Tell Me About It: I feel only half alive since my daughter moved to Australia

My biggest worry is that she will like it so much there that she won’t come back

PROBLEM: There is an issue I would like to see more discussion about: the depression and sadness that can afflict parents when a child moves abroad. This has happened to me, and I am struggling to get over the situation.

My daughter moved to Australia four years ago, and I have to live with this every day. I find it heart-breaking, and the bigger worry is that she will like it so much there that she won’t come back at all.

She comes home for holidays but says that life down under is very good, and she likes going back. I am afraid that she will marry a guy and have her children in Australia and I will only get to see them once a year.

I don’t want her to see me upset, so she does not know how hard I find it, but to be honest I feel only half alive since she left.

I know other parents have this problem and that it would be good to get together to discuss it, but I am very shy and cannot tolerate being in groups of people.

I have two other children who live in Ireland, and I am very grateful for that, but I miss her all the more because she is the one who is not here. We don’t really talk about it much any more, because I know they don’t like to see me upset. My husband is very sad too, and just puts up with it.

ADVICE: This is a very poignant story and one that many people will find relatable. Because the departed family member has not died, the grief experienced by parents can often go unrecognised and unsupported.

In fact, it sounds as though you and your husband are stuck in grief without any outlets for it, and it is becoming debilitating. Not talking about it has negative consequences in that the grief goes underground and wells up inside without any expression or understanding.

Over time this can become toxic, and it is possible that serious stress could result. No doubt you are asked on a regular basis how your daughter is doing in Australia, and I wonder if you ever take these opportunities to say how sad and lonely it is without her – or do you say how well she is doing and close the conversation?

It is possible for us to get comfort from our neighbours and communities during periods of grief, and many people have experience of losing someone close to emigration, so real acknowledgment and empathy is possible here.

Most people do not want their loved ones to be burdened with their loneliness so they hide it when they are on Skype or on the phone. There is a cost to this evasion, as neither party ever gets to fully connect with the other. The level of worry goes up when we are guessing at the truth.

But people often do not speak the truth out of a sense of not wanting to add further worry to someone who is so far away. Perhaps it is time to replace the worry with honesty and sharing. This might ease the acute sense of loneliness and depression on both sides. Parents still want the opportunity to support their offspring in any way they can, even if distance doesn’t allow physical contact, and children would like to be able to offer emotional support from wherever they are in the world to their parents in their time of need.

This is your opportunity to break the pattern with your daughter. It is possible to let her know of your sense of loss while still supporting her choice of living in whatever country she chooses. In return, perhaps she can tell you of the struggles she has instead of painting a picture or perfection.

Your other children and husband might also be glad of the opportunity to express how they feel, even if it involves tears, and they might also feel honoured to be allowed support you during this time.

If you express your grief, you might find that sharing it offers you some relief and brings you closer to the people who are actually around you.

You are right that this is a common experience, and if you feel able, you might consider connecting with others so that your experience can be shared and appreciated. Generation Emigration in The Irish Times is a good place to start.