The Sharp End of being an Expat

We went for a hike with some new friends last Friday.  We climbed to the top of La Contras, the western end of the Montagne de Lure.  It was a tough climb for unfit people, but we did it.


Lynne was right – it’s a spiritual place up there.  The Mistral had been blowing for three days and the air was crystal clear.  We could see for miles and miles : the snowy tops of the Alps to the east, the craggy mountains of the Drôme stretching away to the north, the Luberon and Mont St Victoire to the south and the bare, stony top of Ventoux to the west.

DSC_0568I felt very close to God? Mother Nature?  Whatever or whoever it is that makes the world tick.  Which made it easier to accept the text I received fifteen minutes after we made it to the top; a text I’ve been dreading for the last year.  Our friend Denis, who has been fighting cancer since December 2011, had finally slipped into a coma.

DSC_0570What to do, what to do…  We were about to move into our new house – we were getting the key the very next day – and had a hectic week ahead of us as we moved our bits and pieces from the house in Les Granons.  I’d flown back to Cork, just two weeks earlier, to see Denis when I heard he had taken a turn for the worse.  I felt I’d said my goodbyes, but the LSH had not seen him for several months, and he wanted to attend the funeral if it was possible.   It depends on when he finally passes, we agreed.   We had to be sensible, there was the cost to consider…  I had a quick look at flights that evening.  Flights on Sunday and Monday were outlandishly expensive but the cost came down later in the week.  Looking at it logically, we agreed that if he passed away later in the week, the LSH would fly back; if it was in the next day or two, neither of us could go.

Next morning, as we were doing the walkthrough of the new house with the estate agent, the phonecall came.

We blinked back the tears, continued to work with the estate agent and, when she left, sat down for the first time in our new home, red-eyed and sniffly.  Now that it had happened, we were a lot less bullish about not going.  One of us had to go, we agreed.  He’d do it for either of us, we agreed.  Hang the cost – we had a small amount of money put away in case we had unforeseen expenses with moving house.  Whatever we need, we can do without it, we agreed.  The LSH is a lot better at lugging boxes around than me, so I would go.  So much for being sensible and logical!

So I went, knowing that I was lucky to be able to go and very glad to be there, but all the time wishing I’d been in Cork during the days leading up to his death.  Not to be with him at the end, of course, that time belonged to his family.  No, if I’d been there, I’d have spent hours with his other horsey friends, drinking endless cups of tea and reminiscing.  We’d have swapped stories; made each other cry; made each other laugh.  I could have visited Paddy, Denis’ horse, fed him carrots, put my arms around his neck and given him a hug just for being the best horse Denis could have asked for.

I regret not being there during the last few months of his illness, to visit him when he was in hospital, to distract him and make him laugh.  To have had him drop in to us on his good days with a few scones for a chat and a cuppa like he’s done so many times before.  To have had a few last rides together.  To have watched a few more Munster games together.  But we made our choice; we packed up and left twelve months ago and this is the price we have to pay.  Forget your language problems, forget your cultural differences, forget your craving for a nice cup of tea.  Without a doubt, the hardest part of being an expat is not being there when your friends and family need you.

Perhaps we are just unlucky, but Denis is the second of our nearest and dearest to pass away since we moved here last October.  I really, really hope he is the last for a very long time.


November 6th, 2011- our last ride together

23 thoughts on “The Sharp End of being an Expat

  1. @Eoin, My phone pinged with notification of your comment literally moments after George & I were reminiscing about Second Breakfast with Denis. Any hint of sunshine and the three of us would put on coats and hats and have our tea & scones outdoors. He’s in our thoughts a lot. You and the rest of the family are, too. I’ll keep in touch xx


  2. So sorry for your loss. I’ve been thinking about this myself recently. I’m an expat in South Korea, and these past few months two of my former co-workers, one of whom was a close friend, passed away. Being so far from family and friends is tough at times like that.


  3. Martine, it was so painful to read this as I understand your experience of being far away so well, having lived away from Denis for almost 20 years now. But when we did see him, when he came to visit us in the US, I know that living far apart from him opened up new experiences for him too. He loved to ride in the States too, and act the cowboy when he wasn’t! He took up target shooting and I know he would have loved to have tried his hand at hunting too. It’s sad that he never got to visit you in Provence but I know he loved to hear about your experiences. And you and George were such great friends to him over the years, along with all the folks at Skevanish too. Thanks for the remembrance and for coming back to see him while he was still able to enjoy your visit, and later to help celebrate his life with us. I hope we both can smile more often again soon.


  4. I’m sorry you lost your friend Martine. It is indeed the sharp end.
    I was almost back in Ireland last week as well, I’ll tell you about it next time we catch up. Take care xx


  5. I am so sorry to read about the loss of your friend. It is so hard to be away from friends and family, but I am sure Denis knew how much you cared! And it seems like he would be the type of guy who would be happy for you to be living your dream in France.


  6. It’s not easy to lose a good friend, regardless of where you live. Moving was not a bad thing and I’m sure it will be ok in the end. I’m sure Denis could feel your energy from afar. So sorry for your loss.


  7. Oh gosh, how terrible for you to loose a close friend. I am not sure it will be any consolation but even living on the same island but many hours away at times can be difficult too. Prayers and hugs for you.


  8. I’m sure Denis valued your friendship and knew you were there for him in spirit if not in person. He sounds like a top man, loved by friends and family and obviously enjoyed his life to the full. Glad you could pay your last respects Martine xx


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