The Steeplechase

London 1908 – Steeplechase

In the background, hovering, is the fact that I’m leaving at the end of the month. It’s everywhere, it lays dormant until someone mentions an event that’s coming up “oh, no, I can’t come but G can, I wont be here” and then it’s there, smack, right in your face.

G and I continue to get busier and busier, which means there’s less time for talk, less time for consultation. We have a rough idea of how things will work and plans are slowly falling into place – but we are yet to look each other in the eye. We make broad sweeping statements, but we shy away from the detail.

The weekend refused to stick to its original plan. The sleepover took a twist when we found out our neighbour had lost his mother. Expat life has its hurdles, but the one that appears to be the biggest to jump, is illness. Whether it’s yours or your family, a new set of obstacles appear, the fact that you’re away from home turns your marathon into a steeplechase.

When someone dies it doesn’t matter where you are, life stands still for a moment while you regroup with family and let the news sink in. When you’re an expat it means booking flights, maybe getting travel approval from the office and arranging for extended leave. If you have children, all of a sudden you’re trying to negotiate the ridiculous notion of fitting Grandmas funereal around the calculus exam. You’re on the phone constantly to family and friends, but there’s nothing hiding what’s really going on; you’re miles from home and you have a desperate urge to be with those who understand.

I missed my Grandmother’s funereal. I was heavily pregnant with the second little traveler and had just returned from Australia to KL when she died. My mother made me promise not to come back when it happened. I’d watched my Grandmother only weeks before become progressively worse in the nursing home, I held her hand while she begged for help – she was in incredible pain. She had one request for me “don’t you go getting all sentimental and call that baby Mabel – I hated the name”. She knew me to well. I was getting sentimental, I was thinking of calling the baby Mabel.

My mother emailed me the eulogy my father read at the funeral. My sister said it was beautiful, that’s when I realized that funerals weren’t for the dead – they’re all about the living. It’s a chance to say a proper goodbye, a well thought out, planned ending. When I finally returned to Australia eight months later, I’d almost convinced myself that there was a possibility it had all been a terrible mistake, that maybe there was a slight chance that she’d be there. If you haven’t seen the moment, attended the funereal, seen the headstone or listened to the memorial, it’s easy to pretend it never happened.

I know for G it’s not working how he wants it to. He’s busy at work, and there are events in his calendar in November that he can’t miss. He wants to be with me, but he needs to be with the children. I’ve seen him looking at air miles and calendars, but I don’t ask because I know he can’t make it work. He gets quieter, egg shells get sprinkled. We continue to go about our separate plans, we don’t make eye contact, because if we do, we’ll have to admit that this is really happening.

As we get closer, we’ll acknowledge that we’ll get through this. I will stop saying “it is what it is”. G will surrender and give up on the idea of physically being in two places at once. We will clear all of the barriers required, stretch ourselves for the water jumps and sprint to the end separately with an aim of ending together. And hopefully at some stage, one of us will admit that we were shit scared throughout the entire process.

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