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Planning Retirement Online

 

 

Relationships - December 2014

Saying Goodbye to an emigrating Friend

 

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.



Saying Goodbye to an emigrating Friend

Little did I imagine that for a second month running I would be writing with my neighbours in mind as a springboard.

Last month I wrote of the sadness of losing a dear friend and next door neighbour. This month I anticipate losing her husband too, also a good friend.

It is not what you think. Our 85 yr old neighbour (E) is still grieving of course for his beloved wife, he is frail, his house is for sale, and he will spend Christmas with relatives in the north of England.

But that is when we shall bid him a fond farewell. In the New Year he will fly all the way to New Zealand (NZ) to spend the rest of his days where he has wished to be for the last 20 years.

In general to make such huge decisions and such massive changes so soon after a major loss is inadvisable. Time needs to be taken to recover from the shock, sadness and feelings of loneliness. The mind tends to operate differently when grieving and decisions taken during the grieving time can be regretted later, when the mind recovers and thought processes are closer to their usual pattern . We have to take greater care of ourselves, our concentration lapses, we sometimes forget to eat or do various other automatic things, memory is occupied elsewhere.

In particular, this is one time when everyone who knows and loves our friend, and there are many in our local community, knows how he has always spoken of NZ in the most energised way, with great longing. He and his family emigrated there around 50yrs ago and for the next 30 years he spent very full, fruitful and happy times settling his family and making a home there. His heart is there and he now sees his chance to go 'home'.

Why should this case be an exception to the rule?

I am sure E is desperately lonely in his house without his wife. He loved and cared for her in her later years in the devoted way she had cared for him throughout their married lives. Their return to this country was for her to look after her ailing mother. By the time that task ended her own health had deteriorated so much that they were unable to undertake the long journey back to NZ. Although his wife had resettled here and loved England best, made wonderful friends and revelled in her beautiful garden, E had ever yearned for where they had settled and raised their two children on the other side of the world.

For many people, reaching their eighties brings a pragmatic approach to their few remaining years. It is easier to talk of the end of life simply because it is closer than ever. E was quite clear that if he were the bereaved spouse he would return to NZ. In the course of the last few years it became clear that our lovely friend's health was failing and she began to anticipate the end of her life. Indeed, she eventually wished it to happen due to her increasing pain and extreme discomfort. For E there was no surprise, but the inevitable feelings of emptiness are possibly only just surfacing as he has had constant company since her death. Their son, from Australia, and their daughter, from NZ have joined with a truly devoted niece, to be with him, care for him, sort his papers and all the legalities, feed him and stock his freezer with meals in preparation for the next few weeks, when he will now be alone at last with his memories.

This can be the hardest time of all for a bereaved person. The family have all gone back to their busy lives and distant friends and relations have left. The house is quiet and the pattern of the day is changed forever. Meals for one - everything is for one. Less laundry and cleaning to do. Gardening is no longer shared or discussed. Food shopping becomes the main activity of the week. This is when we need neighbours and friends. Happily E has a group of neighbours taking care to see him and involve him in meals or chats, or to give him safe space to reflect. Many people are not that lucky. True, some find it hard to create a space for others to help, but neighbours need to be gently aware of the needs of the elderly around them.

What has happened to our friends has led my husband to volunteer as a home visitor with a local befrienders organisation. It just needs 30 or 40 minutes on a regular basis to help a housebound person's week pass more pleasantly with a cup of tea and a chat. Many councils fund these kinds of groups and will probably have information on your local council website.

Yes, E is an exception to the usual pattern. He is already almost packed, (thanks to his son and daughter – now returned to Australia and NZ) and is distributing possessions to relatives and friends. He is deciding what to take and what to leave, and arranging his accommodation in a retirement complex, with the help of his daughter in Auckland, who will be very close at hand. His greatest pleasures have been wood carving (of stunning quality) and painting, and I am delighted that he is taking both sets of equipment back with him. Even if we never use those things which define part of us again, it is important to leave the door open to the possibility. Besides, woodcarvers find it impossible to part with their tools. And given his success at working with Maori on their meeting houses, or marae, he will be welcomed home very warmly.

Some might be shocked at the apparent haste of all these changes, but there is little new in his plan except the date and the address of his future home. He has not forgotten his darling wife. He misses her terribly. But alongside the sadness he has a new excitement and energy about him. He is spending these last few weeks in our community closing down accounts, packing things off to new owners, seeing old friends to say goodbye and 'tying all the loose ends'. Who can argue that, for him, this is the only way to go?

God speed E, on your new beginning.


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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