Living abroad has given me so many good things that naming them all would take a whole series of posts.
But I just need one line to name the worst part of it: being far from my family and friends.
If you ask most Spaniards, and I bet that it applies to most foreigners or expats, they will likely say the same. Some may mention jamón ibérico, but that’s life.
Likewise, one of my biggest fears is that a loved one will get sick while I am in the US. In my 13 years in Chicago, that has happened a bunch of times. Actually, the summer after I moved, my dad developed a heart condition that prevents him from flying for more than two hours. Which means that we went from having plans for my parents to spend several months a year with us, to knowing that he would never be able to visit us there. At all.
The second most dreaded call you can get is the one that tells you that a parent is in the hospital, and you need to fly. Quickly. Like in the movies. Except that in real life getting a seat on a flight across the Atlantic is not so easy. I got that call in the Fall, and luckily it ended up being a “false alarm”.
But days into our Christmas stay in Spain, my dad had to be admitted again. It was scary for the kids to see their grandpa being taken by an ambulance, it was scary for me to know that my husband was still a few days away from us, and for my mom to think that we would wreck her house in her absence, since she likes to stay with my Dad in the hospital.
It soon became clear that he would stay for a few days. Maybe more than that. With Christmas Eve coming up, I was certain where I wanted to be then. We spent a small fortune and all of our vacation time, and pulled out the kids from school for two weeks mainly to spend Christmas with my family, especially my Dad. And although he tried to convinced us to do the whole big dinner thing at home without him, we refused. My husband and kids are with my in laws, my siblings with theirs, and my mom and aunt are home, because hospitals are exhausting places, and they have spent here more than their fair share of time.
And you know who is, most likely, having the best Christmas Eve? Me. Because I am certain that I am where I want to be. And I know that as much as I love my husband and kids, we can have a make up Christmas in January, February, or March. With my Dad, I have today. Maybe next summer. Maybe next year. Hopefully many, many more. But today is for certain, and today I am here. And I am happy, writing, or reading, or watching crappy holiday TV or chatting a bit with him, by his side. Having a picnic like Christmas Eve dinner, with jamón ibérico sandwiches, and turrón and mazapanes, typical Spanish Christmas sweets. All smuggled into the hospital, of course. By now I am a pro.
The hospital is, by now, 10:30 pm, almost deserted. Christmas Eve is the most important night of the five Christmas holidays that we have here, and everyone has gone home for dinner, including most nurses and doctors. I will stay until midnight, just because my dad, in whose medical history they should include stubborness, doesn’t allow me to spend the night. But I happily would.
I know that, in a few days, I will not be readily available. I know that tickets are not necessarily easy to find. I know that a nine hour flight may be too late one day.
And that, my dear friends, is the worse part of being a foreigner.
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