Opinion: How do I cope with my son on the other side of the world?

Grandmother embracing granddaughter. Picture: Marc Debnam

Grandmother embracing granddaughter. Picture: Marc Debnam - Credit: Getty Images

Someone asked me recently how I coped with one of my children living on the other side of the world.

Valerie Slaughter - New columnist for the Norwich Evening News

Valerie Slaughter - New columnist for the Norwich Evening News - Credit: Archant

How, indeed? My son and his family left Norwich in June 2005 to begin a new life, thousands of miles away, in Brisbane, Australia.

He took with him our daughter-in-law and our two beautiful granddaughters, aged two and nine months respectively. As they had lived with us for three months prior to going, the wrench of parting was, somehow, even greater.

I often ponder the fact that our son was either very brave or somewhat foolish to leave everyone and everything familiar to him behind, uproot his family and travel to live in a country, so far away; a country that before this moment, he had never even visited.

The day they left, I felt bereft. I remember the ache of that parting as if it were yesterday.

Hugging our baby grand-daughters, who had filled our home with such joy, saying goodbye to our son and daughter-in-law, was devastating. I tried to console myself with the fact that they were doing something they wanted to and were happy.

I remember telling them that, at best it would be a wonderful life and if, for some reason, it did not work out for them then, at least, it would be a wonderful experience, so to grab the opportunity with both hands and live the dream, as they say.

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We visited them a year after they left here and again a few years later when we went to meet our third granddaughter. It takes almost two days of travelling to reach them and the first day or so is lost in a mist of euphoria and jet lag, (and on our last visit, the addition of sinus problems, due to them spraying the aircraft with some sort of antiseptic, prior to us disembarking).

When we speak of them and how much we miss them, people (usually ones who have never experienced their children leaving the country), will often say, 'Ah yes but you can Skype them these days can't you?' And yes, we can, but sometimes that makes the separation worse.

You can see them but you cannot touch, you can look at them but you cannot hug, and the ache when that camera is switched off and they have gone from sight again, is almost unbearable.

Even when we have visited, it is heartbreaking to say goodbye. At the airport, the image of our young granddaughter, standing at the top of the escalator watching us walk away, will stay with me, for always.

I believe I shed tears for most of the journey home and was still doing so when we landed at Heathrow.

My son and daughter-in-law have made a good life for their family; they all love Australia, they are happy and the children are flourishing and as a parent, that is all I have ever wanted; for my children to be happy.

I wonder at times, if they feel there is a price to pay for emigrating? Do they miss the closeness of the extended family unit, the belonging, the making of memories and the history of just doing things together? They may have all that this new land can offer but is that really worth it? I hope so, I really do.

How do I cope? I think of the words of Khalil Gibran who writes: 'You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth ... the archer bends you with his might that his arrows go swift and far ... let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness.'