The Phone Call You've Been Dreading... Loss of a Loved One While You're Abroad - Expat Nest e-counselling



The Phone Call You’ve Been Dreading… Loss of a Loved One While You’re Abroad

In today’s interconnected world, distance often separates us from those we hold dear. While technology has made it easier to stay in touch, there are moments when a simple phone call carries life-altering news. This happened to Expat Nest founder Vivian Chiona in February, with the passing of her godfather. She shares some reflections on how to get through this…


The phone rings. It’s a relative or friend back home who is sharing the devastating news of a loved one’s passing. Whether you were expecting the news or not, the shock and disbelief are often compounded by the physical distance that separates you from the ones who share your grief.

The experience of losing someone while living abroad is a unique form of grief. It’s a complex mix of emotions: sadness, guilt and a profound sense of disconnection. The inability to be physically present for mourning rituals or to offer comfort to grieving family members can amplify feelings of helplessness and isolation. It can also lead us to question our decision to live abroad, if we worry that our family needs us or that we might have bene able to do more for the departed person.

Coping with loss while living abroad often requires navigating cultural differences and logistical challenges. From getting time zones right to arranging travel for funerals or memorial services, every step can feel like an uphill battle.

It can also be deeply painful when those in your current life abroad don’t know your departed loved one, or understand the deep connection you shared; when they can’t share in special times you had with the person you have lost. The loss may also feel unreal as you live your daily life.

Here are way to take care as you navigate loss while abroad:

  1. Acknowledge the complexity of grieving from a distance: Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that accompany loss. Finding ways to honour the memory of the departed, whether through virtual memorials, rituals or acts of kindness, can begin to provide a sense of closure and healing.
  2. Use technology to connect with those at home: It can be a lifeline, enabling virtual connections that bridge the gap between continents. Video calls, instant messaging and social media platforms offer avenues for sharing condolences, reminiscing about happier times, and finding solace in the company of loved ones, albeit through a screen.
  3. Lean on your expat and local community: People living abroad often form close-knit communities, forging bonds with fellow expatriates who understand the challenges of being away from home. In times of loss, these communities – as well as your local friends – can provide invaluable support, offering a shoulder to lean on.
  4. If it’s possible to return home, this may help with closure. If you decide to go, acknowledge and validate the difficulty of these moments, from the phone call, to making all the arrangements to go home, to the plane journey, which may be one of the hardest you’ve ever taken…
  5. Know that it’s okay if you can’t get home: It may be that you simply aren’t able to fly home, due to financial or work constraints, or that you can only return much later. It can be very healing to create your own memorial or ritual at home, to mark the person’s passing.
  6. Aim for an emergency fund: If possible, try to have enough saved to afford a sudden or unexpected trip back home.

Remember that love is never gone…

It’s essential to acknowledge the complexity of grieving from a distance and to allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that accompany loss. Finding ways to honour the memory of the departed, whether through virtual memorials, rituals or acts of kindness, can begin to provide a sense of closure and healing.

In the end, the experience of losing a loved one while living abroad reminds us of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing the moments we share with those we love. And though the distance may separate us physically, the bonds of love and memory transcend borders, comforting us in our moments of sorrow and reminding us that we are never truly alone.

If you are grieving while abroad, please know that you are in my thoughts. 

With love


How have you navigated the loss of a loved one while abroad? What tips could you share with the Expat Nest community? We’d love to hear from you.

PHOTO: Jasmin Chew/Pexels



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