The most painful thing is you suspect that what you miss is either gone, or will be gone, when you get back, or maybe never existed at all Dane Wisher, The Cost of Things in Qatar
The summer holidays are finally upon us, and for me and the kids it’ll be our first trip back to the UK since we arrived in Doha a year ago.
Having spent that year blogging about life as newbie expats, my plan was to write the obligatory I-can’t-wait-to-go-back-it’s-been-far-too-long-here’s-what-I’ve-missed post*, where I filter what I’ve learned in my new home through the lens of my old one, with some added moaning about the cost of petrol.
But that was last week’s plan. And so much has changed since then.
Last week I posted a load of first world problems about turning 40 and my greying hair. In it, I glibly wondered whether I should have written it as a count-your-blessings celebration of reaching this milestone.
Well, maybe I should have done, because the very next day, one of those horrible emails, with its bland-but-ominous title of Sad News pinged into my inbox and blew me away.
K, a friend and former colleague, died suddenly last weekend, her passing as unexpected as it was unpreventable. She had so much left to give; when she died, she was still on maternity leave, having only given birth to her second son just before Christmas.
We worked together for more than two years, literally side by side, right up until I emigrated last summer.
It’s not just from being an expat that I’ve learned the importance of getting help from someone who‘s been down your path before and who can help show you the way. It’s true for work life as well, a role K performed brilliantly for me and countless others.
Everybody’s a VIP to somebody
Through a rotating cast of colleagues, managers, projects and priorities, she was the only constant member of my team in those two years. Our working styles gelled beautifully: her focused on the details; me on the big picture (and pedantically correcting her grammar).
Empathy is an essential characteristic for communicators, possibly the most important, and K had it in abundance. Putting other people first was her default position.
She worked a compressed week (essentially doing five days’ work in four) so that she could spend Fridays at home with her elder son. To make that work successfully took a lot of dedication, focus and planning and tells everything you need to know about her priorities.
By the time I got in each morning, she would have been in for hours already, gone for a jog and would be sat there eating something ridiculously healthy like homemade muesli whilst running a conference call with someone an hour ahead in Europe. She crammed more in to her life than Mary Poppins’ handbag.
I could go on and on. The point is, she’s just gone – vanished – far, far too soon. I am far from alone in struggling to grasp that I’m talking about her in the past tense.
She leaves behind a husband and two very young sons. There’s no point asking why. I’ve talked to colleagues with the strongest faith imaginable this week, and even they can’t make sense of it.
She did everything right: ate well, exercised, worked incredibly hard to balance the twin demands of a career and a young family.
Like so many others, I have spent the week shellshocked. Across multiple continents, our partners, kids, even our pets all got extra hugs when we heard the news.
Of course I’ve experienced loss before, but always to someone whose death might have been sudden, but not entirely unexpected. But I’m struggling to get my head round this.
So returning home this week, my mood should be celebratory, starting with my mum’s 70th birthday on Wednesday; a day which now expands to include K’s funeral as well.
I have no idea how to describe the fact that I will get back just in time to be there. ‘Bizarre’ is about the best I can do. These were not the circumstances in which I had anticipated catching up with my former colleagues.
With half an eye permanently on the feelings of others, K would probably want us to remember her by thinking about the special people in our lives and making sure they know how we feel about them.
If nothing else, I’ll have the chance to do just that this summer.
(*If you fancy reading such a post, albeit with a twist, try The Things I Miss by my fellow Doha blogger Flip Stewart.)