Loss Whilst Living Abroad: How You Can Cope With Expat Grief

Moving abroad is a radical transition. Think about it – the courage needed to start anew, build yourself from the ground up and progress with a new life abroad is immense. But, no matter how happy and how many positive experiences we may be having, we cannot run from the inevitability of negative experiences that come with being a migrant, specifically, experiencing loss when we’re abroad.

Dealing with the grief that accompanies loss is hard enough on its own, but being hundreds or thousands of miles away from home makes the circumstances all the more difficult.

Grief is our natural reaction to loss, an emotional response that can leave us feeling upset, confused and alone, and can impinge on our lives by disrupting our sleep, harming our mental health and changing our appetite. Expat grief is distinct in itself. It can be defined as the grief you experience from losing something after you’ve moved from one country to your new home.

The loss can come in many forms, and we have probably all already experienced some form of loss in our lives already, but when we’re all alone, away from home, how exactly are we supposed to cope with the grief that we experience from our loss whilst living abroad?

Losing a Loved One


There’s nothing like losing someone near and dear to you. The sinking feeling when you pick up the phone and almost know that at the other end, something’s happened, something devastating and something permanent. Not being at home, to be with your family and friends during the loss of a loved one, makes you feel all the more helpless and all the more alone. You can chat to those you know in your new life and share your recent news, but there’s still the underlying feeling that no one can truly relate to what you’re going through because they didn’t know your loved one personally.

Losing a loved one is a difficult and devastating life transition, and the unfortunate likelihood is that we should all be prepared for the possibility that we may lose a loved one whilst living abroad.


Losing Friendships


When you’re miles away from home, it’s difficult to maintain relationships with your friends abroad. The distance between you means it becomes harder for you to be there for your friends in times of need, to be there for important occasions or to simply meet up and have a catch up over a coffee – especially if time differences begin to come into play.

You may therefore find that the efforts to maintain the relationship are not being shown by either you, or your friend, but this is – increasingly so – a normal aspect of living abroad.


Losing a Relationship


If you’re in a relationship when you’re planning to move abroad, you have to make the difficult decision of either trying to make things work long distance, or having to go your separate ways. Either way, the emotional turmoil that comes with losing a relationship is horrible to have to face alone whilst living abroad.


Losing Your Old Life


Even the loss of your old life whilst living abroad may be causing you grief in your new life. The loss of your routine in your home country, whether it was attending school, clubs or meeting friends and family, you’ve lost everything you’ve been accustomed to and have to build from the ground up again. And the loss of your culture and familiarity means you may feel like a stranger in your new environment, having to refamiliarize yourself with a new culture, language and place.


How to Cope with Your Grief


There is no right or wrong way to cope with grief. The grieving process is a subjective experience, and only you can determine how long you need and the ways in which you overcome your loss. Here are a few ways that may help the grieving process after you’ve experience loss whilst living abroad:




No one can force you to come to terms with your loss, but eventually, you’ll have to accept that it’s happened and that you need to move on. But that doesn’t mean to say you forget of course.

There is plenty of advice that exists on the internet on how to accept a loss, but what there is a lack of is what you shouldn’t do, and that is: compare yourself to others.

Everyone grieves differently and it won’t be any benefit to you, mentally or physically, if you are constantly comparing yourself to others who have grieved or are grieving. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and it’s ok that it may be taking you a longer or shorter amount of time than others to accept your loss. But once you accept the loss, it makes a huge step towards helping you during your grieving process.


 Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is an important part of any experience of loss. Being able to metaphorically untie yourself from whatever and whoever you’ve lost is important for you to be able to grieve over your loss and move on with your life.

I’m not suggesting burning your ex-boyfriend’s hoodie, but if it helps – who am I to judge? It may mean returning home and attending a funeral or ceremony of a loved one or relative, or realising that you can’t live in the past contemplating how you could have saved a friendship that’s now lost. As we move on in life, there are new beginnings and also sad endings, but don’t hang onto the endings or they’ll stop you from moving forward – remember to say goodbye.

Keeping Yourself Distracted


Keeping yourself distracted and making sure you’re not dwelling on your loss helps you to passively heal emotionally. You can pour yourself into something that you are passionate about and enjoy, or simply just something that helps you keep your mind off of the event of your loss. Separating your mind from current events helps you to move forward and not be focusing solely on your loss, which is better for your mental and physical wellbeing.

Letting yourself sink into a distraction allows you to be the version of you that you want to be, without being consumed by any guilt or emotional feelings associated with your loss. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your loss entirely, but make sure that your emotional and physical wellbeing is being taken care of, and that your loss is not overwhelming you.


Receiving Support


Making sure that you have support while living abroad for any feelings you feel as a result of your loss is really important. During your new life abroad, you’ve probably made friendships and found people that you can confide in, so choosing someone that you can trust to open up to about the way your loss has made you feel is an important part of overcoming the loss. Sometimes, realising you aren’t doing well is half of the battle when it comes to overcoming feelings associated with a loss, so you can begin to seek help, receive support from friends and family and continue to grieve knowing that you are loved and supported.

Get in touch with a family member or friend if you are struggling physically or emotionally as a result of your loss, or seek professional help from your local GP or a support service, such as a mental health charity or bereavement support service.


Some services include:

  • Samaritans: A charity organisation who offer an ear to listen to your troubles, free of judgement. Call free on: 116 123. Their phone lines are open 24 hours daily.
  • SANEline: An anonymous emotional support helpline providing support and guidance to those who may suffer from a mental illness. Call free (provider charges may apply) on: 0300 304 7000. 
  • NHS Every Mind Matters: Provides general information and advice on how to care for your mental health and wellbeing, and how to access other professional services. 


Healing Happens Over Time


Remember, time heals mental wounds. The emotional impact of your loss is something that you will overcome, but you need to give yourself time in order to do this. Your grief may not get easier over time, but you will get used to grieving and become stronger in the process. But don’t feel guilty when you feel you may not be grieving as much as you used to or you expected to grieve more in a time of loss – give yourself time to heal.

Grieving over the loss of a loved one, friendship or your former life can be a traumatic experience. Making sure you are taking the steps to look after yourself during your loss is imperative for you to move on in the next phase of your life. We’ll never forget what we’ve lost, but we will grow and remember the good without being overwhelmed by the bad. 

Charlotte Pitts
Charlotte Pitts

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