Let the Grief Waves Come {The Grove: Re-entry}

Let the Grief Waves Come

I stood there in the grocery store produce section, crying over mangoes. They were the wrong color.

I had been back in my passport country of the United States for a few weeks, but home assignment was morphing into a permanent relocation. The door was shutting on my time in Cambodia, and the reality of all I was giving up was captured in red mangoes, rather than the bright yellow ones I had grown to love.

For awhile I thought was going crazy. My brain felt constantly foggy, motivation was hard to come by, and I was easily triggered leading to angry outbursts or tears. Sometimes both.

I expected re-entry to be easy. I had been back to visit the US multiple times during the five years I lived in Southeast Asia. We had big malls there, I had kept up on family news and political shifts even from the other side of the ocean. I was resettling close to my family and my childhood friends and even the fellowship where I had worshipped all my growing up years.

I did not expect the waves of grief that crept up on me, washing over me when I wasn’t prepared. I grieved the things I used to dislike about my host country. I missed those hot, muggy bicycle rides to the local market where I knew just the right spot to find eggs and produce. I missed knowing how to pay my electricity bill, how to operate my rice cooker, the way around my kitchen even with all the inconveniences.

I also didn’t expect the loneliness. As a single, I had no one nearby who had shared my overseas experience. I had to make big decisions about jobs and an apartment on my own. I looked like the people around me, spoke their language (except those moments when a Khmer word slipped out or a new pop culture phrase bewildered me), and understood how to do most things. Yet I didn’t feel like I fit anymore.

My life had been marked by my time overseas.

I can’t approach re-entry like a carefree, easy move. Instead, it has been a journey. I am slowly awakening to the changes in my perspective, my opinions, my personality. I view God differently, and bear the scars of difficult experiences. Sometimes I want to cover up those battle wounds because they don’t make sense to other people. I don’t know how to explain why little things trigger big emotions in me sometimes, or why tears overflow in odd places.

But, if there’s one thing I must remind myself of daily, it’s grace. I can’t be hard on myself for not pulling myself together fast enough, for the re-entry process taking longer than I expected. When my journal entries start sounding the same, or I burst into tears yet again, I can give myself grace and let the grief wave wash over me instead of fighting it.

I must extend grace to those around me too. They might not completely understand all I have seen or experienced, but there are people who care and who want to listen. I am working on letting down the walls surrounding my heart so I can allow those safe enough people to care for me in this re-entry process.

Fellow re-entry sojourner, there’s grace enough for you, too. When the fog feels heavy and your future uncertain, when you miss what you used to know or the next grief wave hits, hold on to hope. You’ll never be the same, because you too are marked by your cross-cultural experience. But it does get better.

What has been an unexpected part of your re-entry journey? What have been the glimmers of hope in the process?

Re-entry Resources

Going through a debriefing time was a huge encouragement in my re-entry journey. We have several programs we recommend listed on our Resource Page!

Our Re-entry Toolkit includes a recording of a class taught by Danielle Wheeler and me, access to an incredible email series timed to your departure, and community through a private Facebook group. Check out The Return: A Re-entry Toolkit!

The Grove

We invite you to share in The Grove. You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. Katherine June 27, 2019

    …I looked like the people around me, spoke their language (except those moments when a Khmer word slipped out or a new pop culture phrase bewildered me)..
    Can totally relate!!!!

  2. Anita June 29, 2019

    That is me and a Portuguese word from my 7 1/2 years serving in Brazil. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a Bauducco Chocolate Panetone that was for sale in a local store by Christmas time the last Christmas. These moments that pop up unexpectedly bring back so many multiple memories it is amazing.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann June 29, 2019

      Anita, what a great gift to see familiar chocolate! As someone who likes to always be prepared, sometimes not knowing when those moments will pop up is scary. But I’m grateful for what I’m learning about how to press in and celebrate the memory or grieve the loss when they do come.

      1. Anita June 30, 2019

        Yes, it is hard when these moments come unexpectedly and you are overcome with such a deep sense of loss or missing something that you can not control the intensity of the reaction. People may look at me like I must be from planet Mars if this happens in public but I always try to remind myself where I have been and what I have seen and try to laugh off their looks after the wave of emotion passes a little.

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