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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 

Please click here to find 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.


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.