Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy–saying goodbye

I’m not leaving America for another four weeks, but the goodbyes have already started.

Last Friday a good friend of mine hosted a going away party for me and a number of people showed up. An equal number were not able to make it. We had a wonderful time and gorged on a tremendous spread of foods.

Yet it didn’t hit me. Even though I received cards and gifts I didn’t feel like I was leaving. Not until the hostess remarked, “Don’t forget us, Bob”. I was taken aback by that comment. The chance that I will forget my friends is zero. But it was a heartfelt and spontaneous comment that caught me off guard. It served to remind me that I will not be around these people much longer.

The next day I visited my elderly aunt. She’s ninety-six years young. She has always been on the go, even after she quit driving. My mom’s older sister, she was the one we were closest to growing up. We spent a lot of time with her and her family.

Up until recently she would call me on the phone and tell me about how she had cooked Easter dinner for everyone (at ninety-six!) or canned several quarts of peaches (at ninety-six!). She makes the Energizer Bunny look like a corpse. This time, though, I noticed age catching up to her. Her energy seems to be sapped. Her appetite a shell of its former self. She’s lost weight, I can see it in her face. When it came time to leave, I didn’t comment on my upcoming departure for Italy. I didn’t want to upset her. But I felt a clutch in my heart as I looked into her sweet face and wondered if this would be the last time I’d see her.

I think of these things and I wonder.

Even though I will not forget my friends, I’m torn. They will continue on with their lives. Grandkids will be born, retirements will occur. Homes will be purchased. A series of life events will occur and they will be shared all together. I’ll be in Italy.

Will they forget me?

I moved to Southern California right out of college in 1982. When I returned to Oregon in 1990, I found it somewhat difficult to reconnect. I was told that it was because I had been gone for so long, everyone had moved on. Eventually I did reconnect but things weren’t the same. Perhaps it was naive of me to think we’d pick up where we’d left off.

And that will be the same when I go to Italy. If I return after an extended period, will I feel like an outsider? Will we have changed so much that things will be uncomfortable? Will we grow in different ways so much that we can’t relate?

And as for my beloved aunt, will she still be here? Was this the last time I will see her? Was this the last time I’ll hear her voice? Will I get that dreaded phone call/email/text telling me she’s gone? Or will I come back and find her incapacitated, my final memories of her distorted by seeing her bedridden?

This is a major change. That is an obvious statement. Yes, there are many things to consider in moving overseas. I’ve been focusing on the clinical, the administrative. Necessary things that must be done. But there’s a human side that cannot be dismissed.

What is this drive to go somewhere else? One can look throughout history and see how people have been compelled to go somewhere else. To take the plunge, assume the risk, face the challenge and carve out a new life. The Pilgrims did it. Pioneers did it. Missionaries do it. They left everything to pursue something that they felt inside they must do.

Now I’m doing it. And as I keep saying, there’s no guarantee. I’m facing tremendous odds. Those I mentioned above only faced life and death issues. I’m facing government bureaucracy which is even more daunting. Sometimes I think that facing hordes of Indians or an unrelenting Atlantic Ocean is easier than circumnavigating government paperwork.

But I’m trudging on. I’m still excited. Yet the twinges are starting and they will continue as I say goodbye to more and more people. Rather than focus on the goodbyes, I will focus on the hellos when I arrive.




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