The Process of “Letting Go”: How Our Family Prepared to “Stay Well”

When my friend Kim shared with me late one evening over ice cream that their family would be relocating to the USA, I returned home and wept.  I wept for the anticipated loss of one of my closest China-Mommy friends; and I wept for the loss my children would experience.  Our sons were ‘tight’ – her son, Moyer, has even claimed they have been best buddies since before birth!  I was very aware that night that this loss, this transition, would be felt deeply by each member of both families.

We were blessed – privileged, really – to have had many months ahead of us before their big move.  Something inside of me determined to make those remaining months the best months possible; to create opportunities for shared memories.  I refused to “let go” of these dear friends until that morning when their van drove away and we waved our tear-stained goodbyes.

As I look back on the very intentional things that we did together, I am so thankful that we did every one of them.  I have no regrets for giving all that we did in time, emotional energy and finances to let them know how much we valued each of them.

So, how did we intentionally prepare to “Stay Well”?

1) Picture Taking Date: Wanting to take advantage of Kim’s great photography skills, we set a date to capture the five kids together.  With their clothing color-coordinated for the occasion, we ventured into one of the garden areas in our neighborhood and snapped some precious pictures quickly before we lost their attention.  We chose a favorite and I had it printed for both families.


2) Memory Book: With two picture-taking moms, there were literally thousands of pictures of these kids from their almost 6 years together.  It was very fulfilling to create a memory book documenting the five children’s lives together.  We decided to give it to their family several months before they actually departed.  The children in both families perused their copy and reflected on the value of their friendships months before they had to say goodbye.  I found this to be incredibly valuable.

3) We checked our calendar and made room for several extra playdates and special outings and events together, including hosting a tea party for the two moms and three girls.  We all got dressed up and used our pretty tea set to share a special afternoon together.

4) Neighborhood Friendship Affirmations: Our friends’ last evening in Tianjin coincided with their children’s final neighborhood soccer time.  I asked each of the soccer moms ahead of time to talk with their children about one word of affirmation they could share about each of the three kids and to send them to me by email.  I compiled the affirmations and made a personal poster for Moyer and his two sisters.  At the end of the soccer game, we gathered all the kids together and shared the poster and affirmations with them.  It was a memorable event!

5) Impromptu Goodbye Photo Op: On the morning of our friends’ departure, my son, Ben, asked if he could bring his camera outside and take pictures of his friends.  I thought it was a wonderful idea.  He managed to capture those precious last moments with his best friend and their family.  I was so proud of his initiative and thoughtful picture-taking.  Perhaps somewhere along the way he picked up the importance of treasuring important events, even if those important events involve saying goodbye.


When I shared the pictures Ben took on Facebook, I was moved to tears by some of the comments made by others who have left our fair city – the impact of capturing those goodbye moments by a 5 year old stirred up emotions in others who know too well the ache of saying goodbye.

Goodbyes are hard.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be treasured in their own way too.

6) A trip to visit their new home: When we made our plans to visit our extended families a few months later, we intentionally checked into the possibility of passing through the area which our recently departed friends now call home.  Although it cost a little more, and it took a few extra days away from time with our extended families, we were glad we made the effort to see them.  Kim summed it up well when she blogged about our visit:

I’m so thankful that Ben’s family is teaching their little world travelers early in life that goodbyes don’t have to be forever, and that although friendships most certainly change with a big move, they don’t have to be over.

Buddies from before birth . . . may they grow to understand that continued investment in each other–across miles and years–won’t be overlooked in eternity either.

There was one other important level of “Staying Well” that I chose to be intentional about as a parent: being vulnerable with my children and allowing them to see some (though not all) of my tears and hear my voice breaking as I tried to share how I was feeling about saying goodbye.  My own tears seemed to give them permission to cry too … and although their tears were short-lived (a few short moments during bedtime snuggles), they were very real none-the-less.  We also talked about what life would look like when our friends were gone; how I would no longer be able to text Aunt Kim to let her know we were going outside and would she and the kids like to join us.

In addition to being vulnerable with my own sadness, I was also intentional about emphasizing thankfulness and hope.  We talked about things we were thankful for about our departing friends, and also thankful for the friends who have remained in Tianjin with us.  When a new family moved into our neighborhood we specifically talked about how gracious, good, kind and loving God was to provide more friends to enjoy and play with.

Since our friends’ departure, life has continued and we have all adjusted to the new normal.  It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  We keep in touch with our friends and talk about them from time to time, but as they are no longer in our immediate world, I think it is safe to say we have “let go” in a healthy way.  Letting Go does not mean they are forgotten, or that we never talk to them or think about them; or that we will never go visit them one day again.  Letting Go for our family has meant the process: first of giving everything we had to show them how much we valued them while they were still physically with us, and then sending them on their way with that affirmation.


Which have these have you tried? What would you suggest be added to the list?

Photo Credit: Victoria Nevland via Compfight cc


  1. Jenny June 24, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this post. At times I feel I live with a revolving door and am constantly saying good bye. But your post was a great reminder and challenge to love well even when a transition or change in the relationship is near. Sometimes I am tempted to stop investing or loving others as intentionally as I should when I know they are leaving as a way of “protecting” my own heart.

    1. Beth June 24, 2014

      Yes, Jenny. The temptation to distance ourselves, thinking we will protect ourselves, is so real. I’m not sure that we do end up protecting our hearts that way, and wonder instead if we just delay the grieving, perhaps with a little more regret. I do very much believe that lovingly and intentionally investing in others as they prepare to leave is worth the effort and the emotional energy. I have not always done it well, but I’m learning and growing through this journey.

    2. Amy Young June 26, 2014

      Sometimes I am tempted to stop investing or loving others as intentionally as I should when I know they are leaving as a way of “protecting” my own heart.


