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Processing overseas loss and grief as an expat


Living overseas can sometimes feel like a complete detachment from reality. In a city as thrilling as Tokyo, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and adventure of immersing ourselves in a new culture. Meanwhile, life back in our home country feels as if it stands still.

Unfortunately, for many, that blissful bubble can burst with one dreaded phone call—a loved one has passed. Suddenly the city that we’ve come to call home becomes the loneliest place on earth. The rush of mixed emotions is impalpable. We’re hit with grief, heightened by the distance from family, regret for not spending enough time with them and guilt for selfishly choosing life as an expat. 

Dr Mira Simic-Yamashita, a psychologist and therapist based in Kobe, gives us advice on how to overcome these feelings.

What’s the best way to get past the guilt of missing out on time spent with a loved one before their passing?

One way of overcoming grief is instead of focusing on what you didn’t do, focus on what you did do for them while they were alive. Maybe you were talking to them often, encouraging them or helping them financially. Maybe you were able to experience some special moments together because you lived far from them. You will likely realize that you did more than you thought and that you showed your love and devotion in different ways while they were alive.

How can we support grieving family members from so far away?

Support is so much more than just being with them in person. Talking to and sharing the sadness of losing a loved one can often deepen the bond between family members. It’s a valuable opportunity to reconnect while keeping the memory of the deceased alive. You can also offer some practical help:

Call the insurance companies

Help make some funeral arrangements

Order food

Send financial support

All of that can easily be done from a distance. Not only will it help them but it will also help you feel like you’re part of the process.

Some people can’t make it to the funeral, how can they get closure? 

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Very nice article that will surely be of help to most people, some of the advice may seem obvious or natural to follow, but the situation of people living for long time overseas (not only expats) can make it difficult to accept these things as valid or useful, just by reading how a professional in mental health also considers these things valuable can help people find the justification to believe worthy to try them.

One important part is that every person is different and some will have special difficulties to deal with this situation, so looking for professional help is also something that should be considered, the full article ends with ways to contact Dr Simic.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I wasn’t there for my cat; I wanted to hold him one last time, but I couldn’t; there was nothing the doctors could do and my parents told me he wasn’t eating anymore and always isolated; they asked me and I said that I didn’t want him to suffer so I gave them the ok; I wasn’t there holding his hand when “ he fell asleep “; this feeling of guilt doesn’t leave me but my parents said that he forgives me and I hope that’s true; he’s with me everyday, closer than ever, here in Japan; and my scar in my wrist reminds me that we’re always together. I wasn’t there for my grandpa’s funeral too, he had severe dementia and of course that makes it all even more complex; my family understood my situation at the time; they accepted my apologies and I could find some closure. He’s also with me. My whole family’s here with me. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read this article.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I was affected by this matter very much while living in Japan. I felt no support from the people around me and finally was incapable of thinking of going through that feeling again the next time a family member back "at home" fell ill or worse.

My dear aunt was such a loving part of my being and due to prior unresolved familial issues I could not pay my final respects, to say thank you and to lay a flower by her due to the distance exacerbating unresolved issues . Later my father unexpectedly fell ill. I went to see him but unfortunately time away from work limited the visit and I left wondering if I'll ever see him again. When I hugged and said goodbye on my return to Japan I saw in his eyes that he knew it was "the", goodbye. It brings tears to my eyes even after many years.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This will happen to just about all long-term expats in Japan. I've even seen people divorce their J-spouses over it because they felt their other half (and their in-laws in general) were useless or worse than useless in such cases.

In my best friend's case, his J-MIL even had the temerity to criticize his mourning as "Otoko-rashikunai sugata".

He told me that the only reason he didn't throttle her there and then was the thought of how it would hurt his mother back home.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Try having an immediate family member in your Japanese family suddenly die, and then give me a call.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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