Long-term grief is real. It is eight years ago this month since we had to leave our overseas home. For so long the grief has been painful, like a part of my heart was ripped out. We departed abruptly, adding to the sharp nature of our grief.
But whatever the circumstances of your grief, know that God sees you.
We all face endings and must stretch forth into beginnings. Our lives overseas are often hard-earned and yet are fragile, dependent on factors outside of our control. Grief comes in many ways, whether in the leaving or in the staying as others depart or in a million other things which meet us at every bend in the road.
So how do we ever find healing amid the grief of this journey?
Here are five truths about grief that I’ve gleaned from my ongoing season of grief over leaving an overseas home I loved. They can also be found in Chapter 3 of my book, A Million Skies.
- Grief is a unique journey to the person: No one’s grief is the same. Even if you are also grieving a ‘goodbye’ to your overseas home, your journey may be extraordinarily different from mine. We each have varied kinds of closure. We may have remained when others left. The pain we face, which is created by the sense of a shifting home, reminds us that anchors of community, culture, language, and even faith are no longer present. Fight the lie that you must grieve as others do. You have all the grace in the world to walk your own unique journey–to feel what you feel and know what you know.
- Grief is messy: This is one of the most succinct truisms I have ever heard and known related to grief. One day we can think of what we miss with soul-deep anguish at the separation. The next day may have us laughing at a funny memory. No matter who we are, the ups and downs and trying to make sense of our grief is so very messy.
- Grief is nuanced: Often when we think of those memories of things we loved most in our overseas home, the joy is mixed with such sorrow. We may never be present again with what we have so dearly loved. An English Camp where I worked with my missionary community for six summers had been my ‘happy place’ for nearly ten years. Then, suddenly what had been so joy-filled became, to the same degree, a thing of sorrow. And I know you have your own story, too.
- Grieving well means we must remain in its process: As I returned to the States, I was so overwhelmed with grief, I just wanted to binge Netflix and avoid dealing with such sadness. However, I learned that the rock-hard ball of tears wedged deep within me would not go away, and worse, might harden me if I didn’t face my grief. As we navigate the pain, we need to learn to trust God, ourselves, and others again. At the same time, we remain in hard places and what sometimes seems never-ending sorrow.
- Grief is never the end of the story: While grief is part and parcel of this life, it does not have final say. God invites us to co-author with him a life that can find true hope in a newness which is overwhelmingly good. If I reflect over these past eight years, I find so many precious relationships I never would have had if I hadn’t had to return to the States. I also have had countless opportunities to serve God as I have found the strength to open up my wounds, wounds intimately related to the life that was lost, and share those wounds with the world. In similar and different ways, you can find hope in the knowledge that your story is not even remotely over.
In the end what I have realized is that, though it was cut short of my hopes and expectations, every moment of my overseas life was gift. Every opportunity to love on students, to meet shop owners, to bond cross-culturally with our church or with the kids’ school communities, was an incredible privilege that few experience. Moreover, not a single moment was wasted. Just as it all was a gift from God, I can lay it at God’s feet as my gift unto his glory.
The trading of sorrow for joy happens little by little as we heal. If joy remains small in the remembering, take heart. You are not alone on the journey. Our Immanuel, God with us, lived a life of grief, of the loss of home. He bore our griefs and sorrows and offers hope as we grasp his healing hand to touch our pain. Ultimately, he promises to bring us home forever.
I leave you with grace. Yes, joy for sorrow. Healing for pain. And most of all, grace to be in the journey as you grieve monumental losses most cannot understand. You are dearly loved by God and given all you need to be right where you are.
Your friend in the journey,