Goodbyes feel like death because they are death. Goodbyes are the death of what has been. It will not be again. Even if you see this place, this person again, it will not be as it is now.
When I was a young parent, our lives were full of goodbyes, and I made the mistake of focusing my kids on the hellos that were waiting for them on the other side of the goodbyes. Don’t focus on the pain. Don’t be sad. Good stuff is coming! Think of all the happy things.
As I matured in parenting, and in life, I realized that this approach, while slightly helpful in the moment, was actually short-changing my children and myself. Goodbyes are not something to blaze through and get over. They are something to be mourned as death, because they are death.
When we left our home and life in China, the goodbyes were physically painful. So many tears. We adopted a simple phrase for our family in that season: “It’s okay to be sad.” We told our kids, “If you’re feeling sad, tell us. We’ll be sad together.”
The goodbyes did not end when we got on the plane. They stretched out long through the journey of re-entry, as we slowly grieved and released the life we knew. In the thick of this grief, a wise person told me that grief is like the waves of an ocean. You will only wear yourself out if you fight the waves. But if you let the grief sweep over you, pull you under even, you will find that the wave will recede. And each time a wave recedes, it will take a bit of the pain with it.
If you are in a season of grief and loss, whether that is leaving your passport country, leaving your host country, or losing a dear relationship, let yourself be sad. Let the wave come and wash over you. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
If you’re not sad, and wonder if maybe your emotions are malfunctioning, that’s ok too. Waves can’t be forced. They often come by surprise. But do create space to process. Take time to walk and talk through the joys, the disappointments, the victories and failures.
Here’s why I made the shift in my parenting and in my life. I found that when I grieve and grieve hard, I move into the next season with open hands. My hands are not full from carrying regrets and pain from the past. Those are strewn along the path behind me. I released them in the valleys of grief.
With open hands, I move forward into the hellos. And dear ones, hellos do come. They are more delightful and joy-filled than I ever dared to dream in the valleys of grief.
I believe I once told God my worst fear was living in small-town Midwest, USA. That fear gripped me hard when our plans to move back overseas came undone in the midst of our one-year home assignment. Guess where we live now? Small-town, Midwest, USA. We’re four years into this life, and no one is more surprised than I am by how much I love it. New life-giving passions have blossomed (hello, dear garden). Rich community has formed beyond what I’ve ever experienced before (hello, new friends).
If you are in the midst of hard goodbyes, grieving losses, and dragging yourself into the hellos of your next season, do not fear. Grief opens you up and creates space in you for what you do not yet know.
Do I still miss what was? Do I still get the itch to pack up our life and jump on a plane? Of course I do. But those days are few and far between. I’ve embraced a new life in confidence and joy that I am where he has led me. And grief was that path that brought me here.
Authors Dale and Juanita Ryan in their book Recovery from Loss say,
“Grief is not itself something we recover from. It is, rather, a process that helps us recover from the many losses we experience. Grief makes it possible for us to face the painful reality of our losses, incorporate those losses into our understanding of life, and somehow move on.
The purpose of grief is not to help us forget what we have lost, but to help us grow in understanding, compassion, and courage in the midst of our losses.
We all know that grief is emotionally painful work. Grief allows us to heal and grow, but the cost in emotional energy is often very high. Because of this, we often seek ways to postpone the disciplines of grief. We may tell ourselves to ‘look on the bright side’ or to ‘keep a smile on your face.’ But attempts to avoid the emotionally painful process of grief do not lead to growth.”
If you are stuck not knowing how to do the painful work of grief, I would encourage you to look to Advance Global Coaching to connect with a life coach or Godspeed Resources Connection to connect with a counselor. If you are going through the grief of re-entry, Velvet Ashes has specifically designed a Re-entry Toolkit just for you. Plus, stay tuned for next week’s theme of “Re-entry.”
What losses are you grieving? What hellos are you struggling to say? What has been the most powerful part of the grieving process for you?