Dealing with farewell emotions by keeping in touch

Posted by in Mike's blog


This morning I drove Miriam to Fukui station.  She got on a bus.  That bus will take her to Komatsu airport, and from there she will fly to Norway – she has left…but is she gone?

Miriam has been one of our closest friends here in Fukui, and no one can contest her as the Bunny’s third favourite person right now.  One of the more difficult parts of living abroad is making good friends and then seeing them leave.  In Japan, most foreigners are here for a time…and then they go “home” (wherever that may be).  Those who choose to make this place their home have to get accustomed to many, many more people leaving than we ever will.  It’s hard for everyone, but this is an unavoidable reality in relationships.

…or is it?

When our friends Kristin and Mat came to visit us from Canada on separate  occasions this past spring, we learned how hard it can be for the Bunny when friends leave Japan.  She expected them to be lying asleep in the living room every morning, and she didn’t understand why there was no one to jump on after she got up.  Soon after they left, if anyone was around when the Bunny went to bed in the evening she expected them to be there to play with in the morning as well.  That was Miriam (or, “mi-um” as she is affectionately called) a lot of the time, especially in the past few weeks.

Now that Mi-um has left Fukui, we have a parenting situation to deal with:  We COULD explain to the Bunny that she’s gone…but the more I think about it I wonder if that is the best choice.  If we don’t want Miriam to be gone, she doesn’t have to be!  When the Bunny wants to see Miriam, all we have to to is click (or touch) a couple of times on one of our devices and we can either initiate a video chat or leave her a message.  Mary and I have a good concept of distance, but the Bunny doesn’t.  I really think we should learn from her.

Using video chatting software is a good thing for us, too.  When Mat came to visit we had been in contact so much that we didn’t have any new news to share with each other when we met at the airport.  Skype will never be able to replace physical contact.  We don’t spend a great deal of time touching other people, so for us it doesn’t need to.  We now have friends in more time zones than we ever thought we would.  It’s hard for all of us when we leave, or when friends leave us.  It has been difficult, and it is time for a new perspective:

Contact soon after arrival –  Traditionally, people call each other when they get to a new destination after a long or difficult journey to communicate safe arrival.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…but safe arrival is close to guaranteed these days.  Accidents in transit are common enough (though trains and airplanes are MUCH safer than cars), so are falling and choking.  I’m glad that I don’t have anyone in my life who calls me after using staircases.  I am proposing that contact soon after arrival can have a better purpose:  To finish the transition from “local friend” to “video friend”.  This will be especially important for the Bunny.  After not having seen Mat for 7 months with her toddler-level long term memory capacities, she remembered him the moment he arrived in Japan because he had been a close “video friend”.

Frequency of contact – When we miss our friends, we can call them.  This is easy.  When we do not call, does that mean that we don’t miss our friends?  NO, no it does not.  Frequency of contact must never be mistaken for a measure of friendship, this is how relationships break down.  Whether friends are a few blocks or a few countries away, everyone needs permission to be busy, as well as permission to initiate contact as often as appropriate boundaries permit.

Sharing both news and mundane tasks – Sometimes we put a camera in front of the Bunny while she’s eating breakfast and start video chats with relatives.  She loves it, and this really helps her stay close to people.

In the same way, readers, if you miss us you don’t have to pretend that we’re gone!  Start a video chat with us!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that face-to-face communication is any more difficult than using a left-handed can opener.  Here are the top three obstacles to video chatting that we have come across, with solutions:

1.  “I don’t understand how it works” – Skype is designed to be user friendly enough for people’s grandmothers.  All of the Bunny’s grandparents have managed to figure it out, so you can too.  The Skype website has easy step-by-step tutorials about how to get started, and how to find your way around the most up-to-date version.

2. “I don’t know when I should call” – The answer to this is “when you feel like it”.  I understand that some people fear time zones.  I use my head to figure out what time it is in the places I call the most, but when I get confused I look at[insert city name here] to find out.  Sometimes I compare times in multiple cities, again this is really easy to do.  If you should happen to call when we are busy, that’s what voicemail is for.

3. “I don’t have a camera” – We hear this one a lot, and we find it a little surprising. Most computers that have been sold in the past 5 years have integrated webcams…but most =/= all.  There was a time when a webcam was a luxury item, only purchased by the most computer savvy of geeks…and there was a time when those geeks felt threatened by “Y2K”.  That was the same time.  It’s 2012 now, and entry-level USB webcams cost around $10-$20.  When I posted this, I found 14 models in that price range at Canada Computers and 7 at Tiger Direct.  Each store had one for $10.  Be warned:  If you have a strong desire for us to see which pores on your face are clogged and which aren’t, cheap webcams don’t support HD resolutions.  We also don’t care if your smiling face has a few pixels – so really, a $10 webcam is good enough.

We use Skype, FaceTime and Google+ hangouts with friends and family all the time.  When we do it right, it doesn’t feel like we are worlds apart.  When we do it right, we don’t have to pretend that our friends are gone when they leave.

We will still miss spending time with Miriam, but she is not gone.  She is on an airplane right now transitioning from “local friend” to “video friend”.  We will see her after she lands and rests, no sooner than if she was still in Japan baking delicious treats to share.