It’s tough to fill the hole when a close friend emigrates

The creative friend you shared music with, the friend who knew when to tell you to cop on, the friend who was always there at your lowest moments. These people have seen you grow up. New friends can never take their places

Big deal: Dominique McMullan (centre) with her friends Orlaith Kane,  Emma Priestman, Sarah-Grace Keane and Ciara Walsh

Big deal: Dominique McMullan (centre) with her friends Orlaith Kane, Emma Priestman, Sarah-Grace Keane and Ciara Walsh

 

Going-away parties, going-away dinners and going-away coffees had become second nature to my group of friends. Have a drink – cheers! – X is leaving for Y in search of a new Z.

As with anything you experience too many times, you begin to dissociate. Numbers of friends begin to dwindle; then the parties do, too, and not just because too few people are left to invite.

The first time a friend emigrated the goodbyes lasted weeks. Every event was “the last time”. Ten of us went to the airport to see Laura off. Friends stood beside family in departures, making that smiley teary face you make, talking in Skype cliches that weren’t even cliches yet. “It will only be two years,” she promised.

Looking back, it seems more than a little melodramatic. We wouldn’t dream of taking up precious family airport time now. And we’re all too aware that Skype is a form of communication more often referenced than real. These days when someone’s off it’s a pat on the back and a “Catch you later”, followed by the occasional drunken phone call.

Sydney, Vancouver, New York and Hong Kong: cities that once felt far flung now house our neighbours. No move is shocking; nowhere is distant.

In recent times we had become comfortable with our small but steady circle of friends. Then, one evening, after a few drinks, there were murmurings of the land down under. They were mostly ignored. Like illness, emigration happened to everyone but you. Yet the whispers continued. “Did she bring it up again?” “She’s not actually going, is she?” “Stop, shh. Pass the wine.”

Months went by. We became expert conversation changers, dodging the Oz word with the deftness denial so easily provides. Until, one afternoon, Emma said she was in the final round for her Australian visa. “You still have another round, though, right?” “What is the likelihood of you actually getting it?” “Did anyone see Made in Chelsea last night?”

Losing a friend to emigration is not the same as losing family. You’ll never lose touch with your sister or your son. When a friend leaves, a small part of you acknowledges that your relationship may never be the same. A goodbye at the airport is often a real goodbye. Maybe that’s why we now avoid them.

There have been friends – very good friends – whom I have not spoken to in years. This hurts. You may see them the first Christmas but miss the Christmas after that, and the next one, too. Maybe one evening you’re just not in the mood to hear about Boston and how wonderful, sunny and cheap life is over there. Then your guilt at not communicating leads to less communication. A few months pass, and every time you think of calling there is never enough time, as there’s just too much to say. Before you know it the girl who used to know your deepest secrets knows nothing about you except what she sees on Facebook.

These people cannot be replaced. They become little holes in your life. Little gaps that can’t be filled. The creative friend you shared music with, the friend who knew when to tell you to cop on, the friend who was always there at your lowest moments. These people have seen you grow up. New friends can never fill their places.

Soon after she got her visa Emma told us to book the night of April 18th, because she was having a going-away party. That night four of us sat at a table watching our fifth limb move from group to group. “Oh, thanks!” “Yes, such an adventure.” “I won’t miss this weather, anyway!” All the sentences we had heard so many times before.

But Emma’s party wasn’t like the others. There were no tears, no cliches between old friends, no airport farewells. Quietly and gently the night ended and another little piece of our circle fell away.

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