It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too. –H.W. Shaw
The two-sided coin for relationships when you live overseas is you get to meet a lot of wonderful people but you find they rotate in and out of your life more so than the average person living in your home country.
For the most part I have been the one staying with others going. Years ago, I was preparing to return to the States for a three year stint. Coincidentally, my dear friends were doing the exact same thing, departing for three years. Having someone going down such a parallel path was a rarity and provided an interesting and unintended “emotional” laboratory as my friend Anne and I reacted so differently to the upcoming return to the US.
As the months went by and the move became more eminent I cried during some of our conversations while Anne never shed a tear (I’m not just being dramatic in my retelling, she literally never cried, in stark contrast to the Tissue Queen, aka me, so I noticed). Anne and her family were leaving a few days before I would and had invited a Chinese friend and me over for dinner the last night in their home. Xiao Wu, a guy in his mid-20s, and I couldn’t stop the tears. I’m sure you’re getting the picture this was a really fun meal, she commented sarcastically.
What struck me is again, Anne didn’t cry. I knew she’d miss me. Well, I thought she’d miss me. I certainly hoped she’d missed me and that our friendship had impacted her in some way that would lead her to grieve that we wouldn’t be a part of one another’s daily lives for a while. Was it too much to ask for one, small tear? Just one?
And then we parted ways. I returned to Colorado and she with her family to Connecticut. I had a fairly smooth transition and moved on “to the next thing” without too much trouble. Anne, however, had a bit of a rougher go.
This is when I first became aware there are pre-grievers and there are post-grievers. It’s not that everyone doesn’t grieve, we all do, but the timing of grief can be disarmingly different. I was a pre-griever so by the time I had left that phase of my life, I had pretty well mourned what was coming to an end and had created (unbeknownst to me) the space for the next thing. Anne is a post-griever. Her grieving process didn’t start until after she had left China and she had the challenge of mourning China in Connecticut surrounded by people who were happy to be with her and her family.
Both wirings have wonderful parts that make the other side jealous and some real downsides.
Pre-grievers are able to say good-bye to people and places in person and are able to move on to the next thing; it also makes sense to those around them why they are grieving –as the on-lookers to the process knowingly nod, hand a tissue and understanding, “you will be leaving soon and you will miss me so much. Of course you’re sad. Who wouldn’t be?” The downside is that the last weeks and months are more of an emotional roller-coaster for those (especially post-grievers) around them.
Because post-grievers don’t start the grieving process until after a change has occurred, they get to end the phase they are in more emotionally together. One benefit of this style is that they are more able to focus and get things done. The downside is that when they enter the grieving process they are often surrounded by people who don’t fully understand what it is that is being grieved because they are surrounded by the new environment.
You can see how this can add to the messiness when a pre-griever is in relationship with a post-griever. Friends of mine were preparing to send their first child off to college and responding to the upcoming transition in their family very differently. Understanding the husband is a pre-griever and the wife a post-griever helped to make sense of their different reactions. It wasn’t that the wife wouldn’t miss Anna or that the husband was having troubles letting her go or either one of them was wrong in the way they were grieving. But it can get complicated when your grieving cycles are more than a little bit off.
As with other preferences, it will be tempting to judge the other style. You don’t care as much as I do! Can’t you show a little emotion? Why can’t you hold it together more? How can you pack up our whole life so calmly? Why can’t you do one thing without talking about how much you’ll miss this or that?
People are rarely an entirely pre-or post-griever; most of us are left with strong leanings mixed with forays into the other style. As you look back over other transitions you have gone through, what memories float to the surface that might point to one or the other?
I now understand why I was a basket case the last day of school every year. I sobbed like a fool in the girl’s bathroom with other pre-grievers. What were we going to do with those long boring summer days and who wouldn’t want to stay in fourth grade FOREVER?! Yes, part of this is pre- and adolescent girl drama; however, because I am a pre-griever the next day I was up and at ‘em filling my days with the wonders of summer vacation.
I also recall my mom walking in on me crying one day and wondering what was wrong. I was just thinking about how sad I’d be when my cat Patches would die … many years in the future, it turned out! Clear signs of being a pre-griever long before I could even name, let alone explain, what was going on. Likewise there are probably experiences you’ve had that point to being a pre-or post- griever.
Thinking back, are you more prone to distance yourself from those close to you before a transition or after it? Do you cry, become short, or feel paralyzed before or after an event?