Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

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Each summer, before returning to Asia, I have to say goodbye to my parents. It is an awful ritual. It is increasingly difficult as the years go on. This summer was nothing short of torturous in that my mom and dad are struggling so mightily to live. It kills me to see them in pain.

I wrestle with self-centeredness, by balancing the thought of my mom and dad’s exceedingly dwindling quality of life versus my need to learn from them and enjoy their company. I am often times needing to tell them that I have a really good life and that I am happy. Each year, I find myself playing the loser’s game of wishing that I might see my parents just one more summer. I find myself wondering if I am living a life of meaning if I cannot even take care of my own parents’ basic needs. Each year I try to reconcile my conflicting emotions. “Should I stay or should I go?” Should I risk taking a real pay cut to return home? Can I eek out one more year?

Would I be  an added burden if I finally did decide to return home?

In writing this piece, I think of a quote from Confucius that I read somewhere. To paraphrase, “a man is not a man if he leaves his parents’ hometown before they have died.” This quote slays me each time I think about it, knowing that I have left my parents when they need me most. This quote is especially gnawing in that I feel like I have left my siblings holding the bag.

I am sure that I am not the only expatriate dealing with these thoughts.What helps me is to remember and share the advice my parents sent my way,such as:

“Live simply, boring is good.” “Have a good life, enjoy your time with your wife.” “Be happy is all that I ask.” “Don’t live to help people. That is egotism. Simply live to not hurt others. That is enough.” “Whenever in a hospital, you got to eat.” “There are not a lot of people who have a relationship like we do.” “Life is incredibly humbling.”

What also helps is to organize their lives as much as possible to set them up for survival. I did this with my mom by writing a financial, mental, and physical health plan that is achievable. I aided my dad by showing him all that he can still do, and not tell him what he should do.

Finally,below are ten ideas that help me live overseas while my parents age:

1.Accept that you cannot stop the aging process, even if you are living nearby.

2.Appreciate the kindness and positivity of your parents as they look upon their lives. Listen to them.

3.Thank them incessantly in for all that they have done for you.

4.Empathize with their plight, but do not allow yourself to wallow in pity.

5.Help your parents adapt to technology and accept the tools that are just too overwhelming.

6.Do what you can, whenever and whatever.

 7.Continue to make memories.

 8.Listen to them…just sit by their sides.

9.Trust caregivers and hope for the best.

10. Pay it forward and volunteer to work with the elderly in your newly adopted country.



 Expat reader, I sincerely wish you luck as you watch your parents age. Off to Hong Kong.




6 thoughts on “Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

  1. Ah, Barry. I’m so sorry to hear that your parents continue to decline. I take comfort knowing that I feel helpless when I am with them as well as when I’m away.

    The other piece of advice is this: Give whatever support is possible to those tho are there taking care of them from day to day.

    Thank them often. When you visit, send the primary caregivers away on vacation. Take them out for beers so that they can unload the burdens to a listening ear. Christmas present: a year of housekeeping service.

    They give out of love, but they need a break.

  2. Hi Mr. Mernin, I can appreciate this entry and I agree with the wonderful suggestions of Ms. Abercrombie.

  3. Reblogged this on Expat Teacher Man and commented:

    February in Boston is especially tough. Wish I was home.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. This is my first year as an xpat teacher, teaching music in India and the hardest part of taking the job was leaving my grandparents who are 95 years old and mostly treated my leaving as if they would never see me again. I have spent the last 4 years as the only family member that lived really close to them. So, I had to balance that I’ve had much wonderful time with them and really enjoyed the caretaking that I was able to do – with also realizing this is exactly where I needed to be for my own personal growth and development. I have been blogging about my adventures as well, it’s seems to be a good way to help cope with all the changing circumstances and also to let all the people at home know how I am doing.

  5. Pingback: Expat Teacher Man | An Interview with Melinda Hoang Ho: An Aspiring International School Teacher

  6. Pingback: An Interview with Melinda Hoang Ho: Aspiring International School Teacher | Teaching Your Way Around the World

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