On separation, grief, and forgiveness

by Tara Livesay on January 18, 2014

Livesay 2013


Inevitably, moving away from friends and family means changed relationships. Pray, plan, and try as you might; things still change. We have hated that fact, fought against it, deeply grieved it, been angry, and attempted numerous times to make it untrue … To no avail.

When people ask us, “What is the hardest part about living there?” The answer is easy. It has nothing to do with tropical illnesses, bugs, heat, or lack of bacon, milk, and strawberries. It is not the daily interaction with heart-breaking poverty or the front-row seat to see the devastating consequences of it. Those things are certainly hard, but for us, they are not the hardest.

It has everything to do with wanting to stay connected to the family and friends we deeply love and left. It has everything to do with feeling guilty for letting them down, for missing big things in their lives, for being physically and emotionally distant and different and sometimes hard to relate to or understand.

It has everything to do with knowing we are where we want to be and knowing that it hurts some loved ones. It is painful to make a choice that hurts people you love.

On the flip side, there can sometimes be a gross sense of self-importance. In our first few years abroad you might have overheard us saying, “Why are they so mad at us? We are just doing what we think God led us to do. They are selfish. That doesn’t even make sense.”

True or not true, we missed our opportunity to empathize with the pain our close friends and family were feeling. We were defensive about their grief and that wasn’t fair to anyone.  One of my favorite posts at A Life Overseas is this post about grief, and the necessity of allowing it  – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

That article closed with these words:

So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.  Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.

Things have become easier in recent years. The grief process is long and we have been gone a long time. It seems that we have all mainly moved into acceptance phase.  Because grief is anything but linear, we know that tomorrow things could change.

The newfound peace and the less-stressed long distance relationships are the result of choosing to offer grace and choosing to offer forgiveness.  That has meant a new way of communicating with our loved ones. Instead of dreading interaction, we crave it.

I need forgiveness for blowing off and refusing to understand how my parents felt watching us remove the grandkids from their day-to-day life.  I need forgiveness for being too uncomfortable with their grief to sit with them in it.  I also need to extend forgiveness for things that have hurt me during this long adjustment period. My family and friends are not experiencing the things I am and I cannot expect them to always “get” me.  Grace goes a long way in bridging those gaps in understanding. An habitual attitude of forgiveness goes even further.

At one point I thought, “I will never be as close with these people as I once was.”  Today, eight years into this overseas adventure, I can honestly say that projection is not holding true. None of us were supposed to know how to live far away from one another and still make each other feel valuable and loved and important.  It took time  (a lot of time) to figure that out and all the mistakes along the way need to be released completely, keeping only the parts that taught us something.

Corrie Ten Boom wisely observed:

“If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”


Have you struggled with relationships with the loved ones you left behind? 

What (if anything) has worked for you to begin to mend those things?  

I hope for those of you in the middle of difficult adjustments that this offers some hope for the future.  


Tara Livesay works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay



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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
  • That quote just gets me right in the gut. There are so many implications to letting go of the rope.

    I love this whole thing, Tara.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      I love the visual too. Letting go of hurtful crap is really hard and takes some time … but is so much better than the alternative. Love to the Haines posse.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Oh my goodness, I relate to almost every single word here. We just returned from visiting America for the first time, and some experiences were awkward, although most were comforting. Sometimes I would say something out loud, then immediately ask myself, “what happened to me over there that I would say such a thing?!?!” Sometimes it was as if nothing at all had changed between me and the people I love, and I know all of us had worried whether that would happen. This whole living-in-Asia thing is still so much harder on my parents than it is on me, and I still hate that. Just tons of confusing feelings, and your post explained it all so nicely. Thank you!

  • For me the the struggle has not eased over the years, rather it increases as time wears on. In the beginning years I was oblivious to the effects our move had on the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins who would eventually come along, and the friendships. The mending of the hurts my initial belligerence imposed has been a long and hard process. I would be lying if I told you there have not been times I felt like chucking it all and moving us back to the States for the sole purpose of being physically accessible to our dear family and friends. This phrase you write does indeed give me hope, “The newfound peace and the less-stressed long distance relationships are
    the result of choosing to offer grace and choosing to offer
    forgiveness.” Yes, grace. Yes, forgiveness. These are the companions I desire for this continued journey of restoration of connection. Thank you, Tara, for your words here. You are amazing!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Oh Angie, I am sorry you’re still in the thick of it. I think things were very worst for us the year of the earthquake – people were frustrated with our grief and response to trauma and our relationships hit all time lows — the last two years have brought continual improvement but it has been partially because of choosing to let go of things – whether there were “I’m sorry”s or not. I was so mad at them for being sad and upset about us leaving that I ignored their pain for a long time (and did damage) … I realize now that I was confusing two issues —- I thought that if I openly listened to their grief and their suffering/loss that it would mean I was apologizing for moving to Haiti — I found out that wasn’t true. I can allow them to have their feelings and hurts and still be really grateful about our choices and desiers to be in Haiti for this season of life. Praying healing over your long distance relationships. We are loving the app called “voxer” – It helps us feel close to pop in and out with our oldest daughters and our parents.

  • i just wrote about how to keep your friends without losing your focus on my blog as a way for me to process how i can continue relationships with friends and family back home, while still being invested in life here. i think it’s helped that we’re able to Skype with our family every weekend 90% of the time, email, text, etc. – we’re so fortunate that internet is cheap and available in cambodia! but it still doesn’t take away the sting of missing important family events like weddings, graduations, engagements, deaths, etc. and feeling like we’re not being the children/siblings we should be. i think it would be even more difficult if our parents weren’t so supportive.

  • robyn

    Thank you for writing this. It really ministered to my soul today, in comfort and challenge.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Thanks Robyn, I’m glad. It can be so complictated – prayers today.

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