Immigrating Part 3: Actually Leaving South Africa

Actually leaving South Africa

Actually leaving South Africa is the third part in a four part series detailing our immigration from South Africa to Australia. If this is a move you are considering or a move you have made, I would suggest you read this series from Part 1 for context. You can access Part 1: Deciding to leave South Africa here and Part 2 Deciding on Australia here. If you are in this situation I wish you the best of luck on your decision and your process. 


This post is heart wrenching for me


Leaving your home country is hard, no matter what the reason. Having made the choice out of your own free will doesn’t make the leaving any easier.


You are saying goodbye to everything you know and everything your children understand about the world. Your whole frame of reference about what is normal, usual and common.


This post is heart wrenching for me and if you are thinking about leaving maybe you shouldn’t read this although it should help you prepare mentally for the reality of leaving.


There is no one moment of departure


Unlike the decision to leave or the decision regarding where to settle there is no one minute you can isolate as the moment you left.


Leaving is made up of so many goodbyes, its like death by a thousand pin pricks where every pin pricks makes you want to cry.


There is packing up your whole life and giving a lot of it away even some of the treasured memories have to go because it is just too expensive to cart them across the world.

Then comes selling the home you thought would be your forever home. The home you thought you would improve on for years to come and that you would hold birthdays at for many more years.

There are colleagues and friends who want to say goodbye. Each one comes with a special memories to talk about, to reminisce over. Worst of all is the realisation that you will miss special moments in their lives like the birth of their first child.

Then there is leaving your children’s friends. Children you had expected your children to grow up with, children who you have watched grow, whose parents you have spent hours talking to dissecting what exactly that rash could mean.

My 3 worst goodbyes


For me there were three terrible goodbyes that pain me to even think about now. It literally makes my heart sore. I’ve tried to avoid writing this post because of these three goodbyes.*


Saying goodbye to the woman who helped me raise my son

The first of which was saying goodbye to the woman who had helped me raised my son.


She had come from Zimbabwe and we had been her saving grace, working for us meant that she could send money home to her children for their education and their very livelihood.


I felt responsible for her and in telling her that we were leaving and in actually leaving I felt as though I was abandoning her and her children. Not only was there a huge sense of responsibility but there was a huge sense of loss.

This wonderful woman had been by my side every step of the way, helping me with my son, teaching me how to parent. I had read the books but it was her who showed me how to do it. She taught me how to feed my son and how to give him his medicine best. I had so much admiration and affection for her I still can’t look at pictures of her.


Saying goodbye to my precious precious pets who I thought we would take but couldn’t


The second goodbye that broke my heart was when we said goodbye to our pets. I get choked up as I write this* because for me they were my children before I had children.


I know that they are both in very good homes, homes that wanted them. Homes that asked for them. I know that they are loved and adored. It would have been wrong to subject them to that the long haul flight and the quarantine – albeit now shorter –  just because I needed them. But they were mine!


They were my comfort. I know what we did was best for them but it has left a void in our lives. I miss them whenever I think about them. My son misses them and he’s too little to understand that it was better for them health wise.


Saying goodbye to our parents

The third goodbye was saying goodbye to our parents.


The hardest part of making the decision to leave was considering how we could live thousand of miles away from them.


One day someone said to me: “look forward, look forward to the future and the future is your children, the past is your parents”. It was a harsh thing to say because we are extremely close but it was right.


Again though, just because something is right it doesn’t make it easy.


Leaving our parents was unbelievably difficult. It is so hard to do that I tried to ignore it, in the final few weeks before we left I wouldn’t talk about not seeing them. I just couldn’t face it. I couldn’t face missing birthdays, anniversaries and them not seeing the children monthly.


When I said goodbye to my parents I couldn’t even cry because I could not considered the full ramifications of what saying goodbye to them actually meant. Yes my parents had lived 1000km away, 90 minutes on a plane but they were an ever=present support structure.


I think in the back of your mind you always worry about your parents. It’s not just about you missing them or the relationship they have with your kids. There is a worry that something will happen to them and you will be too far away to get there when they need you.


I don’t know how to get past this feeling or how to make saying goodbye any easier. I wish I did but what it does tell me is that when I see them I make the most of it.


What distracts you in the process of actually leaving South Africa


Thankfully, we had a number of distractions to ease the heart ache.

  1. Travelling on a long haul flight with a 4 month old and a toddler.
  2. Carrying our most valuable possessions and hoping that they didn’t go missing.
  3. Moving across the world without any job certainty.
  4. Our worldly possessions being on a boat in the middle of the sea.


When you have kids I think you learn to focus on the right now. You have to make sure everything is going smoothly in the moment. That definitely helped ease the pain of each goodbye. As important as saying goodbye to us making sure that my son had a spare set of clothes and his favourite toys was also important. It’s all relative you know.


Is it scary?

My husband and I were nervous maybe even fearful but it was always going to be a big challenge. We left South Africa without any certainty as to whether my husband would get a job. I was scared  about having to look after my two children by myself – no maid, no child-minder and no support structure. It was one of my biggest fears.


We were both anxious for a variety of reasons but nothing outweighed the knowledge that this was the right move for us.


Immigrating is scary. The unknown always is, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons you will find a peace in the craziness and sadness.


If you’ve researched and planned you’ll find a calm in the uncertainty. If you’re moving to a beautiful place like Australia, you will find excitement in amidst of all the unknown.


For the rest of the posts in this series click on the links below. 


Part 1: Deciding to Leave South Africa

Part 2: Choosing Australia 

The Final Part: Settling in Australia



*I’m editing this post, almost a year after I first wrote it and I still don’t want to think about this too much. It gives me a massive lump in my throat.

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4 thoughts on “Immigrating Part 3: Actually Leaving South Africa

  1. This was beautifully written and had a calmness too it, which I think is the inevitability of the leaving and the weight of the saying goodbyes. We lived in U.S for 8 yrs, returning to U.K when twins were 1. We’re now about to leave again, as my partner has a job in Canada, but this time we’re leaving with 4 children. Your post really resonated with me. I’m not looking forward to the goodbyes, I hate saying goodbye. Thanks for writing this…X

    1. Thanks Anne. That’s so kind. I think the calmness is the peace that comes with knowing you made the right decision. Such a big move for you guys, again – good luck, I hope it goes as smoothly as it can go!

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