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A Parent’s Journey through University Transition: The Day of the Send-Off and What to Expect When You Go Home

Send Off PArt two

So the dreaded day of sending-off your young adult to their dorm or other new transition has arrived and you are only days away from returning to a home minus someone you brought home to raise.  Of course, I am also excited for my son and overwhelmingly proud of him for reaching this stage in his life.  Yet, we as parents must have a safe place to acknowledge that this part of the university transition can be one of the hardest moments.  

I don’t believe that most parents or guardians, when they bring home a child from the hospital or as a foster or adoptive parent, think of this day.  Even when you prepare for it in your head, it is still not the same as experiencing it.  As I mentioned in Part One –  What I Wish Someone Warned Me About the Send Off: Perspectives from my RAFT, “Much of the difficulty of this transition is the emotional process of what you conceptually prepared for.”

This is Part Two of The Send-Off to Adulthood: A Parent’s Journey through University TransitionThe Day of the Send – Off and What to Expect When You Go Home.  As I shared in Part One, I hope my sharing of my own journey will help affirm the journey of others and encourage the processing of this transition.  By sharing my story in Part One, I found that it has helped me move through this transition.  I hope it will encourage you to share as well, below in the comments and within your circle of support.

The Day of the Send-Off

I was both dreading it and excited for my son.  Processing the emotions leading up to this day, as I did through the process of writing What I Wish Someone Warned Me about the Send-Off helped me tremendously.   Between the logistical tasks that needed to be taken care of and the fact that we as a family didn’t have privacy to huddle and cry like it would have the effect of a game plan strategy for how to win the day emotionally, I held myself together as much as a mother can. 

Here are some tips for how to get through the day of the send-off:

SendOFf KeepCalm Med

Keep calm and cry in the car.  Unless you have a expressionless-cry face that allow you to tear but without the dramatic expressions or don’t mind people seeing your cry today, I suggest to cry in the car before you step out and when you step back in. If you have anything emotional to say that you didn’t get a chance to say before you left the house, say it in the car, before the hustle and bustle of the move-in day starts.  Chances are, however, that you all will be too busy on this day to have time to be as emotional as you have been at home.  

Try to save your emotions for when you’re alone or away from your young adult so that it isn’t harder on your young adult.  They might seem emotionless today or can’t wait to break free, but know that there is much going on within them as well and might be fighting tears themselves.  Hopefully, you aren’t alone during this send-off so that when you step back in the car, you’ll have someone to speak to and ensure you are driving safely.  (And please know you’re not the only sappy parent in this world.)

Seeing more of my son’s self-determination helped me have less concerns about his adjustment.

Get out of the way helpfully.  Allow your young adult to focus on what they need to get done in the way that makes sense to them.  There is most likely a part of them, even if it is small, that is trying hard to not succumb to the overwhelming mixture of sadness, excitement, fear, and tremendous courage.  As I helped my son with little but practical things that wouldn’t get in his way of taking charge of how to handle move-in day and the move-in week schedule, I started to see more and more of his personal self-determination come out.  

Seeing more of my son’s self-determination helped me have less concerns about his adjustment.  If he made any mistakes along the way today or this week, I had faith that he would learn from it and that it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  For someone with some OCD tendencies, this was a big step for me, but observing how he has been becoming more and more mature this summer helped me let go.

Day one of being their own boss.  Today is a day your young adult will need to be the boss while receiving your age-appropriate guidance.  It’s a smoother drop from being a co-boss on the day of the send-off to being the only boss after the family leaves for your young adult than being completely dependent on parents until the last minute.  Allowing them to take ownership of their decisions and as a parent, balancing that task of guiding your student on a day they are most likely trying their best to be strong and brave will need to be flexible today.

It would be wise to still provide solid and well-timed guidance of major things like making decisions that ensure personal safety and security, and the smarter options for purchasing textbooks. However, as young adults, they will only need to be shown how to do such things so they can practice making these decisions themselves.  If they make a mistake, they will learn from it.  Just like when you were younger, the lessons you learned were also the mistakes you made.  As a parent, in reality, your guidance will not really end, but it will most likely involve more and more respect.

Find your co-supervisor in your young adult.  Certain things, like billing and matters related to your young adult’s student account, will still need to be supervised by you as a parent, of course, but you can start to share that responsiblity with your young adult.  Your guidance will be teaching them how to supervise it themselves and as a co-supervisor, follow up on anything confusing while allowing them to be part of the finding the solution.

And finally…


If you feel like stalking your own young adult child, it’s normal (I hope) but not advisable.  It’s funny looking back now, but after we emptied the car of the last of his belongings (the next day), I wanted so badly to stalk my own son around campus.  How do you just leave a child you raised and just drive off?  I literally visualized tiny invisible vacuum cleaners sucking the tears before they could fall from my tear ducts.  Of course, he didn’t invite us to attend all the things he needed to (mostly because we might have looked like the Addams family creeping up from spot to spot with the way my eyeliner had run around my eyes and how relatively quiet I was behind my arms intentionally composed at my waist), so if I wanted to see where he’d go next, I’d have to stalk him.  

My senses came to me however, and I didn’t.  I just stalked his bike (to make sure it hadn’t been stolen of course).  I noted that it had moved and that gave me a reason to call later and follow up with him on how it was to ride around campus for the first time.  To mothers for whom this day is a very dreaded day, please know that there is grace for you for things like this (but not forever).  Big hugs!!  


What to Expect When You Go Home

It was a hard process to get through the day of the send-off.  Of course, you are also excited and rejoice for your young adult’s success at coming this far.  However, the type of sadness you can feel on move-in day at the dorm or other transition is not like any other because this is a child that you raised.  Also, as I described in Part One, home will be so different now.

Here is what you may expect when you return home and what can help:

Minus one at home.  Visiting my son’s room, of course, felt very lonely.  Especially the first few days, I had to catch myself and retrain my brain to remember I wouldn’t be hearing sounds from his room.  Emotions always take longer to catch up.  Not having your child at home on a daily basis can truly be very emotionally dislocating.  If you are the type to need time to grieve over changes that are very emotional in nature, allow yourself to just stay home and minimize social interaction or being out in public. Unless it’s social support to help get your through this transition, you don’t need to pressure yourself to get right back in the routine of things because your daily routine, up to a few days ago, always involved your child being present when you came from your routine. 

Minus one while at work.  Being in a job where you have been in a long time will feel different becuase at the end of the day, you most likely always looked forward to coming home, and home is different now without the daily presence of your young adult you just sent-off.  You may need to develop a coping method for work (or school if you are also a student).  If you need to report back to your work or other responsibilities so soon after the send-off and cannot take time off, you may need to have a way to put your emotions on hold so you can function at work.  Try to take it day by day and if it helps to talk about it with certain people during your lunch breaks, just remember to choose who you speak to wisely.  Make sure they can help you end the lunch break with a way that will bring you back to focusing on your job responsibilities until you can go home.  

