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A Chapter of Change, A Season of Goodbyes

The farewells and losses endured when moving to a new country

By Nicole KunefkePublished 12 months ago 17 min read
A Chapter of Change, A Season of Goodbyes
Photo by Farida Davletshina on Unsplash

A chapter of change, a season of goodbyes.

That's what the past couple of years of my life have become. In my recent venture with blogging, I've written an informational series about my immigration from the US to The Netherlands (you can find the beginning of it here). It explains the requirements I had to meet for the visa I applied for and all the tips and tricks to navigate the process on your own, but what I didn't mention were the struggles involved. Sure, I shared the fears and inconveniences I experienced throughout the visa process, but I wanted to remain positive because moving can be a wonderful experience, and for me it still is. My adventure in The Netherlands has been the greatest experience of my life and the opportunities moving somewhere new can offer are bountiful.

What I didn't breathe a word of, however, was the emotional turmoil I've lived with every day, the toll it took on my mental health. What I had to leave behind and what I've had to sacrifice on my journey here.

Now I'm going to share the more raw side of what I've been feeling rather than just a series of information. I'm going to write with my heart, something my younger self always expressed was important. I'm going to reconnect with that part of me I've been out of touch with for so long. This evening, I'm going to write about losses endured while away from loved ones, the sense of time stolen from being apart.

I'm going to be completely and absolutely vulnerable with you.

This post is not only for me to express what I’ve felt, but for all of you who may be feeling, or have felt at one time or another, the familiarity of something similar. The struggles with mental health when moving to a new place. The weight of all those goodbyes you had to endure in your new chapter. Come sit with me with a cup of soothing tea, or anything your heart desires, as I share my story with you.


We'll begin with the spring of 2020: I had just permanently left my job due to the Covid-19 pandemic because my parents are at a high health risk and I wanted to protect them. When I left my job, I was just three weeks shy of my intended time to leave due to my move to The Netherlands. Earlier that year I had booked my plane ticket for May and had a meeting scheduled with the Dutch Immigration office shortly after. The timeline was perfect.

The pandemic had struck Europe just before the US, and I found out The Netherlands had closed their border to non-EU citizens. The plans I had worked so hard to establish with beginning a new chapter of my life with my partner were thrown into uncertainty. The whole world was in such a state of uncertainty, loss, and fear.

Strain was building on our relationship as each month passed in this state of the unknown. The longer I was in limbo with my future, floating stagnant in the water, the more my old friend Depression knocked on my door. The longer I was removed from social situations, the more my constant companion Anxiety gnawed at my insides. I was beginning to worry over losing the chance of beginning the new life I was so excited to start until, at last, I was given the chance to make my move.

In mid-July the Dutch government released an announcement that they would allow people into their country who were in a long distance relationship with a Dutch National. The relationship had to be proven through the guidelines they provided in their announcement and those entering the country had to follow self-quarantine procedures. My partner and I exceeded what the guidelines required, but I was still anxious.

Summer 2020:

Summer Avenue by Nicole Kunefke

August arrived and I was preparing for my flight to Amsterdam. Brimming with warring emotions of disbelief, excitement, and stress, I found myself fussing over suitcase packing and situating my pets to be taken care of by my family in my absence. Then it was upon me: the inevitable list of goodbyes that were quietly waiting for me.

I'm quite close to my family and I had never lived far away from them, let alone in a completely different country across the ocean. Animals have always been a major part of my life and I had never lived without any pets in my home until my immigration. The plan was to come back and see my family for the holidays, but even that was uncertain. I didn't know when I would actually see my family again, and I was afraid to tell them this when we'd constantly talk about the visit. I knew it was just a way for us to cope with the departure, but I dared not shake the stability it gave us by voicing any doubts.

I had to say goodbye to our family's senior dog, hoping I would see her again when I visited the next time. I had to say goodbye to my chickens and my pet duck I loved so much, hoping I would see them again before they were sent to a new home. I had to say goodbye to my two bearded dragons and my ball python, hoping I would be able to move them to my new home after I was settled.

Lastly, I had to say goodbye to my parents with their fragile health, hoping I could keep my promise to return for the holidays.

There was much I had left behind in exchange for a new life and so much I had taken for granted. When I began this journey, I knew I would always live in a scenario where I'd miss someone. For the two years of living with my family in the US while dating my partner living in The Netherlands, I missed him greatly. For the year and present time going forward I've lived in The Netherlands far from my family, I've missed them dearly instead.

I knew this road would be paved with loss and longing, but I've learned knowing it and feeling it were two opposite sides of the coin. I was not prepared for the latter.

