When I passed the one-year anniversary in Australia, I felt no sense of pride or elation. Just one year crossed off the calendar. In some ways the second year was slightly less painful for me as my personal goals made it easier to stay motivated. I felt as if I had been led into choosing a career in Aged Care. My life became busy and I started making some friends.
But in spite of the increased pace of life, I still had plenty of really low days. During the Easter holiday I had a wonderful trip back to South Africa to visit the family. The holiday was superb, but unsettling.
Just as the little ones got to know me, I had to leave. Everyone’s life seemed so established, I couldn’t think of any reason why any of them would want to move. They had good jobs and lovely homes. It would be very hard to give all that up. For my first year in Australia I held on to the dream that one day we would all be together, in Australia, but after my visit, seeing their situations from a distance, I realised that might never happen.
On Mother’s Day I had to fight back tears the whole day. Tears for my children and tears for all the things I never got to say to my mother, and all the years I spent so far away from her. It seemed that I had spent my whole life following the dreams of the men in my life, without necessarily buying into those dreams fully myself. But nostalgia is poor therapy.
Nevertheless, everyone indulges in reminiscing. Almost everyone has had some good times. Somehow, as migrants, we feel we have more right to indulge in emotional wistfulness. Perhaps we feel guilty to let go of our past as it may seem a betrayal of our heritage. I read a sentence once that went something like this: ‘Migrants have lost not only a home but a country, and spend the rest of their lives tapping in vain at the window of their past.’
I did not wish to fall into the trap of constant dilemma and nostalgia, something I had noticed in English friends living in South Africa. When they were on one place they longed for the other, never fully connected, never fully ‘in the moment’, constantly homesick for the other place.
We need to feel we belong somewhere, whether it is the place of our birth, with geographically distant loved ones, or even in a different time zone. And I wasn’t ready to ‘belong’ in Australia.
The whole procedure of emigrating is an on-going process that must be worked through. I felt myself go through all the stages of grief documented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
My only choice was to work through it. I allowed myself to feel the depth of the pain. I had trained myself to drift through each day on a superficial level, avoiding focussing on anything emotional. But it was all suppressed, and in hiding from my feelings I had been hiding from my true self, so I let those tears fall and wash away the negativity and bitterness. I stopped bottling up my feelings and consciously let the tears do their healing work.
Acceptance did eventually come, and with it the strength to feel the pain without anger. And once again in my life, my passage was eased by the support of girlfriends.