Minus one on your driving route.  If  you are like me, driving anywhere on the streets of anywhere I used to drive just feels different.  Driving the same routes I used to drive on my way to pick my son up when he was younger or drop him off felt really sad.  I know this is how it feels this first week and it gets better, but just have the tissues ready during your drive.  The first day, I almost wanted to just leave a tissue under each of my eye held by my sunglasses while driving around.  The only thing is that my windows aren’t tinted that well.

Minus one on the first grocery run.  Oh boy.  It’s time to do the groceries or eat something you only have in case of emergency that you wouldn’t eat under normal circumstances.  If I would have thought of this sooner, I would have stocked up so that I don’t have to grocery shop within a week after the send-off.  You’re in public and it’s the first time you are grocery shopping.  After almost two decades (for most parents) of grocery shopping with the individual you just dropped-off away from the home in mind, this is the first time you are grocery shopping without him or her around.  You now have to have the mindset that the food won’t be eaten across the table from you, or that  you won’t have to buy certain things or as much.  This was hard, but I made it and I know you will too.

These are just some of the things I have personally experienced.  When I think of parks, homes of family friends, churches and other places my son and I used to go to together regularly, I know that I will need to adjust my emotions to match more of what I know cognitively. I know the first times will be sad.  The behavior part of the cognitive-emotional-behavior adjustment for this transition seems simple enough, but I know it will involve a new pairing of emotions for each behavior I used to routinely do with my son as a young child especially.  

If you are a parent dealing with mixed cultural expectations about what the send-off signifies, please rest in the thought that the future does not all have to be pre-determined now.  Allow yourself time to just process the moment.

A note about cultural expectations and the send-off: a perspective from a TCK who grew up with Filipino parents.  Allow yourself to reflect on your own expectations about what this life stage means and try to communicate with your young adult child throughout the various stages of this transition.  In many Asian families, a young adult going to college does not necessarily mean a breaking away from the family.  Often, under a less individualistic and more kinship sense of identity, a young adult stays with the family until it is time for them to marry. It’s important to allow yourself space to grieve according to your own cultural expectations.  If there are differences between your expectations and your child’s expectations of what this stage in life signifies, allow each other time for adjustment and seeing what each of you want as individuals with culture as an influencing factor.  We are at the end of the day, human with certain personality traits before we identify with culture.  I expect that this expectation may be fluid and depend on several factors, such as finances, the job market, and other career-related decisions, and not just culture.  

Also, I expect that there will be seasons in life related to the decisions that have to be made about the future.  If we can rest in just experiencing the moment for how it is in the moment, it may just make it easier to process rather than being caught in “cultural expectations” as a formula to follow and create expectations with to determine the future.  There are certain things I’d prefer and there are certain things my son would prefer.  It will be up to us to figure it out together as a family with sensitivity and respect for one another, but it does not have to all be determined right now especially the week of the send-off.  If you are a parent dealing with mixed cultural expectations about what the send-off signifies, please rest in the thought that the future does not all have to be pre-determined now.  Allow yourself time to just process the moment.

I hope this has been helpful to my readers. Please share your own stories in the comments below to help encourage others to process this transition.  Giant hugs to all!


The Send-Off to Adulthood: A Parent’s Journey through University Transition Pt 1

Send Off Part One - Large

The journey of sending off your child to college, joining the military or other life transitions after graduation from high school can be one of the most emotionally excruciating transitions as well as proud moments for parents or parental figures.  Just as there is nothing that truly compares to all a person puts into raising a child as a parent or guardian, there is nothing that truly compares to all a person adjusts to at the point when their young adult embarks on the bridge to their own life.

This will be the first in a series designed to help the parent, with some insights available for the young adult, through the college transition as I go through this transition myself.  It is important to discuss here because caregivers, especially sandwich generation caregivers, can play other roles in life which should also be acknowledged.  As an adult Third Culture Kid, some of what I share will be especially helpful to adult TCKs and adult Cross Culture Kids, but this series is written for all going through this transition.  For the college-bound and college students with a global nomad background and for parents as figures of support through this transition, Tina Quick’s The Global Nomad’s Guide to Univeristy Transition is a valuable resource.  

This series will be about the transition parents go through in redefining their role as parents and their relationships with their young adult children entering college.  The voice used in this series will be genuine and from the moment of experiencing these things and not only after I have processed each stage of the journey.  I hope that by doing this, it can prepare some of you for what you may experience and give affirmation that you are not alone. 

Part One –  What I Wish Someone Warned Me About the Send Off: Perspectives from my RAFT

Tomorrow, my son will be moving into what will be his dwelling place for the next two semesters.  Preparing for it involved preparing him as well as myself.    In the few weeks leading up to this day, I started doing what becomes instinctive for parents, preparing your child for all the practical things for college living.  As any other parent, raising my son itself was preparing him for this moment and my style of parenting always involved using big and small opportunities to equip him with various skill sets and useful knowledge both practical and for social relationships.  That was the teacher in me.  The TCK in me started to refer to the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT (detailed below*) from Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds as a type of “checklist” and Quick’s Guide to ensure I was preparing him holistically.

Because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.  

Tina Quick does a very thorough job in laying out how to build a RAFT* to support the college bound student and has a useful chapter for parents about the diverse range of what can be expected in the parent-child relationship during the summer before college and the adjustment period after college starts.  I want to add that because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.

Not only is it important to move through this transition and avoid unresolved grief, the importance of which Pollock and Van Reken discuss in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.  For the relationship between the parent and child to evolve in a fruitful way, the parent must also have a way to process the internal transition of redefining the role as a parent as well as the external relationship with the child.

The RAFT* for parents going through this transition may look different for each parent and parent-child relationship due to different parenting styles, cutural standards and ways of expressing oneself.   There are four things I wish to share about the internal process of redefining my role as a parent, which some parents may need to prepare and establish a support system for as they move through this transition on their RAFT. 

I wish someone warned me that I’d feel actual pangs of hollowness that come and go during the transition to sending off your adult child to college.  This most likely also applies when a parent sends off an adult child joining the military, or moving elsewhere to start some other life transition.  I’m here to tell you that it’s going to hurt, at least for a period while you are adjusting.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. However, knowing it is going to be hard is not the same thing as the actual emotional experience of it. It’s not a constant non-invasive phase in the adjustment process that you just have to wait out. It can be an actual pang that you feel that you have to really work through.

I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.

Daily regular activities, like falling asleep, waking up, walking around the house, turning on the faucet suddenly felt hollow.  I found myself in tears at the thought that the house would suddenly be lacking my son’s piano and guitar playing at various times during the day or late at night while I fall asleep, for longer periods of time while he is living elsewhere.  Not being able to walk into his room to say good night face-to-face while he hugged and kissed me back as a little child, through the later years of a more detached “good night mom,” (with a now-please-let-me-have-some-privacy” tone typical of teens forming their own identity) feels really lonely.  It’s not just a sleep over either.  I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.  Much of the difficulty of this transition is the emotional process of what you conceptually prepared for.