Winter 2020:

Winter Avenue by Nicole Kunefke

All those thoughts weighed heavily on my mind when I left the US. By this time I went through my entire immigration process and received my residence visa. That alone was a great feeling of relief and achievement! But the relief faded when I stood at the crossroads of wondering what the next step was, only to realize I didn't have a next step. My focus had been so fixated on acquiring the visa, built upon a shaky foundation of how to actually go about the life of a freelancer, that I didn't know how to cross this bridge upon reaching it. Freelancing was a career path completely foreign to me. The ideas I had to apply my decade's worth of animal experience and knowledge, the only thing I knew as a career, crumbled before me. Doubt in my ability to write, the passion I had since I was a child, crept in and nestled itself down in my bed of confidence. I was adrift in uncertainty once again.

As I feared, I was unable to keep my promise to visit my family during the holidays, the thought just a bud of wishful thinking when I had left. We all used the December visit as a crutch to push through the coming loneliness. It only became more difficult over time. While my new home has been wonderful since the start, the homesickness in my heart still grew and rooted itself deeply. More uncertainty unfolded as we didn't know when I'd be able to return home. I texted my family every night and called them often. While it eased the homesickness, it was still a bloodied bandage at best. But a bloodied bandage was better than a flowing wound.

For those of you sitting with me who have loved ones far from you and it's hurting you to be away, I see you and I'm here to bear it with you. I can tell you frequent contact in this way lessens some of the pain. And I mean hearing their voice and seeing their face, not just sending text messages or emails. Having a support system, preferably near you, eases some of the homesickness, too. Although, scheduling a date and time for seeing your loved ones in person again is the best anchor to have during times of separation. It gives you stability and certainty, something to look forward to on the horizon that states "this isn't our last embrace, this isn't a final goodbye."

That was a comfort I wasn't given during such a time as a pandemic. This was also the time when we discovered my father's health had worsened since I had left home. With only half of a kidney sustaining my father for two decades, it had entered kidney failure. He had to begin the long, intimidating road of dialysis treatment and I wasn't there to help my family. Guilt coiled around my heart, squeezing tighter as time passed.

The well of my life's uncertainty deepened into a bottomless sea, and I was beginning to drown.

Spring 2021:

Spring Avenue by Nicole Kunefke

Sometime within the following January I had recognized I was extremely unwell mentally. I've been told that given the circumstances of everything prior, it was quite understandable. But I've always wrestled with something more, something deeper, than what I described on the surface. For most of my life I've battled anxiety, and then depression settled in when I was a teenager. My mind dwelled in a state of exhaustion and adrenaline spikes for years as I limped along in my daily life, at my jobs and in my social life, grimacing and tolerating it. Thinking, tricking myself into believing, that I could handle it by myself. January was a dark month for me; my decision to keep it secret from my family was born from fear of worrying them, and not telling my partner came from not wanting to add stress on our relationship.

Relationships naturally have seasons, just like the year does. At this point in time our relationship was in the downward period of a dreary winter. We were just learning how to navigate living permanently together, discovering boundaries and deeper emotional states of being. There were days where we were once again met with that familiar feeling of uncertainty that prevailed in every aspect of life that year. Some of our shared words stayed with me, burrowing deep and feeding my insecurities and doubt. Our relationship had been like mooring for me in a storm and it had felt so fragile.

Many signs were there that I needed help, and I finally answered the need.

A month later I had started seeing a psychologist to keep me from becoming overwhelmed by all these new emotions. My anxiety and depression swelled on a high tide, amplified by months of social isolation in the pandemic and living in a completely new culture. For the first time in my life, I felt incredibly alone and lost despite the support from my loved ones. I had begun to wonder if I had overestimated my resilience in immigrating during such a difficult time. It reached the stage where my psychologist had to refer me to a mental health clinic for more in depth treatment.

If you're feeling afraid or out of place, or have ever felt this way, after moving to somewhere new that's vastly different from where you come from and you're having trouble adjusting, you're not alone. I'm here holding your hand. It takes time and patience to adjust to a new life and you have to allow yourself this time and patience, so please be gentle with yourself. The less stress and comparisons you burden yourself with, the easier it becomes to settle in. If fear is holding you tightly, then venture out to explore consistently in bite-sized steps. They will be small victories, but they're your victories, and eventually they'll form as a greater whole. Soon you'll realize there's nothing unfamiliar to you and the adjustment will be smoother.

Over the course of the winter season giving way to spring, my relationship had become more stable and my family was able to navigate the situation with my father on at-home dialysis successfully. My road to treatment with a mental health clinic began, starting with the official diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder and severe Major Depressive Disorder. It was a relief to finally have a name for the struggles I've faced for so many years.

My therapy was helping me return to myself again and refreshing stability was uprooting the burrowed uncertainty.

Summer/Autumn 2021:

Autumn Avenue by Nicole Kunefke

Come summer I was expecting things in life to be warm and bright, much like the season. I thought I had weathered the stormy days and stood ready to embrace the dawn.

