The other, sadder side of leaving your country behind

It's that dreaded time again. My parents have been visiting since early August. We shared specials moments together and we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, but now it's time for them to leave again.

As I am looking for airline tickets for their flight back home, the memory of the first time me, my husband and my daughters had to say goodbye comes to mind. I can picture again that first moment when I stepped onto a plane knowing that I was not coming back home; I was leaving behind my family, the beautiful beaches, the familiar faces, the house where I grew up and all my childhood friends.


I know we'll be saying goodbye once again soon. And my heart aches yet again.

It's been 11 years since we moved here from Puerto Rico — 11 years of frequent goodbyes, birthday songs and pretending to feel the warmth of the birthday hug over the phone, because there's an ocean between us. For 11 years, my children have not been able to bring someone with them to Grandparents Day at school or share special moments with them. We moved here looking for better opportunities and a better quality of life, but at the same time many sacrifices continue to be made because of that decision.

Leaving your country and all that you have known for your whole life is not an easy thing to do. For our family it's a lot easier to move here than it is for many others, because Puerto Ricans are already U.S. citizens; yet it's still hard to leave everything behind. I can only imagine how hard it is for the numerous individuals who move here from more distant countries, leaving their family and friends many more hours and oceans away. When I am terribly missing my parents — which I do every day — I can hop on a plane and be with them in four hours. Even though it is hard to get together because we don't always have the time or the opportunity to do it, we still have that chance.

I can only imagine how hard it must be for those whose families are thousands of miles away and who do not have the ability to reach them in just a few hours; for those whose citizen status does not allow them to go back and see their families; for those who come from impoverished countries or countries at war who cannot even call their families and listen to their voices over the phone; for those who must adapt to a different language — a different culture; for those for whom everything is new and different, and even scary. I can put myself in their shoes and feel the sadness of missing your family every day, the agony of not knowing if that last hug was the very last hug, and the frustration of not having those you love at every important event in your life.

It is hard to wake up every morning and not see familiar faces, the streets where you used to ride your bike, the friends with whom you grew up. It is hard to imagine that something could happen to your loved ones and you wouldn't be able to be there to help them. It is hard to imagine that life is passing by — years go by and you are missing precious time together.

Unlike the more glamorous idea many people have of moving to another country to improve one's life and the life of their family, this is truly the other side of leaving your country behind. I can feel their pain, even though for me it's nowhere near as hard as it is for them. And I have absolute respect for them.

So I ask you: Please, when you encounter one of these souls in your life, look beyond the language barrier — beyond the differences in culture, beyond the color of their skin or the food that they eat, beyond the clothes that they wear — and just put yourself in their shoes and imagine the other side of leaving your country behind.