“Home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy.

I wish someone warned me that “home” will become more fluid from now on.  Building and maintaining a home is a major aspect of the role of parenthood.  The concept of home by default involves an identification of who comes home to the home.  This is why the little things like falling asleep, turning on a faucet, and other little things I do daily at home suddenly feels sad.  The layout of the physical house is the same and realtionally, I am still my son’s mom.  However, “home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy. I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.   Home now will have to be where we will be together even though some parts of the year, we’re apart.  Yet “home,” at least as the physical place where you are not a visitor, will also remain “home” for my son when he is back, even though during the school year while he has his belongings elsewhere, he is technically “visiting.”

Home now will be different for my son and for me. It will not be in the same physical location, but emotionally, being home is also when we are together, whether I visit or he visits.  A physcal home that has history of us being together under the same roof is an option but not necessarily obsolete because we will be geographically apart.  Home now involves different aspects that will require fluidity.  While it was more simplistic to have home be the same as each others physically and relationally, this redefintion of home is as genuine and significant, but it is a painful process right now.

I wish someone warned me that the change in my role as a mother is really rough emotionally.  This is another thing that is easier to have a concept of than to actually experience.  Ive taken it for granted that my grocery list will always plan to feed my son as a member of the household.  It feels lonely to think that I can still buy things for him, but I will be sending it as a care package while he is away.  The same goes for managing his education.  When he graduated from high school, I graduated from having his mandatory education under my watch.  It all should be a completely freeing feeling, but at this point right now, it is still a shock to my system and I was not asking to be liberated from it all.  This adjustment is hard emotionally even though rationally I knew this was coming up.

There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.

While raising my son,  whenever an opportunity arose that I could use to teach him a new skill, I would, such as how do a simple repair for a toilet leak, how to change oil in a car, how to prepare a healthy meal, and how to manage and balance time between what you’d like to do vs what you have to do.  Logically and instinctively, my interaction with my son was always in preparation for him to become independent.  The guidance and protection parts of my role as a parent involved my behavior and my speech being geared towards him ultimately separating and having the skills and knowledge to care for himself independently.  I believe it’s a primal instinct to do this, as much as nurturing and loving a child is.  

It’s still a shock to my system however, to be at this point of my role of what I’ve been doing instinctively for almost 18 years coming to an end.  There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.  I understand that he has some basic skills now to be independent but it still feels anti-instinctual to just cease what I’ve been doing.  It seems that I will need to work on making the guidance role more subdued from now on and hope that the seeds I have planted for practical, emotional, relational, spiritual, financial, physical and other purposes will just continue to grow.  

…Knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”

I wish someone warned me about the pain and sadness that come before the victories and celebration.  People always talk about the end result, “It was hard but I adjusted.” “Now, he has his bachelor’s degree and he’s about to start a paid internship that can lead to a permanent job. I’m so proud of him!”   I’m here to tell you that before all of that, you may go through a period of extreme sadness.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. But knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”

Before I close, I want to also share how the RAFT may look for the internal adjustment for the parent and the parent-child relationship.

The RAFT stands for the following:  

R= Reconciliation, which “includes both the need to forgive and be forgiven” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., Third Culture Kids, Growing Up Among Worlds, 2009. p. 182.).  

A= Affirmation, which involves “the acknowledgement that each person in (a) relationship matters,” (Pollock, S. and Van Reken, R. 2009. p 182) including family members, significant adult figures or role models, and friends.

F= Farewells, which includes farewells to “people, places, pets, and possessions” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p 183).

T= Think Destination, which refers to considering what you need to prepare for both “internal… and external…resources for coping with problems” that may be encountered after arriving at your next destination.  (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p. 184).

The following is my application of the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT for the internal process of this transition as a parent and between the parent-child relationship:

Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how your child will visit after leaving.

Reconciliation –  If there are unresolved matters that have weighed heavily on the relationshp between you as the parent and your child, it would be healthy to address them with the goal of coming to terms with it before your child goes to college.  Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how often your child will want to visit after leaving.  

Internally, if there are any areas where you as a parent need to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made, it is also important to work through them if you have not yet.  No parent is perfect and we all have made mistakes.  If you need to seek forgiveness from your child, it may help to do this before your child leaves because again, it may determine how your child visits after leaving. 

Affirmation – Communicating about the various significant pleasant memories from the time spent with your child and what you cherish about your bond with your child can help affirm special aspects of your child’s character and personality.  This may help how he or she relates and builds relationshps with new people he or she will be encountering.  

Internally, it is important to cherish and congratulate yourself for your own accomplishment that led up to this new life stage for your child.  Before that may happen, however, it may be important to acknowledge and validate for yourself the losses you feel during this transition.  In a way, sharing what has been painful through this process is a way of grieving them so that I can move forward.  I invite you to also reflect on, allow yourself to completely feel and, if you feel comfortable, share here what are the hardest moments for you.

Farewells –   As far as the farewells my son and I face together, looking back, we have always done this throughout my son’s chldhood and adolescence as he entered each new stage of his development.  We often discuss changes in his relationships with people in his life.  We have reminisced about special places that have come and gone. My son isn’t the type to be attached to a geographical place unless there is significant memories attached to it, which may now be more associated with moments with his friends.  We are in the process of determining how I will takeover his share of care for the pets.  I will need to let go of certain souvenirs from his childhood. 

Internally, I am still working through this.  Much of what I share above is what I am working through as I bid farewell to how parenting has been for me, in sharp contrast to my role now as a parent of a college student. It was a reassuring experience for me, however, when I was present during one of the times my son hung out with close friends. My son as well as his friends seem to be very genuine about their friendships yet realistic about how often they will be seeing each other.  My son also has taken intiative to bid farewell to other special people in his life he has not seen in a while before leaving and has made efforts to make sure I will be ok. All of this is helping me with my own farewell to my previous role as a mother.

Think Destination –  Between my son and me, we have discusssed how he and I each feel about the next stage in life. I told him about the plans I have for starting a business on the side that involves something he’s known that I love doing and the possible nearby cities I plan to transition to after he leaves for college.  Yes, I’ve also expressed how much I miss him (probably more than I should have), but I hope that I have also expressed well enough about other passions and goals that I have.

Internally, the emotional impact of how my parental role will change is what I have been avoiding.  My son has resources for the next stages of his life, but internally for me, it’s completely foreign territory. I’ve been in college.  As much as my dad now will guide me through this transition, I have never been through it.  What I can say at this point is that translating the instinct I’ve had in equipping him with skills and knowledge that will help him take care of himself into  equipping him for this next life stage is what propels me forward emotionally. I just have to attach new emotions to this stage that involve more unfamiliarity and change. Each step of parenting as your child ages is new of course, but this transition is completely different.

