Tag Archives: living abroad

The Gift on My Mom’s First Birthday Since Death


Photo credit: "Single" by Linsday

Photo credit: “Single” by Lindsay, used with Creative Commons License

On January 27, 2015, my family lived through the first birthday of my mother after her death.  On that one day, I cried and I laughed.  I bummed around and I got dressed up.  I slowed down enough to get nostalgic and I rushed in between hectic events.  On that day, I learned that I could experience “all of the above” while still grieving.  I also received an unexpected gift.

We celebrated my mother’s birthday in honor of her.  When she was alive and especially when she was able bodied, she used to celebrate the birthdays of loved ones who were far away and who had passed away.  For her, being absent was not an obstacle to celebrating special occasions.  Of course, celebrating special occasions with certain loved ones missing is not the best.  Perhaps my mother learned this as a wife of a career diplomat moving globally as an alternative to the feeling of missing out on everything as an expat.  We celebrated my mom’s birthday in her absence because she did that for so many of us through the years and because we miss her.

I my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.

 This year, my mother’s birthday was the same day as a close friend’s wedding.  At first I was hesitant about going.  I was not sure I would be in the right frame of mind or be emotionally energetic enough to attend a wedding.  I thought to myself, “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday??… How am I supposed to make that decision?”  In my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.

However, I surprised myself.  About two weeks before the wedding, I decided to offer my close friend and his fiance a formal wedding portrait package as my wedding gift.  Whatever plans they had for a formal wedding shoot had not yet been solidified so the wedding shoot became useful for the couple.  The desire came naturally and I began to look forward to doing this for my friends on their special day.

Doing the wedding photo shoot was a giant step for me.  The last formal photo shoot I did was at the end of February, 2014, about two weeks before my mom passed away.  That photo shoot took me out of the house for some hours on the last day it turned out she was speaking with full consciousness.  It’s still too painful to count exactly how many hours I was away from her side… it’s a useless and pointless kind of painful.  

I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot.

When I came back home that evening, something seemed different about my mom, but I thought she was just tired.  By the next day, her speech and mind slowly began to show signs of deterioration.  I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot. I had a hard time looking at the photos from that photography session for a long time.

At this exact time I am writing this sentence, I am realizing now that the wedding photo shoot was a gift from my mom to release me from the guilt I carried around for over ten months.  The timing of the wedding and the fact that my friends did not yet have any offers for a formal wedding photography session came into play for me to learn that I should not stop doing what I love doing.

The question I previously thought to myself is now my answer:  “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday.”

Because of the wedding, what started off as a day of nostalgia and a sense of homesickness for my mom, ended up being a very full day.  January 27th this year started off with me looking at photos and videos of her birthday from last year shortly after midnight.  When I woke up in the morning, I called one of my mom’s sisters to talk about my mom and the mini celebration my aunt was preparing for the day also.  

I cut fresh roses from our garden and arranged them in various vases on the area we reserved for my mom’s urn.  We set the framed photo of my mom, my dad’s favorite photo of her, the birthday balloon and small birthday cake I got later, in the same area.  I said my birthday wishes to my mom before I rushed out the door for the photo shoot.

My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.

The photo shoot was wonderful.  My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.  We proceeded to the reception venue and I set up an area for photo sessions for the guests before rushing back home.  My dad, my son and I would be home and awake at the same time only in that window before the wedding reception. 

When I got home, we celebrated my mom’s birthday and took photos together of the occasion before I quickly dressed up for the wedding reception.  I rushed back to the reception wearing an outfit that resembled my mom’s style, including a top she gave me a long time ago.  I used one of her purses that matched my outfit.  I met up with my date at the reception, someone I laugh a lot with, and we just enjoyed the evening. I took photos, I ate, I drank and I was merry.  Within the few hours of the reception, we all created memories that will now always be part of the day my friends got married.

I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day…(it) makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.

 At the end of the day, I came home to a quiet house.  But it was also the quiet you get after a full day lived well.  I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day.  To imagine how it would be to still have her here with us on her birthday makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.  

On my mom’s first birthday since her death, my mom gave me this message:  “Live days worth telling stories about.”

"Mama's Gift on Her First Birthday Since Death"

On January 27, 2015, I learned I must continue to be present in this life, unpause what I love doing and continue to live out my days knowing it’s ok to miss my mom deeply, but also making sure I don’t miss out on life.


Thank you, Mama, for your gift to me on your first birthday since you left us.

We love you, Evangeline Vitug Dumapias, January 27, 1945 – March 15, 2014.


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.