‘My daughter emigrated to New Zealand 17 years ago. I’m still devastated’

Tell Me About It: ‘I feel sick inside and miss her so very much. I just want to be with her. What can I do? She FaceTimes me every night’

PROBLEM: My daughter emigrated to New Zealand 17 years ago. I’m still devastated all these years later. She has just spent three weeks’ holiday with me and has now gone back.

I feel sick inside and miss her so very much. I just want to be with her. What can I do? She FaceTimes me every night.

How can I cope with this loss?

ADVICE: There is enormous heartache in your letter, and it feels like a very old story for Ireland, with emigration to far-flung places touching almost every family. Many people argue that modern technology allows for more connection and of course it does, but when you have had the real person with you for three weeks, the gaping hole of loss has to be gone through again. After 17 years, you must have gone through every possibility, from her moving home eventually to you moving to New Zealand, and it seems that you have arrived at the reality that you have to live with this distance.

The truth is that grief has to be borne, it has to be gone through and suffered, and the more willing you are to engage in that process, the earlier the release from it. We need good people around us who can tolerate our abject loss and be there for us. We need the ordinary comforting things of life: cups of tea, movies, duvet days and ice-cream. We need to go home to our families and have our dinners made and have long walks in sympathising rain. Your current heightened sense of loss will pass but it will take its own time and attempts by us to hasten it do not always have a good effect.

The desire to get away from grief can have a postponing effect. Drowning our sorrows, withdrawing into ourselves or losing ourselves in destructive activities, all only offer temporary relief while the real work of recovery is still waiting to be done. Talking, sharing stories, crying and even ranting, can all be therapeutic, but these are better done in company so that it doesn’t result in sinking into depression. No one escapes grief in life, and while it can make you feel very isolated, there is always someone who can understand and empathise with you.

Physical activity can help, not just as a way of stopping your mind from going over the whole loss again, as it will make you feel and look better and boost your confidence. When we are full of grief it is hard to face the world and we often retreat into our homes and heads. Committing to some physical activity forces us to participate, shift the apathy and engage with the human race again. While it is not the answer on its own it is part of the recovery process. Join a club or group of people who are of similar age and stretch your life beyond what it is — perhaps hill walking would make you feel fitter and offer you easy company. It will take time and commitment for this to make a difference, as your feelings of loss will not recede easily, so get support and motivation from your friends and family and tell them of your intentions.

You have had 17 years to come to terms with the fact that your daughter has chosen New Zealand as her location for life and now it is time to fully accept this. Many people block their grief in order not to burden the loved one but there is no doubt that your daughter knows how you feel and carries the cost of this, ie that she is the cause of your distress. It is time to fully accept her choice and invest in your life so that both you and she can rid yourselves of the constant misery and guilt and allow some lightness in. It is very rare for an adult child to FaceTime with their parent every evening, so your relationship has a lot of love and care in it.

Treasure this and focus on what you do have rather than on what is missing. Truthfully, you will know that both of you are leading more fulfilling lives when one or both of you do not have time to FaceTime as your lives become too busy and meaningful. We know that living in the moment is where bliss and happiness can be found — your moment is here in Ireland so give that your attention and be fully with your daughter only when she is in front of you (on FaceTime or any other form of contact). There are many groups that can help you develop this practice of presence, and you can source these by looking up mindfulness courses or weekend retreats on the web and finding one that suits you.

Enjoy that your love for your daughter is a cornerstone of your life, but do not make it into something that weighs both of you down.