There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.

Although I wished people warned me about how tough this transition can be, I think that in the end, the emotional process of this would still be difficult.  There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.  For those also going through what I am, we are supposed to risk feeling this pain because becoming a parent involved an investment of so much of ourselves.  There shouldn’t be some type of safeguard to prevent parents from feeling the pain when letting go.  If others are going through the same thing as I am about to go through tomorrow, please know I am going through this with you and yes, it hurts like crazy.  Allow yourself to experience it and as you move forward, I will be also. Grab your tissues, let it out, reach out for your support system and find all the strength you have within you to get through this.  And we will get through this.



Love, Commitment and Wormholes: Three Observations about Marriage, Disability and Caregiving


The best marriage training anyone could ever receive is through helping a married couple when one has a disabling condition requiring caregiving.  In the system of services for family caregiving, aging and sudden disability, there is little focus on the pre-existing quality of the marital or committed relationship between the caregiving spouse and the dependent spouse with an illness or disability.  In comparison to the financial, medical, and other health needs of someone with an adult onset disability or chronic illness, details of that person’s marital relationship can seem trivial.  Yet it plays a major role in the quality of life of the persons involved.  I had the honor of closely observing my parents’ marriage, which survived the challenges that come with caregiving and disability, and how they maintained quality in their marriage.

Various and complex factors can impact a marriage, but a disabling condition of one person can change everything. Available statistics on the rate of divorce or marital breakdown for marriages that have one person with a brain injury-related disability, for example, range from 15% to 25% (and 78% if including a study with a small participant size).   A study of anecdotal information revealed a common theme involving a drop in income and an eventual “burn-out over having to take care of the disabled spouse and seeing their quality of life eroding.” This in turn leads to “the abled spouse initiat(ing) a divorce, even though ‘feeling guilty’ about doing so.”

…You can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit, the person or the situation?

For a real life first person example, one can read a sobering forum post initiated by a spousal caregiver seeking support about the sense of loss of the marriage he once knew with his wife before her stroke, while adjusting to the demanding role of a caregiver.

In our situation, my mother had a stroke in 2002 that left her requiring full-time caregiving. She was unable to sit up, walk or go to the bathroom on her own, and, in the beginning, unable to interact or speak with us with full consciousness.  She temporarily had a tracheostomy for a ventilator, because she was in in a deep coma for almost three weeks.  The brian injury from the stroke led to my mother needing a feeding tube in her stomach as the only way she could be fed for the rest of her life.  Although not fully conscious initially, it became clear in time that her speech, although with a raspier voice, as well as her memory and her personality remained intact, with some moments of less emotional self-restraint.  

Providing care for my mother was demanding and the drastic changes for her required tremendous strength to live through without depression, especially through six cities in four countries. However, the extra, almost 12, years with my mother is so very precious to us all.  She watched her only grandson grow up into a teenager. We bonded more as mother and daughter. This was special because I spent some years of my childhood away from my parents due to economic realities of foreign service careers based in countries economically poorer than Western countries.  My mother got to age with her dear husband and partner through a lifetime of international transitions and postings.  Some of these posting were very challenging, but not as challenging as how they spent their last 12 years together, seven of which my father was her primary caregiver, which especially impacted my parents’ quality of life and marriage.

According to a study by Perry Singleton, “couples with lower quality marriages are more likely to divorce than couples with higher quality marriages.”  I was blessed to be able to witness my parents’ marriage, seasoned with many victories the surmounted typical marital problems as well the challenges that come with frequent upheavals and transitory nature of a globally nomadic life, survive their final stage of caregiving and disability.

Below are three of the many observations I have made about my parents’ relationship in the final stages of their marriage:

1)   My parents did not hold back in being and expressing themselves.

Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.

My mother, with her strong personality that most people who know her note about her, didn’t hold back when it came to expressing her needs around my dad.  My father on the other hand, who is more reserved and quiet, wasn’t often expressive about his needs.  However, he was himself, so when he was silent and when he did speak up, my mother knew what each meant.  Their old patterns of communication as a married couple carried over to their life roles as a caregiver and disabled spouse.

By not holding back what they felt or needed, my parents rode each wave of tension for as far as they could handle as individuals and as a couple, but they got on the waves and didn’t swim away from them.  Yes, not many people would sign up to get on the waves, but they did.  As they did, my parents roared loud expressions of how they were being affected, in the form of speaking as well as silence, to stay on those waves.

My parents made a decision decades ago, believing a person’s word at the wedding altar meant something beyond the first several years of marriage. They stuck to that decision until the end, and as they approached their last stages of their life together they did so LOUDLY.   Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.

2) My parents lied about quitting each other.

 …Plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.

Did my parents at least at one point each express they wanted to quit either by death or physically leaving?  Yes. Afterall, they didn’t hold back from expressing themselves.  But at times expressing oneself is just that.  Not everything you express outloud is necessarily a threat that has to be carried out.  Sometimes expressions are to share frustrations rather than actual plans of action.

What can be confused in the expression of frustrations is what each person is frustrated at.  Is each person frustrated at the situation or truly the other person?  Yes, of course you can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit: the person or the situation?

Each time my parents surpassed a conflict, after each wave of tension died down and they roared loudly from where each were at, there was always a new dawn that rekindled their love for one another and there were actually many many more days of laughter and affection than the tension filled days.  My parents commitment to one another was more than just a legal decision to permanently stick to something you signed for on a binding contract.

Each wave my parents’ surpassed was an elevation to a new level of love for one another.  Theirs was the type that seemed to see in each other at least the core value of life of the one they had been the most intimate and vulnerable with, in all the ways two human beings can ever be, with only free will propelling this love forward.

At times, this could be the only reason left when fond memories aren’t enough to make you feel the emotions to keep going, especially after looks fade and the life you once shared is a thing of the past.  Perhaps not everyone, whether single or married, may experience this love.  However, one way to possibly to do so is to plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.

3) My parents’ love knew no boundaries of space and time.

Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.

The most romantic moments I have ever seen between two people in my life were enacted each time I watched my father patiently feed and clean up after my mother, who would reach over to express gratitude through a wordless but overwhelmingly affectionate soft caress of his arm while they looked into each others’ eyes.

These were the moments that demonstrated to me why couples ride waves of tension together, loud as the ride may be, then ride another one, and another one until there are no more.  They way my parents looked into each others’ eyes during moments like this was the same way they used to look at each other in younger years when both were able bodied and able to travel, eat and move about freely.  Their love for each other was timeless.

There is one date I remember my parents used to reminisce about before my mother’s stroke.  What was cute was the way they would each separately talk about a certain date they had for one of their anniversaries in Seoul, S. Korea.  They each, separately, would fondly talk about the same details of that evening: the ceiling painted with clouds, the beautiful and blonde haired harpist playing in the corner and the overall pleasant ambience of the restuarant, all working together as the backdrop of the wonderful time they had with each other that evening – an evening they would both jokingly describe as, “like being in heaven.”  Almost 30 years later, my parents still reminisced about this evening with the same fondness for this moment they shared in time.  

