I have in the last couple of days, attended my second funeral in quick succession, another of my ex-boyfriend’s relatives has died. As I stood in the same church from a couple of months ago, it dawned on me how I don’t have any memories of doing the same for members of my family, and this is the price you pay for living away for most of your life. I mean of course I don’t want to attend anyone’s funeral, that’s not what I’m saying, but my best friend got married and I didn’t go, my grandparents all died, and I didn’t attend one funeral. My life in Italy, my life abroad means so often I’m not there for these crucial family moments.
The life on an expat
Sometimes this lifestyle takes its toll, it weighs heavily and feels selfish. I remember talking to my cousins who lived next door to my grandmother when she died, and my cousin saying how sorry she felt for me that I wasn’t there to say goodbye, but I told her that her whole life and routine would now be completely different, but my life would continue exactly as before, absolutely nothing would change, just a phone call once every couple of weeks I could no longer have. I felt bad, bad for them, for me, for an impossible situation, that had no remedy. Then something really crazy happened in my family, another cousin, who was 42 years old, died suddenly, outlived by both of his parents and his brother and sister. He was the little one in the family, and he was gone. His mum was a dear aunt to me, someone I truly loved as a child, with whom I had little contact in the years I lived away. I would see her when I was visiting home, but would not really have any contact while I was living my life in faraway lands. I remember having a little talk to myself about this, understanding that this was not ok and it was needless. I made a point of calling her on a regular basis, this turned out to be a wonderful decision. My aunt who had just lost her youngest child, would not only make me laugh every time I called her, but would share amazing stories with me about the family and fill me in all the gossip, to the point that I became the go to person for info on that side of the family! Her life story was so hard and so sad, the things she told me impacted me more than I ever imagined and could ever give her credit for, all because I decided to pick up a phone every week and call her instead of sitting watching TV or scrolling on my phone. This got me going, I then called other relatives, I learned so much from them all. I guess you forget that older people know so much more than us, they’ve been around, they’ve seen it all. They’re not dear old ladies, sitting knitting, they are full humans, with interesting pasts and political views, they are people who have the time to give you love and attention, they take the time to talk to you and really listen, like few people do. Maybe I lucked out, but my aunts, my cousins, my uncles, and my oldest friends, they’re interesting and they’re fun.
A price to pay
Of course there is a price for this faraway closeness, my aunt inevitably died, and I of course never made it to the funeral, my life in Florence didn’t allow me to. But I had seen her not long before she died, and I had seen how our phone relationship translated well in a wonderful friendly rapport. When we were together, we had hours of phone calls in our minds to fall back on, we had built a really good and close relationship, even though we hardly ever saw each other. The flip side is her death hurt much more than it would, had she been a distant aunt whom I remembered as a child, but then all the things she taught me over the phone would have never been said. The size of your grief is the biggest measure of love, I can never regret loving my family. When I first moved to the UK as a teenager, I had a recurring dream, I could get on a boat, or a quick train ride, and I’d be in Brazil, in this dream my physical distance to Brazil was imaginary, I would always say « I wish I had known Brazil was this close to England, then I would have always gone on the weekends », I would wake up super sad that I couldn’t just go to my grandmother’s house, or to the restaurant with my friends like I did in my dreams. Looking back now, I understand what my dreams were trying to tell me, I never really left, Brazil was close by, I just couldn’t see it, but I had my relatives at my fingertips, they were a phone call away.
The joy of today
Nowadays we have Zoom calls and WhatsApp, we can take a photo in Paris and see it in Rio the next second. One of my best and dearest friends is someone whom I have met physically twice in my life, we first met in Amsterdam, we then met again once in San Francisco and she now lives in Texas. I attended her wedding virtually during the pandemic, I watched her pregnancy and now see her boy grow up with weekly and sometime daily updates. We recently had a FaceTime call and her 8 month old was all smiles to me on the phone, the boy is used to seeing people in there, and he loves it. It is now a much easier choice to have and keep wonderful relationships with people you care about all around the world, Rio really is next door to England. I have two godchildren I hardly ever see in person, one called Antonio, one called Antony, their mums (two of the best humans alive) send me regular updates and I know these boys, but most importantly I love them and they are a real and tangible part of my life and routine.
Is it sad I didn’t attend all these funerals and didn’t got to so many weddings, didn’t see so many pregnancies and births? Yes, of course. But it’s a choice. The legacy we have been left after Covid lockdowns is a life where it’s perfectly acceptable to attend a wedding on Zoom, to have a birthday party with your friends who live on the other side of the world. I was quarantined last new years’ eve, and for the first time in my life spent it alone at home, but celebrated it with a group of people I love, some of whom have never met each other in person, we had a party, we enjoyed ourselves and I didn’t feel alone. Of course nothing beats a big hug from your friend, or an actual walk by the beach with a loved one, but sometimes our choices mean we need to adapt and decide to make the best out of our situation, and count our lucky stars that now we have so many tools that keep us close even when we’re far away. A move to Florence, a move to Italy, a life in Italy does not mean giving up your family and your relationships, it just means learning to adapt and understanding that it’s always going to be what you make of it.