Grieving in immigration emerges from many cross-cultural facets. We can talk about morals, controlling emotions, positioning vis-à-vis others. Here, let’s try to see this subject beyond cultural differences. Consider the case of a person who has lived abroad for a number of years and is notified by an old friend of the death of a loved one. Far from the native land, is the mourning of foreigners different? There is not much information or testimonials about how migrants feel when they lose their loved ones in their country of origin. I will launch here a reflection on the bereavement experienced in immigration, while sharing with you my experience of bereavement.
One night, not too cold, not too hot, I woke up at 5 a.m. with a sudden urge to look at my phone. A message from an old school friend, a quick thought” Not her again! » and his message : « So-and-so is dead ».
It could be a good black joke, because this friend has already announced the death of another classmate, a year ago, a feminicide. ” No, no, I don’t want to open this message, not at 5:00 a.m. It is already daylight at her place. I have a very busy day, I need to be in shape! “. But the message is read. Of course, I can’t pretend I haven’t seen it. Did I read it correctly? Have I lost the ability to read the alphabet of my mother tongue? I think I confused the syllables and it’s not my childhood friend. ” You only bring bad news – my crude and not very empathetic response engaged me in a long conversation.
How concrete must death be for mourning to set in?
Should we see the deceased? Coming to the funeral? Touch the material things of the funeral? There are people who advise to go there, others say to think about the dead person. It is true that all this is strictly personal and does not reveal so many intercultural conditions of an immigrant. However, the decision to go or not to go is never just a matter of personality or willpower. We are not talking about going downtown. Have you ever tried to fly to Antananarivo, Beijing, Delhi or Tyumen the next day? I envy you if you had the means to do so.
Added to this is the confusion of the globalists who think that it is possible to go from one country to another in a snap of the fingers, or in a few hours of flight, more concretely. For a foreigner, leaving the country is not always easy: whether it is related to the administrative process, the financial aspect or the impossibility of returning to his country because of war or persecution.
My stay in France began with a bereavement…
Barely two weeks arrived, I received a message from my sister announcing the death of our grandmother. I don’t want to know the details of his death, I don’t want to look at the funeral photos. The rejection. And this immense feeling of abandonment. I abandoned her. I was absolutely alone in a new country. I didn’t even know how to say in French: My grandmother, the one who raised me, is dead. I became deeply empty, without believing in it and absolutely believing in it.
But for a student from a distant land, who has put all her savings into a one-way ticket and a room rental in a dorm, another trip isn’t even on the table. My grief was reduced to a few hundred euros. It’s pathetic of me. Of course, we can face these things so as not to drown in a negative judgment about him. But it’s never easy.
In FemmeExpat, Magdalena Zilveti Manasson, psychologist and psychotherapist, also testifies to the various decisions following the loss of a loved one, in particular the decision to leave the host country and return (permanently or for a significant period) to their country. With a new perception of this expatriation experience that it was only a goodbye that had become a farewell, as the author says.
For researchers Monica Amadini and Livia Cadei, the mourning of immigrants is also intensified by the need to integrate into the host society, but also to maintain ties with their family in their country of origin. The death of a loved one obviously unbalances this double effort.
Mourning in immigration is quite vague: we do not see distance, we do not see time.
In immigration bereavement, often comes the idea that we should spend more time with the deceased, to prolong the memories, to express their feelings. It’s not as if the death had been announced in advance. But ces regrets rumble from time to time.
There are only distant and confused memories: places, faces, replies launched in one language that return in another… The feeling of guilt sets in. In fact, I force myself to convince myself that I have just lost someone close. But have I already lost it? It’s not like I see the deceased every day, it’s not like I always find time to see her when I return home. I was already long gone from that person’s life. However, the pain is still present.
Isn’t it because immigrants are already bereaved? A constant, imperceptible mourning. The mourning of those who are far away, the mourning of his language which atrophies day by day, the mourning of his morals. In their book “Third culture kids”, David C. Pollock and Ruth E.Van Reken discuss estrangement from home country and home culture as a grieving process. So if such a person is dealing with the loss of a loved one, it is probably as if they are going through a double loss. To be ejected from people’s daily lives and learn that people are leaving too…
Sharing the news to relieve his suffering?
How to announce the news to his entourage who does not know the deceased person? Imagine, at a party with friends, you announce in a crude way: ” Ah, by the way, my childhood friend is dead”. The people in front of you don’t know what to say. It popped up out of nowhere. They may not express condolences, because for them a childhood friend of an immigrant is only a memory and probably the bond of friendship has been lost. And they are right, these links were limited to a few messages intended once every 2 years… What they ignore is the experience of a foreigner who has not been in his country of origin for a number of years. They are unaware that this absence froze time.
I left, but the image I have of my surroundings in my country of origin and of my relations remained intact. There’s also this sense of closeness fueled by nostalgia… So a childhood friend is still a friend. Only for them, the people of the country, I left, I am no longer in their daily life…
One morning, I live a double life…
So, one morning, I live a double life: here, going to work, smiling, advising. Elsewhere, crying and looking to whom I can write to find out if I can do something. A few days after the news, I find myself in my office, I concentrate on my emails, I hear colleagues chatting. Shortly after, I receive a message from my sister with the photo of the funeral wreath she had bought from me. A surge of anger: But I told you to order a personal message! It makes no sense ! “. This feeling of helplessness that drives me crazy, because I can do absolutely nothing, not even choose the funeral wreath for my friend. I am far !
In the afternoon, a need to see and to know wakes me up. What happened ? Are you sure it was her? How is it possible that she won’t turn 33 this year? She would never have seen Paris! Suddenly, I want to live, to go out, to speak, to breathe. Life is too short. The life of someone close to me was short.
Oksana. Her name was Oksana. I don’t know anything about his accident and his sudden death. I am no one to ask. And she, she was my childhood friend, my first friend. A friend with whom we laughed, we fought, we danced, we drew with chalk on the asphalt, we listened to each other. We shared toys (mostly her) or not (mostly me). I always have this memory of her where she runs as fast as she can, she runs and she runs. His cousin and I are trying to stop him. Our sisters are furious. But she continues to run, far away now, only two pink legs flash one after the other before disappearing behind the horizon.
 Amadini, M. & Cadei, L. (2019). Transnational families and bereavement. The international journal of family education46, 87-101.