Repatriation: An Ugly Word or a Beautiful Process?

Emotions Relocation

“Everything works out in the end. if it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.”  ― Tracy McMillan

On a cold winter’s day last February, I found myself roaming around the grassy cemetery of an ancient English church.  The tiny village with thatched roofs kept careful watch.  White snowdrops thrown like magic carpets by a ghost gave me a profound sense of hope and joy in this green grassy corner of the world.

Ancient burial stones tumbled, lopsided and barely appearing from moss covered mounds were everywhere.  A jumble of death. In the midst of this, a tall stone monument stood on a plinth, newer, built in 1922 and erected in memory of those who died in WWI. The sign read:

“as there was no repatriation of bodies during the war, it was important for the villagers to have somewhere to come and remember the fallen”

Heavens to Betsy!   I was struck by the word “repatriation” and the sense of loss.  I imagined the village looking for their loved ones and having nowhere to turn to find them.  The very language we use is like a minefield, fraught and jangling to the nerves.   Time and time again folks tell me “I hate that word – repatriation.”  Well, no wonder – it’s associated with death, the end, finality and not anything like a bright future

That word, the very arrangement of those syllables and vowels kind of makes my skin crawl slightly.  A dictionary definition for the word is “The process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value or a person – voluntarily or forcibly – to its owner or their place of origin or citizenship.”

No wonder we hate it with a passion. The one word that describes the returning home process is associated with loss, sadness and perhaps in olden days the idea of death. Certainly, in modern-day America, repatriation continues to be linked to deceased military personnel and return of their remains. A sacred and silent moment of arrival which is hidden from cameras, film crews, and the press, as if the rest of us need to be protected or shielded from the reality of war.

Is it any wonder that around this subject for those repatriating from foreign assignments, there is an attitude of “don’t worry you will survive”, “never mind, just tough it out” or “everyone goes through it”?

It’s as if repatriation is an infectious disease that we catch for a short time then shake it off.

Yet, it is absolutely critical to spend time in reflection and contemplation after losing or moving from a place.  For some people, it can be like losing a loved one.  Telling the stories, debriefing ourselves and rearranging the experiences in our mind’s eye can help with the process of arriving well.

I discovered that when we align our purpose with the people and activities we love, life starts to re-arrange itself in happy new formations.  Yes, there is the possibility that repatriation can transform itself into a revival or a revitalization of life.   A new life recipe can be created.

It seems like it’s time to create new language, new conversations and new behaviors around repatriation – both the word and the process.  Because what if this could be an opportunity to not only move home but to create a new mindset in the process?   What if in moving home you could build an entirely new life that you love even more? What if you could actively and consciously choose a new identity in the midst of this process?  What if you can build that essential sense of belonging with ease and grace?   What “iffing” ourselves can move the process along and create space for something we would prefer.

Together, let’s approach this word, this topic and this sacred process with some positive language or at least some whacky out of the box creativity.

Call me Pollyanna, but I for one believe that this stage in one’s life, when handled well, can be the most wonderful, joy-filled transition.  While returning home or repatriating maybe the conclusion of a previous dream lived overseas, it can also be the brand-new baby beginning of an adventure back home.

Here’s to dreaming, here’s to life!


Doreen worked for the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London and Cameroon, followed by corporate America in the Middle East before becoming an entrepreneur in the US in the 1990s.

After 2 years in Japan and 15 years in Saudi Arabia, I now travel the globe half the year providing housesitting services all the while coaching and writing.  Moving makes me happy;  moving gives me joy and I love helping others move well.

She is the author of the upcoming “Life in the Camel Lane” a motivational memoir based on life and the after-life from living in Saudi Arabia, helping readers to transform their lives through international travel. Also, be watching for “Arriving Well:  Stories About Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering Home After Living Abroad” a new book arriving this Fall. Read more about her…

Check out the Rock Your Re-Entry Group on Facebook!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.