Today, my father recounts the same evening with the same fondness and sentimental value, smiling and laughing at the same details that have only partially illustrated what seems to be a whole universe of an eternal evening full of very special moments for both.

It is as if there is a wormhole my parents frequently travelled through because the quality of excitement in my parents eyes, voice and smile they would reminisce with about that one fancy and special anniversary date was always fresh. It was as if that date always just happened the evening before, even after almost 30 years later in a completely different country, right from the comforts of a bedroom set up for an elderly person with a disability.  

My father says, “you don’t know how deeply you can love someone until you serve them.”  Perhaps it is this level of love that helps to makes special moments like this anniversary date eternal.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that a married couple tested through the challenges of caregiving and disability, can keep special moments like this fresh and alive.  Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening up your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.

In the realm of love, there is space for life that never ends if you don’t let it die with drastic changes in a your beloved’s physical condition or last breath.  In the realm of love, space and time do not serve as limitations but as mere background details for eternal moments.  In the realm of love, being real includes forever.


About the Author

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Sickness and In Health


Marriage vows from my parents’ wedding album.

In Sickness and in Health: The First Year of Grief, in My Father’s Words

My father has five pieces of advice from his first year of grieving since my mother passed away, but first let me describe their marriage.  If you have ever found someone you could be your complete self around without having to hide a part of who you are… someone you could be the angriest self you’ve ever been but find them still around long enough that you share your next laughs together… someone who knows you so well that when they look into your eyes, they are already listening to you…  someone who has learned what words can break you and breaks each time they regret ever saying them in the past, you’ve been blessed with something not everyone has.  I’ve witnessed this type of love in my parents’ marriage.

Throughout my parents’ marriage, they loved each other through the various emotions human beings can ever feel and through the different stages intimate relationships usually go through.  I witnessed the strength of their love through different seasons like a tree that sways with changes, but still remains standing tall and alive after the storm passes.   I cannot imagine how my father feels without his long time life partner now for almost a year, the longest they have ever been apart since they got married.  Therefore, I decided to let him share his own words about the past year:

MYRA:  Papa, it is almost a year now, coming up in about two weeks that Mama left us. Do you feel different in your journey of grieving Mama at this time compared to how you felt last year? 

PAPA:  Even until now, about a year after, I still feel part of me is empty.  In fact, my grief for her departure is as deep as the hour she left.  Perhaps to console myself, I sometimes stand next to her bed and blurt out that I miss her, and I love her.

MYRA:  I do something similar when I miss her, but I can’t imagine how you must feel.  Not long after Mama passed away, I remember speaking to a neighbor who described her feelings after her husband died as having a hole in her heart.  She also lost her mother around the time she lost her husband.  She said that losing a spouse is a different, more intense kind of pain.  

Does this describe how you’ve felt?  Can you describe how that pain has been and the process you feel you have gone through in the past year? 

…There is something very personal that touches the innermost sensitivities of our soul when we lose someone with whom we’ve shared our most intimate feelings and thoughts throughout the years.

PAPA:  Losing anyone you love is painful as it is, whether it is your parents or a brother or sister.  But there is something very personal that touches the innermost sensitivities of our soul when we lose someone with whom we’ve shared our most intimate feelings and thoughts throughout the years.  Eva had been by my side as a young mother of our only daughter – you, Myra – through the challenges as well as  joyful times from the martial law years in the Philippines, to the postings in China, Malaysia, Germany, Romania, South Korea, Bahrain, and Mexico.  We were together when we experienced the saving grace of the Almighty in the revolution period in Romania, when we shared the Gospel to the Filipino workers in Korea and Bahrain, and when we experienced God’s miracles in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  

To an elderly man or woman who suddenly lost a partner, any moment of the past is very special and can trigger nostalgia as well as pain at the sudden realization that someone we used to share stories and laugh with daily is no longer around.  So we sit back in silence.   

A spouse does not find the depth of their love until they serve their partner.

Even months after she joined the Lord, I still could hear her voice calling “Papa!”  In her last seven years, she was bed-ridden as a stroke survivor, and I was her primary caregiver twenty-four/seven.  In Eva’s last fourteen months, you, Myra, sacrificed much of your time providing extra care for her.  For several months after Eva’s memorial service, whenever I went anywhere, I still felt I should rush back home “because Eva is waiting for me,” I always said to myself.  

Although those last years demanded many sacrifices – short hours of sleep, irregular meals, etc. – to me, they were worth much more than otherwise.  I will never exchange all the moments we spent together even as she was in a wheelchair and later bed-ridden.  A spouse does not find the depth of their love until they serve their partner.  The more a spouse sacrifices for their husband or wife, the deeper becomes the love.  No wonder Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and said to them, “If I don’t do this to you, you have no part of me.”      

MYRA:  What has been the most helpful for you since Mama passed away?  What activities, conversations, words, etc. have helped?

Continuing closeness with family….”extended family”….the “outside world”…

PAPA:  Having my daughter and grandson to share those moments of sadness with, as well as the presence of Eva’s siblings who visited, and the prayers and kind words from friends, neighbors, relatives and the church gave me much comfort.   Beyond the period of mourning, the continuing closeness with family – you and my grandson – significantly eases the pain.  The ever-ready kindness and attachment assured by my brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunties as well as friends from our younger days are irreplaceable.  The consistent understanding, patience, and help from friends and neighbors give me assurance that as I readjust to a new life, I will not be alone in the journey.  In practical terms, they are part of my “extended family” in San Antonio.  Fellowship with members of the churches we attend had also helped in my transition to the “outside world.”  

Working on the book that the Lord had impressed in my heart to finish re-directs my soul from grief to a meaningful existence, now that my partner in life is gone.  Joining a writers’ group recently has given me encouragement and technical assistance especially in the areas of editing, interior/book cover design, and marketing in a self-publish but affordable approach.  In a sense, the writers’ group is my first social activity since my wife died.      

But most important of all is the Lord Jesus Christ who gives me strength in every step of my journey from the depth of sorrow.  

MYRA:  Are there any encounters or situations you have had that was not very helpful in the grieving process or you think would not be helpful to anyone who recently lost their spouse?  

…Every neighborhood association should have some type of protocol for bereavement so that there are less burdens for the family.

PAPA:  When something tragic happens in our life, there are things that we neglect to do.  For several months, from winter until Eva departed in March, I had not cut the lawn and the grass had grown tall.  Someone complained and talked to the other neighbors that I “should take care of my property.”  Although he was right, I wish he was understanding enough to give me time until I could regain from the shock of loss.   