Instead I was the one embraced by something far different.

Our family dog, my companion for fourteen years, passed away from old age. This was something expected, but I had hoped she could hang on until I could see her again when I visited my family. When I said my goodbye to her before departing for my flight one year prior, I had a lingering feeling it would be our one last farewell. I had hoped with all of my heart it wouldn't be, but fate deemed to seal our goodbye with finality.

The grieving process took its time to launch into its cycle for me; hearing about her absence while being far away was one thing, but seeing it while standing in the living room of my parents' home was another thing entirely. When I had finally returned to visit them at the later part of the year and she wasn't there to greet me at the door, that finality struck me with a sharpness that sang "you're not removed from it now, it's real." I won't ever have the chance to show her I was going to come back. It's a goodbye that will always stay with me.

Reality then tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned around, I was staring at the realization I could not bring my beloved reptiles with me. I had to accept the decision to find a new home for them for their own wellbeing. Soon after this my ball python was given to a good home, the one companion I truly thought would accompany me into my new life. Another goodbye, but one I didn’t expect. One that crushed me with letting go of something that brought me comfort for a decade. A goodbye that brought me ever closer to releasing ties to my previous life.

Of course I have no regrets about my new life and I anticipated sacrifices along the way, but things didn't turn out how I had first imagined, either.

During summer blending into autumn, I was met with another unexpected goodbye. My special needs bearded dragon that I had raised, nine years of companionship, abruptly passed away. I was anticipating sending him to his own new home like I did with my ball python and other bearded dragon. I never imagined this sudden, final goodbye happening while I was away.

Within this time we were also threatened with the possibility my father, on top of everything that's happened to him, had colon cancer. For most of the summer we were left on the threshold of wearily thinking "do we really have to prepare for this?" until test results confirmed what they found was benign, and we were released from this worry for another year.


That’s my full cycle of seasons, harboring many, though not all, of the painful goodbyes within my new chapter. Since that summer I of course had to say goodbye to my pet duck (given to a nice sanctuary) and my chickens (both passed away from old age) as additional farewells. More recently there was a threat of my mother's heart disease worsening but thankfully that was resolved with another cardiac catheterization. And last but not least, the stability within my relationship with my partner didn't last and that has been a recent, heartbreaking goodbye of my choice.

With all these goodbyes and changes, grief is going to play a large role, and this is where my therapist told me I was grieving many things. Some were obvious while others were deeper realizations impacting my mental health that I was just becoming aware of.

Mental illness is like an endless rollercoaster ride at what is sometimes a horror carnival and at other times a stroll through a pleasant park. In my experience I can best describe Depression being like a void beast that sleeps on my chest, only occasionally getting up to stretch long enough for me to take a deep breath before crushing me again. Anxiety is a wild-eyed, panicked thing with a megaphone screaming in my ear 24/7. They hit like a train, but once I learned the signs, I can see the downward slopes coming. But grief? Nah, grief sneaks up on you. Grief is the five senses and conversations triggering memories at unknowing moments. It's like a silhouette covered by a sheet that sulks in a dark corner and rises to give you a suffocating hug, and just when you almost can't take any more, it releases you to go sit back down in its corner to wait.

Some of the best advice I've been given is to acknowledge the emotions and let them pass. No denying them, no suppressing them. All they do is surge with a vengeance if they're bottled up and swallowed. Do rituals of release and closure that best fit, such as burning emotionally raw letters and their accompanying pictures in a fire. This is where I was told I needed to take time to process this full mourning cycle instead of repressing it.

I've felt loss at other times over the years, but it's only recently I've learned through newly opened eyes that healing from grief has its own agenda and adheres to no set timeline. It doesn't matter if it takes years instead of months, you can't rush its passing, if it even passes at all. It may make you feel like you could fall into thousands of shattered pieces without warning. We are shaped and molded by our experiences and grief is one that can change you forever, and that's a scary thing to accept.

There have been setbacks in my quest to find where I belong in my new chapter, but even as I was back in my room at my parents' home packing away my life, everything that was mine and familiar, into boxes to sit in storage for years to come...for the first time in a while, I felt like it was going to be okay. And if you're currently dwelling in the mists of uncertainty, it's all going to be be okay for you, too. We have to just keep pressing on.

I sincerely hope those of you sitting with me today carrying goodbyes in your hearts will be able to change those goodbyes into long-awaited hugs and "hello, I'm so glad to see you again!" If you can't, then I hope you find your healing path and walk it for however long you need, even if that's every bit of the meaning of always.


About the Creator

Nicole Kunefke

Aspiring Fantasy & Horror Writer. Chaotic Night Owl. Freelancer.

The genres I write in are Poetry, Mental Health, and Immigration via my experience immigrating from the US to The Netherlands.

Find me on FB & Twitter: KismetDragoness

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