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Ghosts Know No Borders

When you lose someone your guts fall out.

But here’s something I never thought about until I lost three of the most important people in my life and my dog in one year, all while living overseas – dead people are everywhere and ghosts know no borders.

There was an automatic movement that your hand made when it reached to dial her number, that it now only almost makes, knowing she won’t be on the other end of the call.

There are little bits of hair where you never fully washed that blanket. One big, whipping shake of the cloth and you almost hear the soft tumble of a hidden piece of dog food, long-since desiccated and ant-nibbled.

Looking for something in the garage and there, a notepad, “24th – Last Chemo.” All block letters. The unmistakable penmanship that doesn’t know only weeks are left.

The missing space, the unfinished movements, the hidden treasures abandoned by their former lovers – are there in all their unbelievably heavy emptiness. How can nothing weigh so much?

Memories haunt me, not only in the places they’ve been, but in visions of never-to-be futures that come seeping in from the place that I am. Loss makes me keen to see moments that never came to pass. My brain fills in visits that never happened, awe-striking sites that were never seen, new and strange foods never tried – laughed at, squirmed over, delighted in.

I’m sure this happens to people when they lose someone and go on living in the place where they all shared memories. I didn’t expect it would happen in the places my lost ones had never been.

Fisherman cast their lines on piers all over the world. And so, like a ghost, my stepdad is there, pointing and sharing even with no Japanese, because something connects all men who fish. But he was never there. God, he would have found it beautiful.

Running my hands along a piece of antique kimono, my mind tells me to call my grandmother. What incredible creations could she have made with this unique fabric? But she won’t hear that story of the treasure I found. She left before the memory could be made.

The biggest adventure of my grandfather’s life was the two years he spent in Germany just after World War II. He always related every one of my international stories to that time in his life – the freedom, the newness, the strange place.  My heart aches for the connection he would have made with where I am now and where he once was and the laughter in his voice, “Aw, Sweetie, that reminds me, when I was in Germany…”

Whether intentional or accidental, we escape a lot in this lifestyle. Sometimes it’s not all that bad to be far away. It gets comfortable to not have to deal, to be able to bail or to say – “Oh, it’s just so far. Not this year.” But we also miss so much we never thought we’d have to miss – death, funerals, hospice, chemo. But whether we stay or go, they find us. Ghosts know no borders. By intention or accident, they find us.

But that works for us. We know how to deal with wandering. We know what it means to carry.

To pack it all inside, to take it out again, to look one more time. To remember whenever and wherever you need to, in the corners and crevices of past lives and right now, so that the memory can follow you everywhere – because you’re everywhere. And now the people you’ve lost are everywhere too.

It doesn’t make it all right. Your guts do indeed fall out with their passing. But pain has Band-Aids and wound care, and learning how to take your lost loves with you is yet another way to heal. What I’m saying is that I carry around a whole lot of suitcases. One of them holds her heart (and his heart and his heart and his heart) in it. When you’ve spent so much time with suitcases, you know how to get a whole lot of stuff in there.

This is an incredible blessing of the way in which we live. Neither our memories nor our grief are confined to one place.

And I can take all the memories with me. Just like the moon and the stars. Just like the Sun. My treasures. Hauled around from place to place. The same no matter where we go. For me, they’re not trapped where they passed, decomposing in the fertile Indiana soil or floating as ashes across the lake, baked by record temperatures, made soggy with April rain. I take them with me.

My travel companions. My beloved loss, my grief, my memories – my most flexible travel companions.

Author: Jodi Harris

Originally from Austin, Texas, Jodi has lived in Spain, Northern Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Japan (her current home). She is raising three TCKs in loving, if not occasionally chaotic partnership with her husband, a US Diplomat. She is a trained clinical social worker, teacher, life coach, writer, T1D mom and the owner of World Tree Coaching – Life Coaching for Expats. She specializes in reminding expats how capable and amazing they really are and supports people in finding a sense of home no matter where they go.

Comments 13

  1. Pingback: The NEW I Am a Triangle Platform (and my first IAAT blog post)

  2. BeYOUtiful, Jodi.
    Thank you for sharing your emotions during this very personal time in your life. I find it helpful now, even though I haven’t lost anyone while we have been away from home. I’m sure I will re-visit it when the time comes.

