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"The early morning phone call"

The feeling of guilt in migration is an extremely complicated and painful issue. Ask for help.

When I was doing my PhD, I came across a very interesting article called "The early morning phone call". In a few words, the article analyzes how sending remittances has important repercussions for migrants, specifically refugees. When reading the article, I realized that the title referred to the urgency with which relatives “at home” sometimes request financial support in a context of war or conflict of some kind. However...

As the article says, remittances are not “just money”.

For many of us, receiving a "midnight call" is often not about money, but about sharing hard-to-digest information. How many of you have been woken up in the middle of the night by a telephone call from your parents/siblings/distant relatives... with this message or similar?:

"Your mother had a heart attack and she is in the hospital."

Often it is not about money, but about emotional support and our filial “obligation” to be there. However, being there is not always so easy, right?

If we don't have a job, or are self-employed, and somehow "lucky" to have geographic freedom and good finances, maybe we can afford to catch the next plane and go back home to provide some support.

If we have a job (let's assume we're still financially solvent), we need to add the "benevolent boss" factor, who will understand our distress and allow us to work from home while caring for our relatives.)

But what if we don't have the financial resources to catch the next flight and our boss is a heartless asshole?

Well then we're screwed.

It is part of what many have referred to as migratory mourning or migration grief. Not being able to be there when they need us can generate strong feelings of guilt, anxiety and even depression.

What I find particularly interesting to many of the immigrants and expats I have met in my life is that we seem to hold this topic taboo. It is as if managing family relationships in migration is something we are ashamed of, something we try to avoid talking about (and maybe even thinking about) at all costs.

A few years ago, I lived in a town in northern Mexico. The plan at that time was to stay and settle there "forever and ever", so suddenly all these tormenting questions began to invade me: "What will I do if my mother / father gets sick?"

One day I met a fellow European and while we were having coffee and talking about the pros and cons of living in Mexico, I asked her if she had made any plans with her parents (in this regard). Her face froze and she wiped the smile off her face. "It's an issue that I'm struggling with a lot and I don't want to talk about it." She then rushed herself to pay the bill and we left. We didn't see each other again after that day.

A few days ago I was talking to my friend Anais (not her real name), whose mother passed away while she was living abroad. She couldn't fly to say her last goodbye in time, or even attend her funeral. She had told me this before, but it was only the other day that she explained to me how that event had triggered her guilt in such a way that she had ended up returning from a place she liked, to a place she hated. Upon her return, she moved countries 3 more times in a matter of 2 years: from Spain to Germany, then back to Spain, then back to the Netherlands, then back to Spain, and then once more to Germany, and now she is planning her final return to Spain, where she wants to be close to the family she has left.

Dealing with migration guilt is an extremely complicated and painful subject. And what's worse, guilt is a very insidious feeling, so it can lead us to do things and lead lives that we don't really want.

If you feel overwhelmed handling guilt and family relationships in migration, seek help as soon as possible. Remember that your mental and physical well-being is as important as that of your family.


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