Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye

by Marilyn on March 8, 2018


“Make sure you say goodbye” I text these words to my youngest son, followed by “It’s important to say your goodbyes.”

He is only leaving for the summer, he will be back on the same campus next year. But it is critical to me to say this to him. I want my children to be able to say goodbyes, to honor them. I want my children to be able to honor their grief, not suppress it as though it is unimportant, as though it will go away and not leave an imprint on their hearts.

I do the same for my youngest daughter. She is graduating from college, ending one stage and moving on to the next. “Say your goodbyes.” I tell her.

These kids of mine? They’ve moved so much. They’ve lived on different continents, in different countries, cities, and communities. And I am desperate for them to know how to honor the goodbye.

Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”*

It’s March and for the transnational family or child parties and packing will soon fill all the days and worry and tears interrupt the nights. In a couple of months there will be graduations and school endings, job changes and home leaves; home life will be dictated by lists and deadlines. And the unspoken questions will be will we leave in peace, or will we just leave?

And in the midst of all of this it’s easy to forget that grief must be honored and goodbyes must be said. 

So I can’t shout these words loud enough. I can’t speak them clearly enough. I can’t emphasize them strongly enough. Honor the goodbye. Honor the grief that comes with the goodbye.

My bookshelves are filled with books on cross-cultural living, on identity, on belonging, on growing roots in a global world. Every day I think about these things as I read about military brats and third culture kids, kids and their parents who live like bridges between worlds, gathering up their portable lives into suitcases full of mementoes as they move on to the next place. I interact with moms who are worried they are ruining their children, moms who fantasize that life in their birth countries is stable and perfect even as they try to plant roots in countries that are unfamiliar. I connect with third culture kids who never want to move again, who establish their bodies and souls in one place even as they decorate their homes with remnants of their past lives. I also connect with third culture kids who are itching for that next move, that next step – restless and longing in the small towns where they find themselves, unable to see the threads that begin to tie them to these towns.And every day I am more sure of the need to honor the grief, to honor the goodbye. 

And I think about what honoring the grief and honoring the goodbye means. We grieve because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment, honor the goodbye.

Years ago we moved from one part of the city of Cairo to another, a seemingly small move. But the move still came with loss of connection and community. The kids were leaving their school, we were leaving our neighborhood. We planned to move all our belongings before leaving for the U.S for a home leave. After we returned we would settle into our new space. Part of this move meant giving up our small, red Zastava car. The car was tiny and we barely fit in it but we loved that car. We would arrive places and pile out while others looked on in amazement that we could fit so many children in a car that is smaller than a Volkswagen Bug. The night that we watched another family drive away in our red car my son Joel was inconsolable. I remember walking with him that night, his small hand reaching up to my larger one, and hearing his tears, his sobs. The car was symbolic of this move. “Why do we have to sell our car?” he wailed. Walking beside him I remember part of my heart breaking as well. “I’m so sorry Joel. I’m so sorry.”There was nothing else I could say. I look back at that time and I’m glad that’s all I said. Because in truth, there were no other words.

I think that is what it is like to honor grief. It is sitting with it, not trying to push it away, not providing false reassurance, just sitting. Can we sit with it and let it flow? Can we sit quietly with ourselves or with others and not push an agenda of false happiness? Can we learn that grief is good, grief is individual, grief is rarely nicely organized, grief is physical and emotional?

So if you are one of those people, one of those families that is saying goodbye this June, I offer this: Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself or others to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.

And as for your goodbyes? Say your goodbyes. The goodbyes will hurt, they will smart. Like a wound feels when the salty ocean water washes over it, you will brace yourself. But just as the salt in the ocean provides healing so will goodbyes offer healing to your mobile soul.

Are you one who is saying goodbye this year? I would love to hear from you on what you think makes a ‘good’ goodbye. Others, what do you think about honoring grief and honoring goodbyes?

A great resource is the RAFT plan: Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. Take a look here for details on this.

Now Available – Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey “…a must read for those wanting to build bridges.” Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, American University, Washington, D.C. 

Portions of this book were previously released under Passages Through Pakistan.

This post first appeared in Communicating Across Boundaries.

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About Marilyn

An adult third culture kid, Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and then raised her own 5 third culture kids in Pakistan and Egypt. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts 15 minutes from the international terminal. She works with underserved, minority communities as a public health nurse and flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and you can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

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