Repatriation Can be Hard

It is now over five months since we arrived back in Australia, an event I looked forward to immensely, especially after my sister Helen died in January, 2011. Her death was like a reality check that made the world feel larger and the time and distance between those near and dear to me became magnified into scary proportions.

As a daughter, sister, friend, daughter-in-law and nurse, I have observed first-hand how the dying lose interest in worldly affairs and possessions, but what does become important to them is their family and close friends.

We don’t know how many years we have on this planet. It’s remotely possible I could live for another thirty-plus years, but as Helen’s death so clearly demonstrated, I can’t count on that, so it suddenly seemed insane to be spending most of my time so far from my children and other family members.

Five months ago, I righted all those concerns. I am here and all is well with my world.

Or is it?                      

Perhaps not! I am often stressed, overwhelmed and befuddled.

I expected certain stresses on my return to Australia, there are legal and financial issues to deal with as well as the usual considerations needed when you move anywhere.  However, I coped well with my move to America, and later Scotland, so I expected this move to be a breeze.

Instead, it appears to have turned my brain to mush,

I’m having trouble remembering the things I should be doing, and that lovely sensation of feeling as if I have oodles of time is like a distant memory that I’m beginning to doubt was real.  There have been moments when I’ve convinced myself that I have early Alzheimer’s.

I asked other people I know who repatriated before me about their experiences and their responses have varied. It seems the shorter the time overseas, the less stressful the return, but some of them, like me, found the move back more difficult than they expected. An American friend used the word ‘grief’ in her explanation of how she felt when she moved home after a few years living in a foreign country. Initially, I rejected the possibility I could be grieving for my expat life. This is where I want to be, I love it here.

But on further reflection, it occurred to me that maybe I am suffering from a degree of grief.

I’m grieving for my lost, peaceful, and self-indulgent expat life.

When I moved to Florida and later, Glasgow, I didn’t know anyone. There were no friends, no relatives, no former work colleagues, and for the first time in many years, I didn’t have a job to go to. My husband and daughter were pretty much all I had to worry about. I couldn’t remember a time in my adult life when I’d felt so time-rich.

I focussed on finding and setting up a home for us, and exploring my new environments at leisure.

Since I’ve been back in Australia, as well as finding and setting up a new home, I’ve been busy catching up with former co-workers, friends, family – even cousins I haven’t seen for years – and of course I’ve spent large chunks of time with our children. We’ve celebrated four family birthdays, Christmas and New Year, made changes to our new home, I’ve been the driver for an injured son and my frequent-flyer husband, and I’ve helped three of my children move house.

It appears that the main reason I was desperate to come home – to be physically closer to family and friends – is largely responsible for the increased stress levels I’ve felt since I’ve been here.

I’m not complaining, I’m truly happy to be surrounded by these people, but I thought it may be of interest to those of you who still have this experience in your future. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to my own advice when I was champing at the bit to get here, but you might be smarter than me, so here’s my advice to you for when you move back to your homeland —

  1. Expect to be busier.
  2. Don’t plan to write a book, like I did! Unless you’re better at time-management than I am.
  3. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the process.
  4. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  5. Go with the flow.

I’m working on taking my own advice, but it can be difficult.


17 thoughts on “Repatriation Can be Hard

  1. Best post Juli. Your honesty and vulnerability is admirable. A lesson and challenge for me. Our deal will either be Firmed up or it will fall apart by noon tomorrow. This deal, more than any other, has consumed my thoughts. Mostly because something gave both me and Yossi the inkling they were not committed to this deal. Tomorrow we will know. But the amount of energy it’s drained from me is something I plan to not recreate.

  2. Thank you for these honest and insightful words! A move back to the U.S. from my expat life in Norway will be in my future, for the very reasons you mention.

    Reading of your experience helps me emotionally plan for that, yet also refocus on all the good of my life here in Norway and enjoy every moment of *now*.

    My sincere sympathy for losing your sister much too soon.

    • Thank you, Cindi.
      I doubt I would have moved overseas I’d known my sister wouldn’t be here for me when we moved back. I’m grateful I couldn’t see into the future, because not only did I benefit from wonderful extended holidays with my sister, more time than we ever had before I left, there were also many other positive experiences I wouldn’t want to have missed out on.
      Good luck with the Now. Enjoying it is the best advice.

  3. I think grief is the right word. I felt grief when I came to Melbourne and I think I would feel it again if I left. It’s the end of a certain way of life. It’s natural to mourn that.

  4. Thank you for another thoughtful post. I have been planning my return to Australia (from Norway) for a couple of years now. I have another 2 years to go here, in this country I love. I have been thinking about the move back as a “transition”…and I am nervous. But it is about being closer to people I love and easing this longing for the country of my birth. So your advice is being noted! And I celebrate your courage in making the move. I hope that writing about your “grief” (yes, it does indeed sound like it) will ease the sadness.

    • Thank you for popping by and commenting, Maritza. How long have you been in Norway? It’s a beautiful country with wonderful people. I felt the same way about Scotland, but it was definitely time to come home after ten years away.

      Life is settling down at last, and I’m feeling great. I needed to make a few adjustments regarding how I used my time, and they have made the world of difference. I hope your transition goes smoothly. If you blog about it, send me the link – I’m always interested in how other people approach things.

      • It is indeed a beautiful country, with a beautiful language and many lovely people whom I will miss. I’ve been here 7 years now. Given the similarities between Norway and Scotland, as well as the fact that I will have been away for nearly 10 years by the time I return, I have a particular interest in your own journey! I am in my 40s now and this is a sober decision about where I want (or think I want) to create my future. It isn’t about running away from where I am. Thank you for asking!.

      • Thank you for replying! 🙂

        My husband and I left Australia for a position my husband really wanted, but I was never sure how long I’d be happy to stay away. However, ten years was always my upper limit. I wonder if I would have been willing to stay if my children weren’t all living in Australia. I know being away would have been easier had that been the case, but I still think I would have wanted to come back. Good luck with your transition.

  5. I just found your blog after Googling ‘moving back to Australia’. Like you, we left Australia over 10 years ago for a job in Houston. Also like you, all our kids and grandkids were home in Australia. The time has come and I am feeling all the things you have posted about above. Our house sold the day it listed and I wasn’t ready for that. We had obtained quotes for a 40ft container to ship our stuff home so that was ok. One day I’m ‘up’ and looking forward to moving home to QLD, to the new house we built 2 years ago. The next day I’m ‘down’ and don’t want to leave this house that I love and all my friends and the wonderful lifestyle we have here. Everything I could ever need is within 5 miles of my house and if I call a electrician, plumber or whoever, they are here the same day.

    I know we had to do it. Family has to come first but yes, I’m already grieving. 23 days to go. May 31 is Fly out day.

    • Good luck with your move, Jo. I hope your grief is short-lived when you finally get back. I think that your expectations may already be more realistic than mine were, and for that reason, you’ll probably cope well.
      To be honest, I’m not missing my expat life, but I’m still working on how to make my life here all that I want it to be.

  6. Pingback: Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life | Juli Townsend's Transition to Home

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