MYRA: Yes I think that was about a week after she passed away and the aunts and uncle had just left.  We were all still in shock because everything happened so fast.  I had to explain to his wife what happened.  I think every neighborhood association should have some type of protocol for bereavement so that there are less burdens for the family. In fact, that’s what the neighbor who is a widow mentioned to me, that the neighborhood association we have used to have bereavement acknowledgements in the past.

Papa, thank you for spending time to share what is on  your heart about the first year since Mama’s death.  In closing, do you have any advice to offer people out there in the aging journey, people who may have just lost their spouse, or people who are concerned about widows/widowers they know? 

PAPA:  Yes. I have five things to share:

1) Eva was prepared when her time came.  She had accepted the Lord years before, and she had set her mind to accept the inevitable.  She already talked to the chaplain, shook her head when the nurse’s aid said “I’ll see you next week,” and in her last three days she was singing a good-bye song and was shouting “Papa, I love you.”  Her husband, only daughter, and only grandson were with her, at her home, in the final hour. Those who are about to leave us are believed to know when it is their time.  They are at peace with their destiny if their faith assures them well in advance of their place in the Kingdom of Heaven, that they are loved especially by their family, and that the loved ones they will leave behind will be in good situation.  

When a surviving spouse knows that the departed partner was prepared and is assured that the partner is in a better place, ie. in God’s paradise, the widow/widower can find it easier to process the shock. 

2) I have never felt closer to Eva as when I was taking care of her, day and night.  It was special quality time. The “sacrifices and inconveniences” are actually opportunities to show how much you love your partner and how much you appreciate their presence in your life.  

So be glad when you can do something for your spouse, whether he/she is well or ill.  

3) Whether you are young or old, you should take advantage of the time you have with each other to say – expressly verbalize – “I love you.”  You never know how long you will have such luxury of being alive.  Make the habit of saying the words from the moment you wake up. Even if your partner is abroad or at work, call up as if it is the last chance you have.  And serve them with the dedication as you did with your partner when he/she was still active and healthy; you will feel more deeply in love with them.    

To all the people you love, especially your spouse, children, grandchildren, and siblings, say to them how you feel while you can do it.  

4)  I remember a friend who delayed his trip when his mother was seriously ill.  By the time he visited, his mother had already died.  He regretted it so deeply that until now, he still keeps the watch he bought as “pasalubong” for his mother.  

The most painful of all is regret… thinking, “I should have done it” when it is too late, when the other person can no longer see or hear you.  

So don’t procrastinate.

5)  After the departure of your partner, strike a balance between your grief and your sanity. Have a project that will keep you interested and mentally alert as well as physically active.  For me, finishing the book has kept me going spiritually.  If I can find employment regardless of the position and salary, as long as it helps pay the bills and keeps me active, so much the better.

You must make an effort to stay active and involved in the things you care about.


Ten Ways to Honor Sandwich Generation Expats and TCK’s (1 of 2)

“Generation Sandwich”/Minnesota Monthly, Artist: Isabelle Cardinal Permission obtained from Isabelle Cardinal

They sacrifice their lives for others.   They are at the front lines, physically, financially, logistically and emotionally, but are often in the shadows socially.  They protect the lives of the most vulnerable, and in the process also become vulnerable.  They are the soldiers that bravely confront one of the toughest battles in life that affect a growing number of people world wide.  They are the caregivers “sandwiched” between caring for their children and caring for aging parents, or “sandwich generation” caregivers.  As I mentioned earlier, expats, global nomads or adult Third Culture Kids in caregiving roles face even more complex situations than non-expat caregivers  and as such”sandwich generation” adult TCK’s or expats likewise face unique challenges that deserve recognition.

The plight of “sandwich generation” caregivers has increasingly become more well known over the last two decades, which witnessed the inclusion of the term in the Oxford English and Merriam Webster dictionaries in 2006, attributed to the work of Joy Abala in the United States. (Her heart behind her work is very similar to mine! It was great to discover her while preparing for this particular post. Read about Joy Abaya’s story here).  


“Middle Aged Adults Sandwiched between Aging Parents and Kids,” Source: “The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans” Pew Research Center

In the U.S., July is recognized to be Sandwich Generation Awareness Month.  Around the world, there have also been some recent discussions about the sandwich generation.

In Britain, there is a surge in the number of people living in large households because of the “sandwich generation, only about two years after the emergence of “sandwich generation” households in studies were noted and expected to continue.


“Asia’s Sandwich Generation” Source: “Feeling the Squeeze: Asia’s Sandwich Generation,” Economist Intelligence Unit



In Australia, where “sandwich generationers” are beginning to feel the squeeze yet their situation is still considered “fairly new,” it is estimated that “people may be missing out on more than $600 million in assistance, largely because of lack of awareness.”   In Asia, Singapore is witnessing the “sandwich generation” population as a fast growing population group.  In a similar manner, South Africa is also seeing a growth in the “sandwich generation.”


“How Is Asia’s Sandwich Generation Coping?” Source: “Feeling the Squeeze: Asia’s Sandwich Generation,” Economist Intelligence Unit

The common issues that “sandwich generationers”  deal with range from the financial crisis of rapidly depleting income while supporting three generations of family members, to the emotional toll that come with sudden major life changes and multiple losses (ie. of the caregiver’s career options), to the stresses of watching loved ones’ health statuses decline to the point of dependency,  to the drastic tips in the balance of a caregiver’s circle of support, where she/he receives less and gives more, especially when a loved one’s health progression leads to the caregiver’s increased isolation.

A “sandwich generation” caregiver with a current or dormant globally mobile life faces even more complex issues not just due to the distance between family members that is often a default with expats, but also due to the experience being part of a globally mobile family.  Expats face the potential risk of having no safety net of support and resources at the point of retirement, if expats choose to retire in a country other than their passport or host country to be reunited with their adult children or to settle where they have the most friends and/or relatives.  This creates the context for how a “sandwich generation” caregiver supports her/his parents.  This in turn can impact the caregiver’s own retirement and financial planning for the future.

Adult TCK or expat “sandwich generation” caregivers may have less support than non-TCK or expat counterparts.  Not only may the caregiver be going through this major life change away from friends she/he has established, but may also be wrestling with the question of belonging and sense of isolation common to Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) that the standard support group and average counselor is not prepared to fully support.  The “sandwich generation” caregiver may also still be in the process of working on her/his journey of addressing unresolved grief and multiple losses throughout childhood. If she/he has not even begun it yet, it can be triggered by the mere act of having to relocate to adjust to the parent’s needs because it can closely resemble the pattern of moving for a parent’s career.

Taking on the role of being more of a “giver” than a “receiver” of emotional support can place a “sandwich generation” caregiver who grew up as a TCK at risk for an emotional breakdown, depression, unhealthy coping mechanisms to stressful triggers, psychosomatic health conditions and other factors that can end up as a statistic void of any connection to the deeper journey behind it.

