Updated 25 August 2014

Losing a loved one abroad

The death of a spouse or close friend in a foreign destination carries a special kind of pain, but it is possible to work through the loss.

The death of someone near to you always comes as a shock. But what if your loved one’s life ends in a faraway land?

This is what happened to the 298 people on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down with the loss of six exceptional Aids researchers

“The world is grieving for the loss of loved ones who died so unexpectedly in the downing of the MH17 Air Malaysia plane,” says registered counsellor Gill Liprini.

“Not only are these people suffering a personal tragedy, but for them it also becomes a public one as the coverage of the event is broadcasted; for them this is reliving the pain and a reminder of the horror." 

ReadAIDS 2014: Candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the MH17 incident

"While trying to cope with this loss and pain, many unanswered questions will remain and closure could be difficult.” And it could so easily have happened to any one of us, as we go on business trips to African countries, pursue studies abroad or go on an eagerly-awaited holiday to Thailand or Italy.

Economic realities and high salaries for in-demand skills are also sending many South Africans to work in foreign – and sometimes not entirely safe – countries. “You can expect that it will be more difficult to lose a loved one who is far away – the tendency is to think: If only we had been nearer to each other, I could have prevented this from happening,” says psychological counsellor Deon Binneman.

In fact, those ‘what ifs’ could lead to an inner dialogue which then becomes an effort to try to cope with one’s own helplessness.

“We need to accept and make our peace with the fact that that we are not God, and acknowledge that it’s life, these things happen,” says Binneman. “Family members are sometimes given the opportunity to travel to the city of departure by the affected airline. It may be helpful to go and to join in the process that will be provided.

Meeting with other affected people or families may help you to express your emotions. Supporting others may be beneficial to you and your process of grieving.

ReadWhat happens when you die

“If the body of the loved could not be retrieved, do have a ritual of saying farewell with family and friends. Try to have the memorial service as a celebration, ask people to participate. This is an act of remembering.”

Binneman holds out hope: “You need to remember that it will get better, and that you are not alone – it’s always good to listen to other people’s stories.” Liprini cautions: “When grief does not go away and life becomes not worth living, seek professional help immediately.”

Paraphrasing one of the best-known self-help books ever published, Binneman says: “We should think: I’m not OK, you’re not OK – but it’s OK.”

Read more:
Dealing with bereavement
Self-help books help depressed people Grief counselling - how it works
Should death be taboo



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