Attending a funeral via Facetime is a surreal experience.
You are definitely there; you see everything that’s happening, hear every eulogy and laugh at every joke. Yet, you miss all of the physical sensations of being there; the chill of the wind on your cheek, the smell of the flowers (in purple and yellow for your Grandma’s favorite team, the Lakers), the smooth wood of the coffin under your hand. You are separated by 16 hours of time and over 5,000 miles, and yet you are still present for this moment. You are happy to see your relatives, sad about your grandmother, and hit with the pain of loneliness. With life being so ephemeral and family being so important, you kind of wonder why you choose to be away.
Loneliness and being alone have become part of my reality in the last few years, something that took me completely by surprise. I’m a pretty social creature and I’ve always had a wide circle of close friends and amiable acquaintances, and growing up with a twin sister assured that I was never alone during childhood. But moving away from home, and eventually moving out of the country and traveling and living abroad have meant that now I’m often alone. Teaching English in a foreign country is a lifestyle choice that comes with a constantly revolving door, especially here in Japan, where there are a myriad of personal and professional reasons that bring people here – and sometimes just as quickly send them back.
In the beginning, I didn’t know how to be alone, or how to deal with my feelings of loneliness. Often times I still don’t. It’s something I’m working on.
First there were the weddings and babies. The eight months that I lived in Turkey were also the eight months during which it seemed that everyone I knew, upon suddenly realizing they had entered their late 20’s, decided to get married. I missed six weddings during those eight months. Every time someone posted a slew of wedding photos on Facebook, I would pore over all of them, a twinge of loneliness striking my heart. Missing out on big life cycle events, especially ones where there’s photographic evidence of all of your friends having fun without you, sucks. Ditto the babies. Even though I’m not a baby person (I’m that person that refuses to hold the baby because I just don’t know what to do with it), I still want those I love to find happiness and wish I could celebrate their happiness with them.
Then there was my grandmother. My spunky, independent Grandma who loved to laugh, play cards, and drink her white Zin, had unfortunately spent the past seven years becoming a shadow of her former self while suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her recent death was the first I’ve had to experience from afar, and the pain brought on by that kind of loneliness caught me off-guard. Where the first kind of loneliness was a twinge, this was a stab. Since she’d been deteriorating for so long, and my family had been dealing with this for so many years, I did not expect to be so affected by her passing. But she was my last grandparent to go, and was such a big part of my life growing up. So, in a way, it felt like my childhood was truly ending. Being away and watching my family grieve through Facetime on my sister’s phone was rough.
And then, there’s a third kind of loneliness. This one is a real sneaker, and has nothing to do with anything going on back home, but with those you meet here. Once in a while, when the fates and the cosmos and all that shit aligns, you meet someone new, someone with whom you have a powerful and instant connection with, something that sparkles with magic and just feels so right. But, because of the reality of this life you’ve chosen, you don’t have time to get to know them better, much less entertain fantasies of a possible future together. Before you know it, they’ve gone back to their life, and you are left wondering “What if. . .?”
This kind of loneliness isn’t as acute, but rather a dull ache inside your gut.
So what do you do? You wouldn’t choose another life, this life is pretty great, you just get a little lonely sometimes. So you text and Skype your friends, tell your mother you love her, and go out to meetups and go out on dates, ready for the next connection.