Death and Grieving from a Distance

Not being able to be near a loved one when they pass can bring on a new dimension of grief. We sincerely hope the following links and information can help bring peace to those who are coping with loss from a distance.

Sonja Lewis (Writer and Author) explains that everyone grieves through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, though recent research suggests that people don't go through these stages in a linear fashion. We oscillate. In any case, we grieve differently and individually. And when you add distance to the equation that adds another dimension. Thus, I've come to rely on four points to ease the process:

  1. Acknowledging the loss.
    This goes without saying, right? Not necessarily. Just because you know about someone's death doesn't actually mean you get it. For me, acknowledgement often means making a phone call to the bereaved, even if I don't know what to say. Most recently, that meant calling my mother on the loss of her only sister, and then my first cousin, an only child, on the loss of her mother. While eloquent expressions of sympathy didn't roll off the tongue, and never do at times such as these, I felt better for making the call. I expect they did too after hearing from me.

  2. Taking part in the bereavement.
    The phone calls, messages etc. have not only been key for me to acknowledge the loss, but also to share the loss with those closest. Certainly, I have sent flowers, too and supported in other ways, but the niggling question for an expat -- at least for me -- is should I go? The answer to this has to be personal. For each person, much is considered: the scope of the loss, time, money, other commitments etc. The decision for me is always tough. Years ago, when my Aunt Fannie died, a hurricane was in full force, making my decision crystal clear. Still, I found myself wrestling with guilt for years, which leads to my next point.

  3. Relinquishing guilt.
    Not an easy thing to do when it is programmed into your subconscious that the most appropriate way to grieve is to go to the funeral. Perhaps when I lived closer, this made sense. But now that I am further away, I have to consider the distance, if nothing else. Hence, I've made a paradigm shift. And as part of that change, I try to stay in touch in the first place. Over the years, I have found that keeping relationships in good stead has eased the pain of loss. There's nothing to feel guilty about: end of story. A good memory for me is that Auntie (Dorothy), who recently passed, was an expatriate, too, loosely if you will, as she moved from Georgia to Ohio, when she was younger. She would have understood.

  4. Speaking of memories.
    Focus on these! Most of us find it therapeutic to remember fondly the person who has gone. Every departed person leaves a hole in many lives. Some are bigger than others, especially if the person is a part of our day-to-day life. In the case of an expat this is rare, unless phone conversations happen daily. But in any case, good memories fill the gaps.

One of the most moving readings that I have ever come across is 'Death is Nothing at All' by Henry Scott Holland. I read it at my mother-in-law's funeral, and while doing so, death surely felt like something. Still, it has been a reading that has added perspective to coping with loss, and certainly to coping from afar. Upon reflection of the piece, I am encouraged to consider that 'Life [after death] means all that it has ever meant ...' whether we are near or far. What a golden thought ... and one well worth remembering.

​-Sonja Lewis, Writer and Author