Others’ Grief: Hold it Loosely

You’ve been preparing yourself emotionally, financially, and spiritually for this move. Chances are, you’ve been doing this for quite some time.

Moving across the world (or into a strategic community) is no small thing. And as you’ve packed bags and repacked bags and begun separating yourself from the life you’ve always known, man…it stings.

Grief comes in so many forms: The loss of familiar surroundings. The security of familiar work. The comfort of loving people. It’s so healthy to make a list of everything you’re going to miss about your home culture and GRIEVE EVERYTHING.

No thing is too small to cry over. (If you don’t cry over it now, you’ll cry over it abroad. Pinkie promise.)

Preparing to move overseas makes us all a bit crazy. It’s normal and natural to become consumed with yourself…all your feelings of transition and the mounds of tasks.

So it’s also normal and natural to become frustrated when others don’t support you the way you need to be supported.

Maybe they don’t come over and help you pack like you’d hope. Maybe they don’t provide you the emotional stability you need when you feel you’re spinning out of control.

You’ve probably heard that it will surprise you who cheers you on from home once you’re gone. The people you were closest to will be distant, and the people you hardly knew will be most interested in your work.

I’m here to tell you that it’s true. At least that’s what I’ve experienced, anyway.

But the disappointment you feel from those you love as you watch them pull away… I hope you hold it loosely.

I’m here on the other side, and I see where that distance is coming from. It’s not from disinterest or apathy.

The people you love may have a hard time supporting your move abroad because they are processing their own grief of your leaving.

On the day my husband and I boarded a plane to SE Asia, my loving mother walked us into the airport, gave me a hug, and walked right back out to the car. Over the next few months, my friendships were a bit volatile and our families fought hard to try and find their way without us.

You are an important and valuable part of your community at home. And even though you’ve been called out, even though you’ve been set apart, even though you’ve been asked to take on an identity outside of your passport culture, the pain of your absence is felt by those you’ve left behind.

You’ve worked SO HARD to prepare for this move. All the trainings and personality tests have taught you what to expect. All the classes and blog posts have told you about the woes of cultural transition. You’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted all your i’s.

But the thing you can’t control? The thing that might throw you for a loop? It’s the way those close to you work through the difficulty of watching you go.

I’m not so seasoned to give advice, but I’d love to share this with you.

Your people? They love you. They want to support you. They are interested in you.

But they are still so sad to see you leave. And their grief is something to hold loosely.

Stay focused on your mission. Give your friends and family lots of grace as they figure out how to adjust to a life that includes you living far away. And pray that they are able to put words to the feelings they have about your move.

All you can be is obedient to your call to go. But others have to learn to be obedient to the call of letting you go.

Grief. It’s all wrapped up in the sending and the going. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’re not the only ones going through a season of intense stress and sorrow.

May your final days at home and your first days overseas be filled with loads of grace and peace…for you and for all those you love!

—–

How did you experience your community at home responding to your leaving?

How have you found ways to be understanding towards the grief your friends and family have experienced in your absence?

10 Comments

  1. Wilma Findlay July 28, 2016

    Thank you Lauren! I wish I had heard this prior to my departure decades ago. “The people you love may have a hard time supporting your move abroad because they are processing their own grief of your leaving…But the thing you can’t control? The thing that might throw you for a loop? It’s the way those close to you work through the difficulty of watching you go…Grief. It’s all wrapped up in the sending and the going. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’re not the only ones going through a season of intense stress and sorrow.” Now that I help to train and debrief those on home assignment or repatriating and have come to learn much more about loss and grief, I see how crucial it is to include this in the pre-field training as well.

    1. Lauren Pinkston July 30, 2016

      Thanks for sharing this, Wilma! It’s been a learning journey for me, too. Learning to extend grace to my close friends and family and culture in the same way I do my foreign friends and family and culture. 🙂 Blessings on you as you train more workers to go abroad!

  2. Annalisa July 29, 2016

    It was a VA post quite some time ago, but someone wrote about preparing for the worst long before the worst ever happened; I identified very strongly with that sentiment. So, when I left, I had already prepared for it, and it wasn’t that hard on me. Days (the day?) before I left, however, my brother called from Chicago and spent about 4 hours on the phone with me telling me what a horrible idea this was and everything horrible that was going to happen to me and that “when the money runs out, you’re going to call mom and dad to bail you out like a spoiled child.” (That actually ended up helping me because when my sponsoring organization decided to invent lies about me and leave me abandoned in Guatemala without a dime, I did *not* call mom and dad.) Now nearly 6 years–and my marriage to a local!–later, my brother is still grieving. Sometimes it’s pleading. Sometimes it’s insulting. Sometimes it’s offering me a job and a roof over my head. It’s frustrating. I’d rather just not talk to my brother. And it hurts because he’s my only brother. But serving is my passion and my calling. I could take him up on his “offer” and go back to the US (with my husband, obviously), but I feel like a part of my spirit would die, and that’s not something I’m willing to accept.

    1. M'Lynn July 30, 2016

      Annalisa, Hopefully someday your brother will understand. But, maybe not. I’ve taken to praying the prayer (actually a song lyric by Audrey Assad) “Deliver me from the need to be understood.” I hope you keep talking to your brother and hope you can somehow free him from the expectation that he will understand your life. I think it’s just so hard on family because it’s not their choice for us to leave, but our absence deeply affects them. I pray God is using your journey to bring about change in your brother’s heart.

      1. Lauren Pinkston July 30, 2016

        Hey Annalisa — Great to hear from you again. I like what M’Lynn has shared here. The prayer to be delivered from the need to be understood…wow! Powerful stuff.

        It’s so our desire to defend our calling. It goes against our nature to simply LIVE our calling. Especially when those we love the most don’t understand us or criticize us.

        When we moved abroad, I felt like I needed to validate myself because nobody believed I was the ‘real deal.’ But I was given some great advice, and it really stuck with me so I’ll share it here.

        YOU BE YOU. Others won’t care what you say or preach, but they will care loads about where you go and what you do. Even if your brother doesn’t understand, hold that loosely and know you’re on the right path with God. I remember in our Connection Group how much you love where you are and the ministry you’re involved with. God knows, too! This doesn’t take the pain away from feeling cut off by our family. But it does validate you and your living abroad. 🙂

  3. Shawn Horrell July 29, 2016

    This is EXACTLY what I am experiencing right now. My family of 5 will move from VA to Belize in 15 days. I couldn’t understand the distance I have felt from loved ones, now I get it. Thank you so much for sharing. This turns the resentment I was fighting to compassion for them.

    1. Lauren Pinkston July 30, 2016

      Hi Shawn,

      I choked up when I read your comment. Then I shared it with my husband.

      Chains being broken. Resentment being redeemed for compassion. Gosh. I love that so much.

      God bless you moving your family of 5 soon! May you all find some peace and calm in the craziness of the next few weeks!

      1. Shawn Horrell August 2, 2016

        Lauren,
        These words are life to me right now…
        “May your final days at home and your first days overseas be filled with loads of grace and peace…for you and for all those you love!”
        Thank you for ministering to my heart in such a deep way!
        💗

  4. Chelsea February 19, 2017

    I wish I had read this years ago. I’ve been in China for almost three years now. I think I’ve had relational issues with family for this very reason. But it helps me to better understand their perspective and to not only think about myself and my feelings. It’s a sanctification process for all of us involved. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 19, 2017

      Chelsea, I’m so glad you found this piece and that it spoke to your situation. So many of us have been there. I love what you said – “It’s a sanctification process for all of us involved.” So true. May God pour out his power of reconciliation on your family!

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