was beautiful and it was really nice to be around all of our closest friends.

However, the return to London and the week that followed was extremely difficult. I had to face reality and the fear of the unknown set in. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen next with my Dad because at this stage, nothing had been confirmed. Luckily, my dad moved the process along as quickly as possible and had doctor’s appointments and tests lined up. The waiting game to get the results was excruciating. I had a really hard time focussing on work and in general, felt incredibly sad, a sadness unlike I’ve ever experienced.

A lot of thoughts rushed through my head at all times and honestly, one of the worst parts about it all, is living so far away and feeling completely helpless. Of course, I could jump on a flight to NYC and be there in seven hours, but it’s not really the same as being able to jump on a two-hour internal flight and stay the weekend. Helpless, distant, sad and worried are the only words I can use to describe what I was feeling.

Living abroad, this type of situation is your worst nightmare. You always know it’s a possibility but you never dream of the day it will actually happen. I just feel horrible for my dad that he has to go through this but am really happy he doesn’t have to go through it alone. He has his lovely partner and my older sister out there, so I am relieved that he has a positive support system to lean on during this time.

You may be wondering why I am sharing this news on my blog, but I want other expats out there who are going through something similar, if not worse, to know that you’re not alone. It’s a tough pill to swallow no matter where in the world you are, even if you live in the same state, city or country to be honest,  but I wanted to share my own personal thoughts and feelings of going through an extremely tough time because in everyone’s life some rain must pour. Maybe by sharing this story and my experience, it will help someone else in some small way.

I am incredibly lucky that I have the love and support of my amazing friends and husband, who have gone above and beyond to constantly check in on me and see how I’m doing, take me out for drinks to lift my spirits and make sure that I am OK every single day. I am so thankful to them for being there for me during this time as it made me feel a lot better. Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and talk to them during tough times like this. They have a way of being there for you that makes you feel like you’re not alone.

However, I have had a few realisations whilst going through this difficult time that I’d like to share. While there are a lot of amazing and nice people in the world who will lift you up when you’re feeling down, there’s a lot of really mean people out there. Of course, not everyone will know what is happening in your personal life, but it’s no excuse to be rude.  Some comments and messages received over the last few weeks have really hit home for me and they hurt a lot during a time when I was already hurting.

Be kind to everyone, as you never know what battles they are fighting.

Realisation number two is nothing revolutionary, but life is short. We put so much energy, time and thoughts into things that truly do not matter in the grand scheme of life. I am making a conscious effort, every day to stop myself when I am getting stressed out about something small because it’s probably not even worth wasting time on. Don’t sweat the small stuff, surround yourself with positive people and let go of the toxic people and things in your life. I am trying to do more of this.

Realisation number three is to take time to call your loved ones and friends. Be 100% in the moment when you are with them. Put your phone away and take the time to be present and listen to what they have to say. Quality time is important and these days, I feel we are all guilty of spending too much time half listening to our friends and family because we are distracted by our phones.

We have recently received some positive news about my Dad and he will start treatment very soon. We’re all incredibly thankful. I am heading to New York on Saturday and have never been more excited to spend time with him. We’re going to watch some Packer games, eat Uno’s deep-dish Chicago style pizza, take a walk upstate to see the fall foliage, and just spend some really good time together. My Dad’s a fighter, he’s stubborn, and he’s going to fight this disease with all he’s got. There’s a lot of life still to live and I’ve still got so much to learn from him.