  3. This is beautifully written and very descriptive and accurate of the emotions and sensations we feel when we lose someone while we are far away from home. I lost my mother while in Pakistan. The State Department got me home from Islamabad in time to spend her last few hours together. I will always be grateful.

    1. Thank you Christine. What a blessing that you were able to spend those final hours with your mom. I feel similarly about the final days I had with my step-dad. The State Dept was able to get me a flight home within 12 hours. Being able to be there with my mom in his final days and to say goodbye to him was an incredible gift and one I feared I wouldn’t have.

  4. Memories haunt me, and yes, ghosts have no borders. 8 weeks ago today I received a call from my spouse that our son and nephew were missing in Lake Ontario. As I traveled to NY the first responders moved from search and rescue to just search. When I arrived at JFK both of their bodies were recovered. We traveled the world with Enzo, he was a TCK. He just finished his freshmen year in college and was home for the summer (we have a house in Upstate NY), and my spouse was there along with my mom. His best friends were his cousins, my sister’s 3 kids. They spent every summer together, and they shared everything. They were excited for the summer, 4 teenagers ready to make this the best summer of their lives. They went to the park next to the lake to share secrets and enjoy its beauty. The tragedy that day brought, the drowning of two boys who loved the world and life, changed my spouse and I, along with my sister’s family.

    As word spread across the world of my son and nephew’s death, my spouse and I realized the amazing communities our son grew up in and the lives he touched. I am sure his spirit will continue to travel the world in the memories of his friends, there are no borders.

    I am back in Bishkek wrapping up work and starting to pack out. As I pack, I come across my son’s old notebooks. I finger through them, remembering him at different stages of his life and in different countries. His spirit is back with me in Bishkek as I close the boxes.

    1. Barbara, My heart goes out to you in this incredibly difficult time. I know that no words could ever really suffice, but please accept my deepest condolences for this incredible, incredible loss. Thank you for sharing your reflections here and please know that even those of us who do not know you personally are sending you love across the miles. May you continue to feel embraced by the spirit of your son and nephew each step of this difficult journey.

    2. Barbara, I’m so sorry. I send my heartfelt condolences to you and your family (and that of your sister as well) during what is such an incredibly difficult time in your lives. I am sure of the same – that your son’s spirit and light WILL travel the globe with the memories he’s left with everyone he touched. The IAAT community is here for you – should we be able to offer any assistance, comfort or simply a listening ear.

  5. Oh Barbara…What difficult news to read. I’m so sorry. I cannot begin to imagine what you are all going through at the moment after losing such precious souls. Please know that I am thinking of you all and sending love for every day – not just the days in their entirety, but the hours, minutes and seconds as you try to adapt to the bewildering situation you now find yourself in. I know it’s not easy when your world has changed forever…almost impossible….but try to be kind to yourself. xxx

    Your mention of Bishkek reminded me of your posts on IAAT. I remember you talking about your time in Ethiopia and the amazing experiences you all shared. It sounded like you gave your son experiences that others can only dream of – a richness of opportunities and adventures that continue to shine through your memories of him.

    My wife and I have several friends who work in and around bereavement in the USA. If you need specialist support or have any questions (no matter how large or how small), please don’t hesitate to contact me – either on Facebook or through Naomi. She has all my details.

    Sending gentle hugs and love to you and your sister’s family.
    I will keep your son, nephew, family and friends in my thoughts.

    Cath x

  6. I’m so sorry Barbara. Wishing you and both of your families all the best at this difficult time.

  7. Barbara, I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Sending hugs and strength to all of you during this dark time.

  8. Barbara, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that you, your sister and your families are going through. My heart breaks totally for you. The article is beautiful and I do believe our loved ones are with us daily, in the things we do, in the people they touched. Sending much love and light to you.

  9. Dear Jodi thanks for this beautiful blog, indeed they have no borders.

    Dear Barbara, words cannot describe what you must be going through but I just wanted to reach out and sending you lots of strength during these extremly difficult times.

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