Experiencing and coping with grief abroad

03rd September 2019


by Vanessa Mekisic, Centacare social worker

Experiencing grief abroad

What a terribly sad subject to be talking about, but a necessary one. It is likely that at some point in your journey abroad you have felt sad, angry, overwhelmed, or guilty due to issues happening at home that you are not able to help with, for example death of a family member, family member becoming sick and needing help with care and appointments or relationship breakdowns.

If any of these things occur while you are abroad, it is likely that you will be feeling some type of grief and loss. Don’t feel embarrassed or try and push these feelings away, they are natural and your loss is unique to you.


Symptoms of grief

It is likely you will be questioning your values, faith, relationships, goals, identity, purpose, culture and health. You may be asking yourself. “how could this happen, this isn’t fair they were such a good person, what’s the point of trying so hard and wanting to travel when I can’t even be around for the people I love, why don’t my family/friends understand me, what is my purpose in life?”.

These are all normal questions. It is times like these that can motivate us to make the changes we need to make, question the negative influences in our life and do something about them.

However, if you are feeling like life is not worth it, no one understands you, you will need to speak with a professional and move forward from the grief.

You may also be feeling angry, sad, guilty, overwhelmed, confused, numb, anxious, fatigued and you may want to isolate yourself. Again, these are all justified emotions when you are grieving.


The five stages of grief

There are five stages of grief however some people may only experience one stage whilst others may experience all five and drift from one stage to another. Some people may rapidly evolve through the stages whilst others may get stuck in one stage and find it difficult to move forward or never move forward.

If a person is feeling ANGRY, they could be blaming others and questioning why this is happening. When someone is experiencing DENIAL, they may prefer to act as if everything is normal. Some people may NEGOTIATE with their thoughts, preferring to think that if they do something then the issue will be resolved and finally some will ACCEPT  the grief and develop some understanding of the situation and what learning it has brought to their existence. Others may experience DEPRESSION and be unable to move forward for some time.


How to deal with the grieving process abroad

Acknowledge the emotions you are feeling, it’s okay to be angry, sad, overwhelmed and feel guilty. It is likely that you may be feeling uncomfortable with these feelings, especially if these emotions are at times seem uncontrollable. There are no rules to grieving and how you should express yourself, so don’t worry about other people’s judgements instead let them know how you are feeling. Physically talk to the people around you as well as your family and friends abroad. Let them know how you are feeling, that you want to be part of the process and planning and that you want to be kept up to date with any changes.

Seek out face to face support – this may be hard if you are abroad or if you spend a lot of time in the virtual world but actually having someone physical to speak to, hugging someone or just someone to listen can make all the difference. Don’t feel bad to approach a friend or person. That person is likely to feel privileged that you want to speak to them and share your feelings.

Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. Do yoga, eat well, watch a movie that you love, listen to music that you love and that comforts you, go to a place that is calm for you and that you feel you can connect with, reminisce about the loss in your life.

If you have a faith / religion, draw comfort from these teachings.

Remember how this person felt about you achieving your goals. They are likely to be proud and talk so positively about you even though you may be feeling guilty because you are not there.

It’s always okay to ask for help

Recognise the difference between grief and depression – if you are not able to talk to people about the grief, you are becoming angry all the time and want to isolate yourself, you are likely to be falling into depression. Clear your mind, gain some clarity and talk to a professional about your emotions. sometimes its easier to talk to a person that is not connected to the situation, they can support you to look at the issues differently.

You can contact grief and loss counsellors through the following services:

Cairns Student Hub

Grief Line PH: 1300 845 745

Beyond Blue PH: 1300 224 636

Life Line PH: 131114

You can also visit your doctor or GP and ask to be referred to a reputable counsellor in the area.

Do you want to volunteer?

The Student Hub welcomes students who want to help by volunteering their time and skills to assist other students. We’re also developing an exciting Internship Program and are happy to assist with finding an internship or volunteer position for you.


In association with