We wanted to tell you all at once before we told the rest of the staff that your friend has died.
Those are about the hardest words a person can hear. Questions arise. Emotional turmoil and internal struggle ensues. One can run the gamut of emotion in one day for no external reason whatsoever. The loss of a friend, especially when one is overseas, is hard.
Your father is dead.
At no point is the loss of a family member easy. The loss of a father is impacting, emotional, and can be crushing. The same emotions arise as with the loss of a friend. They are that much more impacting though because it is a family member. When one is overseas, it is so much harder to deal with because the first thought is a return home to be with one’s family.
On October 28, 2019, I learned of the passing of a very good friend and colleague who was teaching with me overseas. Two weeks later, on November 7th, my father passed away.
I consider myself an emotionally strong person. As an educator, I handle most things that come at me well. I know that I am generally good in crisis or high emotional situations. I am not a person who gets rattle easily. This has been one of the hardest seasons in my life for me personally. What most people don’t know, I was shattered inside.
The only people who had a real sense of what was going on with me emotionally were my wife and close family, a few very close friends most of which who were not where I was teaching, and the counselor at school. For everyone else, I had to put up a façade and smile on the outside while inside I was questioning so many things and hurting. As I write this, the pain is still very real.
Dealing with the loss of a friend, loved one, or family member is difficult under the best of circumstances. Dealing with the loss when one overseas can be crippling. I put together a list of items that we had to address dealing with our friend who passed overseas. Consider these for yourself and how you as a person or school might answer them if someone passes where you are:
- Do you have a will?
- Do you have a Do Not Resuscitate certificate in the native language (if those are your wishes)?
- How do you want the body handled? Cremation? Sent Home?
- What does insurance pay and what is out of pocket?
- What governmental bodies do you need to talk to if a staff member of friend passes? What are the laws that come into play in this situation?
- What is the bereavement leave policy and is it sufficient to address the needs of the person who is suffering the loss?
- Who will be the support system for the person who is suffering loss? Foreign Staff? Local Staff?
- How will a memorial be arranged? For the family? For the staff? For the school and community?
- What counseling resources are available and on hand for the school community?
- What is the school policy on honoring contracts for family members that remain in the community? Will the contracts be enforce or will the staff be allowed to be released?
- What are the long – term supports for the staff member moving forward?
These, and many other questions, arose during the time we addressed the passing of our friend. In addition to the above questions, if the family member who passed is overseas, a few more questions should be considered:
- What is the bereavement policy for taking leave to travel overseas?
- Who pays for flights for travel?
- What support does the teacher need at school during this time?
- Who is caring for the family and children? What care is needed?
Again, these and many more questions arise. It is a very difficult time in the lives of people when a loved one passes. With so many questions that arise and the struggle of dealing with the emotions is real. And every person deals with grief differently.
Finally, how do you support the people who are supporting the caregivers? When my friend passed, I found myself supporting both the family and the caregivers. We were a strong, small network who worked together to get through it all. When my father passed, I only told them and my administrators. The only reason was because my friends memorial was the weekend right after my father passed. And, I had jobs to do which I simply had to finish.
We often forget that, in the midst of our struggle and dealing with loss, we have to do our job. We have to teach and lead. We have to be strong for others, make decisions, and do the day to day job of teaching. We have to put on a work face and do the work we have to do. And when the memorials have been taken down and memories fade about the loss, we have to remember that those who have lost loved ones are still grieving and need our support.
The loss of someone close to us is hard. The loss of someone overseas can be that much harder. As a school, we are the support system for our staff family. As difficult as it is, we need to talk about how we would handle the loss of a staff member or extended family and plan for it.
I used to think that I had a good handle on how to address loss as I have dealt with loss of friend before. I have learned that I don’t have as a good a handle on it as I thought after dealing with loss firsthand while overseas. Please talk with your leadership about how you will deal with loss in your own school or organization. Because you never know when your community may need to support someone who has lost a loved on.