My life is over: mourning what was

Six weeks from today I will arrive in Australia and my life will be over.

Okay, I know that sounds overly melodramatic, not to mention inaccurate, but there’s still something to it. The life I have had for the past 11 years WILL be over in six weeks’ time. That’s a very big deal, and something very hard for some people to fully understand.

This was driven home to me earlier this week when I posted my 就业证 (jiu ye zheng – Chinese work permit) back to my previous employer in Beijing. I shouldn’t have had it at all. Companies are supposed to hang on to work permits, not individuals, but I had been renewing my own visas (instead of the accounting firm doing it for me). It also should have gone back to them more than a year ago when my last visa with them ended, but none of us thought of it at the time. So I got an email asking if I had it, found it in my document file, and eventually managed to get it sent back.


It really didn’t seem like a big deal, other than the difficult logisitcs. I didn’t expect to feel anything at all. But when it was in my hands at the DHL office I felt a deep sense of sadness, the pain of loss.

I was holding a legal document that said I belonged in China. It didn’t matter that it expired a year ago. It still said that for years I had been a legal employee and resident. It symbolised the life I had lived in China; it was proof that that life really happened. I could see my Chinese name neatly typed beneath my English name. All my details were there in Chinese characters, characters I could read. Letting it go was one more concrete sign that the life I lived in China is no more.

I don’t have a life to go back to anywhere in the world, not even Australia. I think that’s difficult for a lot of my friends to really understand. Most of them lived and worked in their passport countries before moving overseas. The problem is that life in China is the only life I know. I was 21 when I moved to China. I had only ever lived in my parents’ home, had only ever been a full-time student.

China is the place where I lived my entire working life, my entire independent adult life. Life overseas is all I know. It’s my comfort zone. I know stuff. Languages, procedures, how to get things done, how to survive. I have skills – skills respected and admired by locals and expats alike. Most of those skills and most of that knowledge will soon be close to useless. I’ll be starting from the bottom, all but clueless – and in my own country. It’s terrifying.

I’ve felt that terror, in waves greater and smaller, ever since making the decision to move to Australia. There’s the horror of knowing that I will be ignorant and helpless – two of the feelings I hate most of all. I won’t know how things are done. It’s the main feeling I’ve had whenever I’ve thought about this life change. Handing over that jiuyezheng, though, I felt something else. Grief. I was mourning the things given up.

Terror of what’s ahead is the main thing I’ve felt, totally overshadowing sadness for what is behind. But there’s a LOT I’m leaving behind, not least of all my sense of self. So much of my identity has been wrapped up in being an expat, and in being a youth worker. Being neither is going to be a very strange thing. Not that this is bad – I think it will be very good for me, and almost necessary, to learn who I am without those things. Learning to exist in my passport country is also a really good thing. But it is still unknown and scary. It still comes at the expense of the life I have known and (mostly) loved for over a decade.

So, yes, that life is over. There is pain in the finality of that.

But I will start a new life – and intermingled with the terror is excitement, wondering at what that new life will become, and who I will become as I live it.

As I walked out of DHL that day feeling sad, three songs I really liked came up on my iPod and formed the soundtrack to my grief as I let the feelings come. Then they disappated, like the ebb of a wave, and the fourth song came on and encouraged me.

Awake My Soul (Mumford and Sons)
Common Sense (Deas Vail)
Broken (Lifehouse)
Breathe (Anberlin)


11 thoughts on “My life is over: mourning what was

  1. Praying for you during this transition. I’ve been in the states for a year now and am amazed at all the changes that have taken place. When I first arrived, it felt uncomfortable and foreign — even though I had spent most of my life here. Things changed — but most of all, I changed while living in China. I can finally say that I am finding my pace (a different pace than before) with new adventures, new relationships and new opportunities. You will do the same. Everything you do, you do well. Love you!

  2. My dear, thinking of you as you go through this transition. The peace that Jesus promises is real-er than ever during times like these. We find that we can’t hang on to anything but that sometimes evasive peace that he promised. But the good news is that the more we hold onto it, the more tangible it becomes. Praying for you and trusting that His peace will be your rock throughout all this, and you will have more than enough to get by. In fact, you will flourish like never before. Love you lots xx

  3. Great letter girl. Very vivid description of the issues/challenges and your feelings.

    You rock.

    And you’ll be fine back down under, of course, because you’re also resilient.


  4. im sorry that you have to feel these things but im also excited that you get to feel these things.
    We just heard from a returning member of our base about his similar process getting kicked out of a southern asian country. He didnt choose. so his process was slow, taking a step out to a two neighbouring countries he was allowed in to say goodbye and finish, but as he returned to sweden he felt so awkward because he doesnt feel swedish anymore. he doesnt get it it here at all. he misses his asian culture. i felt so worried about him as i have been in and out of cultures two months at a time i have never felt deeply rooted in anywhere, but i still feel weird returning to australia after falling in love with all these different places. and when you return other people just dont get it either. they look at you even weirder. when i bow or throw a shaka…

    So i hope and pray that you get given a grace that takes you by surprise. that you are honoured for what you do know and what you know how to do and people see the huge value that you are to a community. i hope you feel at home quickly even if its not your favourite at first.
    you are amazing and you have given this world so much life and goodness and you will continue to do so.
    thank you for sharing.

    you rock :)

    • Thank you, Jez. Your words are so encouraging and they mean a lot to me. I certainly hope I add something of value to the community I’ll be joining in Sydeny.

  5. We are sojourners on this earth and never feel really at home in any place. This came powerfully to my mind when visiting my birth country recently. Who am I? was a question I had to resolve. My personal identity is determined by my relationship to the Lord not by what I do or by where I live. I am nothing without Him, but how to live in that realisation on a daily basis is the crux of the matter for me. I pray you will find your shelter in Him as you transition into a new chapter of your life. Shalom!

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