Remember that much of the experiences of TCK’s is still largely unknown, misunderstood or misdiagnosed by counselors or support figures who simply don’t have a deep understanding of the effects of a globally mobile childhood.  In the past decade, international schools have begun to acknowledge and/teach about the experiences of TCK’s.  Programs for military families in the U.S. for example, are now beginning to broaden their understanding of what military children experience.  However, for the most part, until TCK’s themselves take on more leadership roles and are in the decision making positions about programs and resources for TCK’s in various age groups, it is simply not enough.  

The traditional training available for social workers, grounded in similar human development theories used in training for psychologists and counselors, all of whom would serve as mental health resources for “sandwich generation” caregivers is predominantly based on mono-cultural systems and is therefore not fully equipped to help the adult TCK’s or global nomads of this population.

This is where we as individuals, especially TCK’s, other expats and nomads, can step in.  The support for “sandwich generation” adult TCK’s or expats can also come from amongst one another.  While financial planning, counseling and other professional services can be provided by specialists, it does not require a specialist to reach out, understand or offer support to a “sandwich generation” expat or adult TCK.   “Sandwich generationers” are on a very challenging journey that they chose to accept out of a deep tremendous love for their family members.  Caregivers, especially those playing the dual roles of parenting and caring for their own parents, deserve to be honored as valuable and crucial members of society and supported in any way possible.

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© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Unspoken Parting Words

Sometimes goodbyes are far from what we wanted them to be.

Towards the end before my mom passed away, she lost her ability to speak and communicate.  Yet I seemed to develop a language of understanding what she wanted to say or ask or was concerned about.  I believe it was because my life circumstances allowed me to spend years with her, helping my father with the care giving, but I know not everyone had or can have this opportunity.

As I was able to have my parents live with me and my son for almost nine years before she passed away, I was able to get to know her much more.  I was able to get to know her usual patterns throughout the day and over a month, understand the relationships she built with the hospice workers who worked with us at home, and observe the intricate ways her relationship with her husband grew through this life stage.

I was there daily for the most part,  but I know this isn’t a story everyone can tell.  Perhaps you were able to visit regularly, or had a chance to be there for just a brief moment.  Maybe you did not arrive in time.  

Perhaps there was a neurological or mental condition that affected your loved one’s ability to communicate or seem like themselves anymore.  Perhaps your relationship with your loved one had been strained before the moment of passing.

I just want to speak from the heart of a mother myself and a daughter observing how my mom tried to communicate after she lost her speech, and relay the words: 

“Thank you.”


“I love you.”

…to all the loved ones and caregivers out there who may not have heard these words.   I did not hear these words myself at the time of parting, but there is a level of communication that remains after speech ends or gets distorted.  

Deep beneath the loss of speech, changed personality due to a neurological condition, or total mental breakdown, is or was still the person you once knew and loved, and who once loved you and was enthusiastic to be around you.  

Sometimes love has to involve giving the benefit of the doubt that if conditions were different,  the words you would have wanted to say and hear would have been exchanged.   That is what we must focus on to honor our loved ones, who they once were and what they once were capable of.  Allow their healthier selves to dictate the long term impact of their lives on yours and allow yourself to see the less than ideal goodbye (or lack thereof) in perspective of that. 

I hope that these words can release more memories of your loved ones from a time when they were healthy, laughing through the hallways, splashing water with you, eating under the sun, chasing you, sitting on a bench with you, running to a gate to catch a plane with you or other memories that may be shadowed by a less than ideal goodbye.  May it release you from any heaviness because this is not what your loved one, in their right frame of mind or healthy condition, would have wanted to part you with.  And may you know that the words, “Thank you,” and “I love you” are probably not even enough to fully communicate what they felt at the time they parted.

I would bet that every loved one would try to communicate in whatever way they could if they were able to, like the story of the dying grandmother who wrote in code before she passed away.

For those who are going through journeys where perhaps it is difficult to find good memories because the nature of your relationship with someone who passed away, I hope to also hear from you and what has helped you.  Your journey involves much more strength and unconditional love.

Until our next hello,


Related story – “Dying Grandmother’s Mystsery Code Cracked by the Internet After 20 Years”

Original source of the story – “Decoded Cancer-Addled Ramblings” 

Photo credits: “A Year in Boarding Passes” Kim Davies with Creative Commons License (photo cropped)

Please click here for more information about the author.

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Dear Family Caregiver: I Get It

Photo Credit: William Arthur Fine Stationary

Photo credits: “Letters Play an Important Role in Our Lives” by William Arthur Fine Stationary used with Creative Commons license.

Dear (Expat) Family Caregiver,*

You may be a daughter, a son, a husband, wife or other family member of the one you are caring for.  You may have children of your own or you may not.  You may be married or single.  You may be working or you may be retired. You may be rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, young or old.

Whoever you are, I just want to say I get it.   I might not know everything about your situation, but I get how care-giving, like parenting, can be the hardest job you’ll ever love.  And I get how most people will not understand what you’re going through, unless they’ve been through a certain level of care-giving themselves.

You may feel somewhat invisible to the outside world because you spend so much time right next to or within an ear shot of the one you are caring for. You may feel guilty when you leave the house to try to seek out or spend time with new friends, most of whom don’t really come around because you haven’t deepened the friendships yet.    After all, why spend time with others who don’t even know you that well, when someone that has known you longer, needs your help? …Right?

Yet, there is that part of  you that wants to establish that circle of support.  Most people need to connect.  However, growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) or Cross Culture Kid (CCK), or being an expat adult, it’s challenging to deepen (non-expat) friendships.  Seldom do friendships in a non-expat environment reach that level where you can talk about your childhood or career and friends won’t think you’re bragging… simply because the backdrop of your past happens to be a setting they can’t relate to.   It’s hard enough to find friends around whom you don’t have to explain why where you were born just isn’t home, why you want to move every 4 or 5 years and why you just can’t stand small talk, but even harder as a caregiver with limited time…Right?

Maybe you want to have friends there for you simply because you just need to connect.  But how can you, if you feel a tugging guilt that brings you back home?  Or you’re just juggling care-giving and work.. maybe in addition to parenthood and other responsibilities?  

Maybe the friends you have now aren’t at that level to go to you because they expect to see you around more in order for them to come around?…  Sometimes, even if you are part of family unit, you just also need friends outside the family (which is absolutely fine, by the way)…  Am I wrong?

Maybe you can’t show up as often as your counterparts to major events or regular activities.  You know… the ones that help you get that promotion, that “best” in front of “friend,” that word of mouth that leads to opportunities, that reputation as a leader with accomplishments for a cause you are so passionate about, or that circle of friends as an insider….  Am I off?

But you also might always have in the back of your mind: this period of my life, when I have the chance to spend more time with a loved one as a (or even the) caregiver does not come back around, at least not for this same loved one.

You are not complaining, but may just want to know that you are not alone in this journey.

