Missing Home: Expat Advice on Leaving Loved Ones Behind

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My aunt moved to California from Philadelphia when I was young. I didn’t really comprehend what that meant. I just knew that she wasn’t around as much and missed things that I wish I could have shared with her. She was far away for birthdays, soccer games and even some holidays. As I was planning to move to Copenhagen I thought back to those times. I wondered how I would feel leaving my two nephews like she had done herself years before. Life has a way of teaching you things whether you’re paying attention for the lesson or not. Here is some expat advice on leaving loved ones behind.

Distance doesn’t have to be permanent

By the time I graduated from high school, my aunt had moved back east. She was once again present for birthdays, soccer games and holidays. She took me out to dinner to celebrate. There we discussed how it was living on the opposite coast away from family and friends. She explained to me how even though she missed my brother and I, she had to follow her heart and passions. She went on to tell me that part of the reason she took the chance and moved away was so that my brother and I may one day do the same or at least know that it’s possible. Well, I know it’s possible – I’m doing it – but I still miss my nephews.

Minimizing the distance

At 3 years old and 6 months old, I know that my little buddies might not be fully aware that I am gone. Luke, the 3 year old, knows that I live in Copenhagen with Uncle Mikey. He’s aware that we take an airplane to visit him. It’s still a tough concept to fully grasp at his age.

placemat missing home

While it’s not easy being away, I take every opportunity to share our adventures with Luke and his baby brother, Shepard. We send them a post card from every country we visit. Luke also has a place mat of Europe to track our travels. We bring him a shirt from every country we visit and a teddy bear for Shepard. Luke loves his Denmark soccer outfit and we FaceTime often.

nephew in his norway shirt - missing home

Finding out what matters

On the end of our first trip back to the US, I added a few days to spend with Luke. I stayed at my brother and sister-in-law’s house after Mike flew back to Copenhagen. I’m beyond happy that I made that decision. I also learned something important, Luke doesn’t care about the collection of European soccer jerseys, he cares about his uncles. Sure, he looks cute in them and it’s a reminder that we love him from across the Atlantic, but the time we spend with him is what he remembers the most.

The first night that I stayed over, my brother and I walked to the neighborhood playground with my nephews. We played for an hour and returned to get the boys ready for bed. As we climbed the stairs in front of his house, Luke pointed out a chalk outline. It was the outline of a hand that I recognized, but had forgotten. Last summer I babysat 2 year old Luke and we each traced our hands in chalk on the brick facade of my brother’s house. Uncle Derek, it’s your hand, remember? My brother told me that he points this out often. It’s pretty cool that he remembers something we did together when he was barely 2 years old.

handprint - expat advice leaving loved ones behind

Final expat advice on leaving loved ones behind

The lesson for me was that all my worries about moving away and my nephews forgetting me were for naught. I could buy them each a hundred more European soccer jerseys, and Luke’s favorite reminder of his uncle would still be a chalk outline of my hand from an early summer afternoon we spent together.

It’s still hard missing my little buddies and I am already excited to see them again in December. I’m also happy to be following my heart and passions. I’ll miss a few birthdays, eventually some soccer games and more than a couple of holidays. Still, one day my nephew Luke might move away from family and go to college in Colorado. Maybe Shepard will study abroad in Spain. Maybe not, but at least they’ll know it’s possible. Regardless, I’ll have played a part in them realizing it – it runs in our family.

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Have you moved abroad? What expat advice on leaving loved ones behind can you share?