Expat Life: Losing a loved one while abroad

It wasn’t unexpected. She was 95 years old. Still, it broke my heart and I’m still grieving for her to an extent.

We’re planning to go back to Japan in June this year to see her, to show off her new great-grandson. It’s been almost four years since we saw that kind smile. We’re short of 3 months.

When you are living abroad, miles and miles away from your loved ones every phone call at odd hours is terrifying. Thankfully, most of the phone calls during unholy hours comes from my mother in-law who suffers from insomnia. I got used to the ‘harmless’ phone calls but last night, my father in-law was on the other end of the line breaking the news: my husband’s grandmother has passed away in her sleep.

I love my husband’s grandmother like my own. She was always the reason we visit that quiet town during school breaks (when we were still dating) and long weekends later on, baby/toddler in tow. Grandma Kono has visited us too when we lived in Matsumoto years back.

Honestly, I didn’t expect I’d cry, this much.

My father in-law consoled me:

People who die peacefully in their sleep at the ripe, ripe age of 95 are lucky. They passed away without pain or suffering and they have lived their lives to the full.

What about us? We are yet to face our end and it could be in an accident, catastrophe or tragedy. We can only wish we’ll go as peacefully as grandma, don’t you think so?

I wish Japan wasn’t so far away and we had a lot to spend on airplane tickets. I wanted to see her one last time but now, she will only remain a memory, etched in our hearts. Forever.

Are you an expat? Did you have to deal with a loved one passing away while you’re abroad?

16 thoughts on “Expat Life: Losing a loved one while abroad

  1. So sorry for your loss. I, too, lost my grandfather in 2009. I wasn’t able to go home for the services. Luckily, I was able to say my goodbyes the year before. We have somehow accepted that he could go anytime. To think that he lived for one more year is really a blessing.

    big hugs to you, my friend.


    • I’m just scared now for my own parents. God forbid something happens to them – I could never forgive myself if I can’t be there!


  2. So sorry for your loss, Grace. But it is true. To live to a ripe old age, much loved and have God take you in your sleep, seems a good way to go. She is with God now, and only her friends and family on earth suffer. As you will miss her kindness and love, remember she will always be with you in your heart!


    • My mom used to always say she want to be taken in her sleep. I didn’t pay much attention but yes, that must be the most privileged way to go, at a ripe old age.


  3. Aw Grace, I’m so sorry to hear about your loved family member’s passing. I can’t imagine how hard it is on all of you to be so far away when something like this happens. Honestly, your tears are warranted in this situation-everyone deserves to grieve in their own way.

    Lots of love to you and your family in this difficult time.


  4. So sorry to hear this. Read your other article on Grandmother Kono. This is one thing about expat living abroad that I’m still coming to terms with. A sense of guilt does linger on for long. Hoping that you all have the strength to cope up with the loss.


  5. Have not commented here for a while, but I am so sorry to hear of your families loss. Being an expat living far away from home is difficult but to have to deal with the loss of a loved makes it that much harder especially when you can’t be there to say goodbye and give consoling hugs to other loved ones.
    May your family always be blessed with memories of her.
    Sending warm hugs over to you. xoxo


  6. Condolences to you my dear and to the rest of the family.

    My Grandfather too passed away last October at the age of 90. He is the only father figure in my life. Like you, it wasn’t unexpected yet I desperately wanted to fly home but no longer possible. I guess it was the only time I did not want to be an expat. It created a vast empty hole in me and until today I still shed a tear when alone at home.

    I wonder if I’d feel any better if I could have been there to see him one last time.

    Hug you tight…


    • Hi, thanks and so sorry to hear about your loss as well. I’ve lost all my grandparents years back and I’ve not been able to go back home for any of the funerals. I was in Japan and either having final exams, graduating or having a small baby and cannot travel.

      I guess that’s one of the pains of being an expat. I don’t even want to think about my parents but God forbid if something happens to them, I’ll move mountains to go home, come what may!


  7. So sorry for your loss, it does not matter how old the loved one is, it always hurt. But hopefully you can get some console from the fact she left this world peacefully and happily with a full live behind her. I am sure she has all of you in her heart. My mother and favourite grandfather passed away while I was living in Egypt. I was short one week to see her one more time. Then again there is not one day since her passing that I am not thinkin of her, and she is still with me in my mind and heart. I wish you all the best


  8. So sorry to hear of your loss. Being away makes it all the more harder. I lost my grandfather to cancer a few months ago and could not be there. My nagging thought now is that I’ve not met my grandmother for many years. She’s 88.


  9. This is one of my GREATEST fears. I feel very heavy in my heart after reading this. My great grandmother was 100+ and we made a point to visit her while she was on her death bed. You know what…as soon as she heard we were coming, she sat up and started eating again. She said she was so happy to hear we were coming! This made me realize how important it is to keep in touch. She died a couple years ago and I am so happy I got to see her before she passed. I still don’t do keep in touch enough…but your post reminded me again how precious life is.


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