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10 things immigration taught me about grief and loss

It has been 10 years since I left everything I ever knew. I left the comfort of my surroundings and the people in my life and undertook a life-changing move across the Atlantic Ocean. Immigrating to Canada is one of the most difficult things I have experienced and come to terms with thus far. In this post, I’d like to take a moment to share the lessons I have learnt from my immigration experience 10 years later.

First, some context is needed for why my parents chose to emigrate from Northern Ireland. In late spring 2009, my mum and dad made the decision to move my brother, sister, dog and I halfway across the world. Why did we move? My mum and dad wanted to give us better opportunities and quality of life. Only fifteen years old at the time, I wasn’t convinced that moving was right for us and didn’t want to leave. Looking back on this experience, I now realize that I was in denial the whole time and was isolating myself.

1. Denial is real and change is scary

Denial: refusal to admit the truth or reality of something

I was denial about the idea of moving, leaving everything I ever knew, and most of all starting a new life. With this denial came change and with change came fear. I had never moved house before so the change of house was scary in itself. This denial and fear overpowered my immigration experience and through this I have learned that these feelings are normal reactions.

2. What home means

To have lived in the same house for my entire life felt right, it felt like home. The thing I didn’t realize at that time in my life is that home is different from a house. I was scared to lose that sense of familiarity. I now understand what home means: home is a feeling of comfort and protection that can travel with you and your loved ones.

3. Loss is confusing

My dad emigrated 8-weeks before the rest of us, which was confusing for us and my extended family. My extended family said goodbye to my dad with no idea if or when they would see him again. I didn’t understand why people were acting as if he was dying. Now I realize that people were grieving – people can experience grief and loss in many situations. Loss is confusing and everyone has a different experience with it.

4. Take risks and trust

It’s clear that at the time we emigrated I didn’t want to go. Looking back on the grief and losses I experienced, plus the new adventures and skills I have gained, I believe that we are born to take risks. These risks are scary and may not turn out the way we want them to; but what if they do? Learning to trust myself and others is what has lead me to the beautiful life I live now.

5. It is okay to cry

There were many times that I was so blindsided with emotions that I just felt numb. A lot of tears have been shed over the years and with each year I realize how good it is to cry. Tears allow us to express emotions and pain while releasing toxins from your body.

6. Socializing is hard

We had many gatherings with family and friends in the months leading up to our big move. As I was in denial and others were grieving the upcoming loss, it leads to difficult and awkward interactions. Even after the loss, socializing was hard as we relearned how to interact in our new life. Coming to terms with losing relationships with people that said they would keep in contact with me forced me to build trust in new people I met.

7. Grief can make us selfish

With grief it is important to think and take care of yourself. However, reflecting on our immigration I know that grief made me selfish. I wasn’t concerned about how others felt or what they were experiencing. My family was all experiencing something similar and I didn’t acknowledge it at the time. Look around and try to help someone who needs help, as this can help you as well.

8. Grief can blindside you

Grief left me blindsided from events that happened during the lead up to emigrating, moving itself, and the aftermath. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay that I didn’t fully understand my emotions or what was happening. Reflection is an important part of grief recovery. Being able to reflect and identify how you were feeling and how you reacted will help you manage your future grief obstacles.

9. One’s loss is another’s reunion

My dad moved 8-weeks prior to us to get settled with work and set up things for us arriving. As my dad said goodbye to friends and family, they were losing him and he had 8 long weeks until we were reunited with him. One’s loss is another reunion in many contexts whether that be in moving, relationships, death, etc.

10. Grief can bring new hobbies

After immigrating to Canada, I slept a lot. Probably more than what is healthy. If your body and mind need rest, give it to them. Whenever I wasn’t sleeping I went outside to explore the nearby beaches of our new home. This became very therapeutic for me and beach-combing quickly became one of my favourite hobbies. So get out there, explore, and find joy.

Without the grief and loss from immigrating to Canada, I may never have learned these lessons (or maybe I would have in a different way, who knows). This grief led me to learn more about myself as a person, more about life and people around me. This grief led me to where I am today, 10 years later. I am still learning, but in a happy and loving place; I have found fulfillment working in the grief field by providing others with the comfort they need during a difficult time in their life.

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