I just want to tell you right now that I get it.  You aren’t alone. And you aren’t invisible.  I see you, I hear you, I feel you.

Stick around and I hope to continue to meet with you here.  There are things I want to share to help you on this journey, which does not last forever. I’ve been there, I’ve made some pretty tough decisions as a caregiver for my mom, as a TCK and as a parent.  I’ve reached that dreaded milestone when it’s the last day of care-giving as you know it, and in some ways, I’m still going through it.

My goal is to help you and help families make the most of their time together, whether it is for a temporary or long term situation.  If there is a way we, as family caregivers with a global nomad background, can meet in person, I will try to make it happen. But for now, I hope to continue to meet you and hear from you here.


Until our next hello,


* I acknowledge that this letter may not fit every caregiver’s situations completely.  I hope that you will still find some information valuable in some way to the particular journey you are going through.

Please click here to find more information on Third Culture Kids, Cross Cultural Kids, expats and life stage of aging, care-giving, disability and retirement 

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© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Expat Aging, Caregiving and Related Journeys: Why Bring Them Up

Photo credits: Juangiahui used with Creative Commons

Photo credits: Juangiahui
used with Creative Commons license

Thanks to decades of hard work of committed researchers, authors, speakers, voices and communities in social media, and the sheer power of individuals sharing their stories, what the world knows today about expatriate (expat) life and the globally mobile family is increasingly moving out from under the shadows of stereotypes.  

The population of expats or global nomads, estimated to be 220 million by Pico Iyer in his 2013 TedGlobal Talk, is not a homogeneous group.  Global nomads represent a variety of backgrounds and are more than just the face of pampered global citizens glamorously living in exotic lands.

We have now begun to recognize, even in mainstream social media, the issues common to Third Culture Kids¹ and Cross Culture Kids²:

–  The sense of dislocation in defining, “Where is home” and finding where you belong

–  The struggle to explain your identity and “where you come from in a world that only justifies rigid identities and is impatient with grey areas

–  The impact of unresolved grief in relationships as an adult and how it is invisible in childhood

–  The urge to move frequently or need to withdraw, which can be dismissed as mere negative or irresponsible personality traits by non-TCK’s

– The compatibility of TCK’s and non-TCK’s or First Culture Kids in relationships 

–    The question of whether or not TCK parents should raise a new generation of children as TCK’s, knowing the challenges that come with it

…among others.

The Elephant in the Suitcase


[Photo credit: Tara Birds/indigoinkreations]

Yet there is a journey that not many global nomads have begun to speak about: the life stage that includes aging, sudden health or mental health related disabling conditions, and dying.

It is uncomfortable, morbid, and intrusive, and seems rudely inappropriate or cold.  However, it is absolutely necessary to discuss to avoid negative experiences for everyone due to lack of preparation.  Why? Simply because we, as a tribe of global nomads, have already come to understand the importance of healthy goodbyes.

The experiences of expats leaving aging parents behind or suddenly repatriating to care for them may be familiar to my readers who are expats, especially the women.  It goes even deeper.  Now, we are living in an age when there can be two generations of expats above the age of 55.  Seniors are living longer (see these recent articles from Australia and the U.S.).  The proportion of seniors are also about to increase.  While there are 600 million people aged 65 and over today, according to an article with United Nations statistics, by 2035, that number will increase to 1.1 billion.  With these trends, it is necessary to get deeper into the picture of what expats go through as expats themselves age or retire. (Please see links below)

A globally mobile past can make for difficult and complex decisions surrounding caregiving support, place of residence for retirement, and death and burial planning, especially when adult children are still relocating.  Even more complex issues arise when health or mental health related disabling conditions happen at a younger age than expected.

With the extreme disparities in the cultural expectations, economic status, safety net for retirees, and other factors among the expats’ host countries, expats can experience aging differently from one another.  Certain populations of global nomads can easily fall through the cracks without sufficient social support, financial backing or the mental preparation for the stage of life that non expats struggle with as it is.

It is an uncomfortable topic, but a high ranking diplomat, for example, can experience a sudden plummet in his or her socio-economic status if faced with a sudden health crisis around the time of retirement. If that diplomat serves an economically poor country, chances are the retirement pension cannot provide adequate support to recover from any sudden crisis. Military veterans, retired missionaries, corporate expats and other global nomads are not exempt from this. No matter how much one saves or plans financially, a perfect storm of unexpected events may quickly wipe it all away because a crisis can be just the beginning of a tough road.  Suddenly, the whole family and potentially three generations can become drastically impacted by what would otherwise be mostly affecting the elderly.

Despite the misconceptions and stereotypes about expats and Third Culture Kids, social workers, counselors, psychologists, faith-based ministries, teachers, human resource staff and others must recognize this reality:    Expats have a wide range of genuine needs distinct to individuals and families with a current or dormant globally mobile life, and the life stage of aging or sudden disability is a significant transition.

The juncture at which converge the decision on which country to live for retirement, policies regarding government benefits intended for nationals with a long work history, and the timing of possible migration for family reunification is very complex and unique to baby boomers who are globally mobile.  Because of this, the journey of aging and retirement can be one of the most drastic life transitions in an expat’s life.

This also has implications for one of the most discussed topics addressed in the existing literature on Global Nomads or Third Culture Kids and Cross Culture Kids thus far: unresolved grief. Unresolved grief, has had a dramatic impact on the lives of expats and the global family who did not have the proper support through the multiple life losses that come with an expat life.  The life stage of aging and retirement, with all its final goodbyes, is one that individuals and families with either an active or dormant globally mobile lifestyle, must be well prepared for.  Those who are left behind at this life stage need to prepare to grieve with hopefully the least regrets as possible.  Those who are departing must rebuild the “RAFT,” coined by the late author David C. Pollock and co-author Ruth Van Reken, needed for the final goodbye.

For all these reasons, I hope to be able to join the ranks of those who have come before me and add my contribution using my own personal story.  My other blog posts will focus more on specific topics and insights.  After years of serving the global nomad community through TCKid: A Home for Third Culture Kids, I hope now to also offer my insights from watching my expat parents age, one parent’s life end, my son’s struggle as a 3rd generation TCK and my own TCK journey as a caregiver with obligations to stay when I felt itchy feet the most.  

My goal is to help other families prepare and make the most of their time together in this journey where there is no turning back.

Until our next hello,


Photo: “Last Call” by Juangiahui, used with Creative Commons license 

Please click here for more information about why this blog was started.

1 –  “A Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ passport culture(s).” The experience includes “frequently build(ing) relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”  
2 –  “A Cross-Cultural Kid ( CCK) is a person who has lived in—or meaningfully interacted twith—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years.”
Source of definitions: Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R.E. (2009) Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

 See – UN World Population Aging 1950-2050, and  UN World Population Aging 2013 ; how Australians are living longer but suffering more from chronic diseases, and how elderly in the US are living longer.

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.