Expat Lasts – A Life Of Goodbyes

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye


Winds of Change

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ife is a delicate balance of coasting along when the winds are fair, and knowing when to intervene and shape diaphanous Destiny with a firm human hand. I think we’re done coasting for the time being. After almost four years in Canada, it’s inevitable some game-changing decisions are approaching.

Expat life is rife with uncertainty. Rumors and possibilities abound – new projects and postings, bids and restructures. I can’t say much at the moment because there’s nothing to tell, but with change-clouds blooming on the horizon, my thoughts are reflective as I trace the well-worn paths of an ordinary life rendered suddenly extraordinary by its imminent consignment to the past. Finality can elevate the mundane like nothing else. Team it with my sentimental streak and I’m the director of my own tearjerker. Which brings me to this…


All Beginnings Have Endings

Much is written about the ‘firsts’ in life, those milestones that mark our progression along this mortal coil, but very little about the ‘lasts’ – mostly they’re to do with shuffling off it: last rites, last words, last will & testament.

Those that aren’t: last call, last chance, last minute – carry a tinge of recrimination, an inference that maybe, if you’d been better prepared, things wouldn’t have got to this point.

‘Firsts’ are a cause for celebration, ‘Lasts’… not so much. Yet, for the expat at least, one is inseparable from the other.


Last Chance Saloon

Rooted in one place you have the comfort of seeing the world around you through the same dependable lens. All those things you vaguely plan to do ‘one day’ – places you’ve thought of visiting, the old friend you’ve been meaning to drop in on – can be put off ad infinitum

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…

Not so the expat. Because we never know quite when last orders will be called we tend to chug our way through life, necking opportunities like it’s Happy Hour. There’s a reason it’s called a Tequila Sunrise and not a sunset. It’s all about the doors opening; we don’t want to think about the rooms we’ll never re-enter.


The Hardest Part Is Letting Go

While most people find it difficult to live with constant change, Finality, its polar opposite, haunts the expat. When change is not so much an ‘if’ as a ‘when’, you tend to throw yourself into the ‘now’ with gusto. Whatever it is, it might not be ‘your thing’ but what the hell! Last Canadian winter? Bring it on! – we may not get the chance again. Even those final days in that shitty rental with the dodgy electrics and the gaps in the floorboards take on a sentimental glow.

Serial expats must learn to quell the queasiness of not knowing if they’ll be around for next year’s annual events. Changing seasons bring not only a different wardrobe, but a reminder to relish those vibrant autumn colors, book that dog-sledding experience and savor those summer sunsets at the lake because this could be the last opportunity you get. The only way to calm the uncertainty is to live fully in the moment.


Living With Your Choices

Making momentous decisions is hard enough but living with them is harder still. Goodbyes are easier when you can blame them on circumstance. The trail where you taught the kids to ride two-wheeled that got swallowed by a housing development doesn’t weigh as heavy on the heart as the daily route you walked where they went from stroller to independent locomotion, that you’ve deliberately chosen to leave behind.

People and places become so woven into the tapestry of our lives it’s like leaving behind a part of yourself. How many times have you looked back through photos and pored over the background rather than the smiling subject?

I’m going to be taking a LOT of photos in the coming weeks, and trying not to think about the lasts.

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.

One comment

  1. Having finally settled down in Portugal with no plans to leave, I still find the respite from these changes a relief. This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, even as a child, and I am already aware of the complacency creeping in. The taking for granted of seasons and letting annual festivals pass me by in the expectation of being able to go another year. My blog gives me motivation for exploring and sampling the as yet unknown aspects of Portugal and creates a certain self imposed time pressure to get out there and experience them all but I’m always limited by time and money.

    As you say, knowing that you may not get the chance again heightens the appreciation of and the desire to see, taste and feel as much as possible while you still can and imprint it on your memory.

    Enjoy whatever time you have left in Canada – I can’t wait to find out where your journey takes you next.

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