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A guide for those left behind: four small things you can do after a loved one emigrates

If they were the person you’d send silly cat videos to before, keep sending them

When you’re new to Australia, you happen upon other people who are new too. Something about the shared experience. The shared questions, for one thing. When you get here, there is a period of intense, excited bafflement – there are gigantic birds just wandering about and the police don’t arrest them or anything. Everyone has an Australian accent (you’d expect that one in advance, but still you’d notice it all the same, especially when they can’t understand your accent).

You consult other newbies to fill in the many knowledge gaps – how does healthcare work here? What about tax? Should I be worried that supermarkets devote an entire aisle to sprays, traps and liquids designed to either kill or deter insects?

In these “so we’re all new here” gatherings among people who arrived here from Ireland and the UK, a fascinating theme has emerged. I’ve written about it here before but it’s worth looking at again – the way that friends and family change when you go to Australia.

Now look, I get it – when you choose to go to the other side of the world, a bit of relationship attrition is to be expected.


Many emigrants I’ve talked to have said that as soon as they announced they were moving to Australia, friends and family shifted the burden of relationship maintenance largely on to them. Sort of washed their hands of effort, as it were. A kind of, “well, you decided to leave so it’s your job to keep me in your life” type thing. Where the relationship may have been closer to 50-50 in the effort department before, now the expectation is that you keep in touch from Australia or you lose contact with people at home.

Since I’ve written here about the realities of moving so far and the emotional cost and responsibility for emigrants before, I thought this week we’d flip things around. This is a guide for the people left behind, detailing the small things you can do to make sure the person who has emigrated doesn’t feel forgotten, irrelevant, or more disconnected than necessary.

Because we’re far away – not dead.

1) Don’t get in touch in the middle of the night

You have a smart phone. It has a world clock feature. You can put the time where your friend or family member is living into it so that you always know the time in Sydney/Melbourne/Perth/Mars. As an emigrant, people irritably telling you, “sure, I can never get my head around the time difference!” registers as a lack of caring enough to check the infinite font of information that is already glued to your hand 20 hours a day. It also means that your new-to-Australia loved one always has to check what time it is where you are to make contact when there’s a chance you’ll answer.

They’re making the effort so you can too.

It’s not hard and it makes a big difference.

2) You won’t make them homesick by sharing news and pictures

If they were the person you’d send silly cat videos to before, keep sending them. Updates and pictures from home of family events or get-togethers with friends might feel bittersweet to receive but the emphasis should be on the sweet. There’s nothing sadder than seeing your old friends get together the morning after on Instagram and feeling that your absence wasn’t noticed at all.

Parents wondering if this means eventual grandchildren they won’t really know. Old friends feeling that someone they love has altered a treasured dynamic

When a person chooses to leave, missing out is a consequence but when I get together with friends in Dublin, we often lament the absence of our friend Niall (who in his notions left for New York a few years back). When we send him a picture and tell him he’s missed, he always seems to appreciate it. It keeps us connected.

3) If you miss them, tell them

It’s tough to see people go. Sometimes, it generates a resentment that can feel a bit like ongoing punishment for leaving. Parents wondering if this means eventual grandchildren they won’t really know. Old friends feeling that someone they love has altered a treasured dynamic. Colleagues contemplating how this exit will impact their own workload and schedule. From the other side, it can feel as though leaving means that people cease to feel invested in your welfare or to have use for you.

Making such a big move is a frightening, risky endeavour. Even from a distance, we still need family and friends to lean on (and know we can return to if it all goes wrong)! So if you miss them, tell them. In both directions, saying this to someone you care about is much-needed reassurance that they maintain an important place in your life, despite the distance.

4) Visiting is the ultimate gesture of care

Usually, when a person emigrates, they see family and friends when they themselves go home for a visit. Flights to and from Australia are physically challenging and very expensive. If you have small kids or health issues it’s even tougher, so visiting someone who has emigrated isn’t something everyone can do. However, if you’re able to visit, but never do, this will be noticed and it will hurt. A lack of curiosity to see the life a close friend or family member has built – to witness for yourself where they have been and what they’ve been doing, whether they’re happy and to learn more about their life – will feel like a lack of care.

Travel is the most annoying aspect of emigration but if someone has made 10 visits home and their family is happy for all that stress and expense to be one-sided, resentment will build. If you can, visit them at least once and if you can’t, tell them you’re not indifferent about that.