      Jenny, I can relate 🙂

  2. Stephanie June 24, 2014

    Thank you for writing this. I know God has lead me to read it at this exact moment. My husband and I have been m’s in Thailand for the past year with plans to stay for many years. With the recent coup the government has tighten reigns on visas and work permits. We just got the news that the government has denied our work permit renewals and that our organization can not keep us on and has no other positions for us to fill at the times so we will have to go back to America. I have been devastated. Even though we have until September until we need to leave, the pain of knowing I have to let go of this life here with the kids I minister to and the expat family we have gain is huge. We have said goodbye to many other volunteers and kids who have progressed out of our program and each time it was a bittersweet moment, but this time in the reverse role I have not yet seen the sweet side of the bittersweet moment. Just trusting God that He has something much bigger and better in mind. I really appreciate your open heart to share your experience of letting go.

    1. Amy Young June 26, 2014

      Stephanie, picture a bunch of us just sitting with you like Job’s friends. Words do not seem equal to this ocean of shock and pain.

      I’m hoping your organization has suggested some debriefing programs — especially to help process such a shock. If you need some suggestions, let me know.

      May the peace of God fall afresh on you today. I’m so sorry for the reason you need it.

    2. Patty Stallings June 26, 2014

      Stephanie, I’m so sorry to hear this.  May the “sweet side of bittersweet” rise to the surface as you continue to process leaving.  Know that you are loved and deeply cared for by our Gentle Shepherd.  May He carry you and your family through this valley!

  3. Beth June 25, 2014

    Oh Stephanie, that is so hard.  So many other emotions piled up in there along with the ache of anticipating saying goodbye.  Thankful the Lord led you here today and that you found some encouragement.

    1. Karen Woodward June 26, 2014

      I grew up in Italy during the 50’s and 60’s.  Many of my American and English school friends moved away from Milano throughout those years and it was sad to say goodbye to them.  But I always had many friends left, my family always stayed the same,  I had my beloved school with wonderful teachers, and I had our sweet apartment surrounded by kind neighbors.  Most of all, I had our small, but vibrant, Italian church.  Besides, my parents took us back to the States to visit our relatives every two summers.

      When it came time for my family to move back to the States,  my father laid down the law:  “Never look back”.   My brothers and I collected no addresses by which to stay in touch, and phone contact would have certainly been cost prohibitive.  My parents were of the persuasion that if our life in Italy was never discussed, it would be easier for us to make the transition.  However, that theory did not work well for us.  I carried my homesickness for Milano  and for the friends we left behind as if it were a lead weight on my shoulders.  My parents seemed to easily slide back into the American life they remembered, but I  had only brief memories of my life in America as a little child before we moved to Italy.  I had no friends to return to, and nothing was familiar, so my grieving for what and who I left behind was severe.  It lasted nearly 2 years.  It took me 31 years before I realized that I should gather up my parents, husband, and kids for a trip to Italy.  We went, and it was wonderful!  But it was only for a visit.  Fifty years later, I often still find myself still longing to move back “home” to Italy.

      Parents, please take this admonition to heart.  Don’t simply assume that the kids will be “fine”..  The transition between cultures, and from all that which is familiar, is more difficult for a teenager than words can explain.  You are the ones who decided that your children would grow up in a culture which is different than yours.  The responsibility to help your children make the transition back to the States is yours.  Be aware that when you take them back, they will likely not feel that they are  going home.  You will, but they will not.  You can take a young person out of his/her culture, but you cannot take the culture out of your child.

      How can you protect your children from the trauma of the transition?  Here are some suggestions:

      1-  Return to the States BEFORE your kids become teenagers.

      2- Talk to your kids about why you need to go back to America.  Be honest.  Tell them what they need to know so that they realize your problems.

      3 – Help your children to stay in touch with any friends who move away, beginning now.  Get them accustomed to the fact that they can maintain contact with all their friends through email and Skype.

      4- Allow (even encourage) your children to travel, once back in the States, to visit their best friend.  It may be costly, but this gift to them could be priceless.

      5 – Provide the opportunity for your children to return to their “foreign” culture at least once a year. Again, this will be expensive, but this is part of the price you have incurred by taking your children overseas.

      6 – Talk to your kids about what you will miss when you return to America, and encourage them to do the same.  If they become tearful,  sit with them and cry with them.   Encourage them to embrace the happiness that their life has brought to the.  Remind them that it was God who has provided all of their friends and other blessing, and that God wants to bless them in America too.  Let them know that you care and that you will stand by them and help them if they face difficult transitions.  Do not marginalize that which is important to them.

      7 – When you get back to the States, let them see you grieve for what and whom you are missing.  Encourage them to do the same.  Talk about the differences you and they are encountering.  Help them to understand that most American kids are not global thinkers like their friends overseas were.  Talk with your kids about what gifts they will carry through the rest of their lives because of the enriched cultural experiences they have had.  Help them to identify abilities and understandings which they gained by living in the culture which they are missing.  Talk freely about the “good old days in the OLD COUNTRY”.  Let them dream about the day they will go back.

      Grief, when supported by the loving concern of the parents, siblings, and new acquaintances can cleanse the spirit of the sufferer.  Once the grieving period is over, you children will be ready to move on to a new life.  It will be a different life, but different can be good too!







      1. Beth June 26, 2014

        So, So good Karen!  Thanks for sharing!

      2. Amy Young June 26, 2014

        Karen thank you for such a thoughtful contribution! Hearing your story breaks my heart for you and your brothers. I appreciate the suggestions you have offered us, thank you!

    2. Stephanie June 26, 2014

      Thank you everyone for your encouragement. A friend of mine once talked about having a promise book where she writes down scriptures and words that God gives her that are promises and encouragement. I started my own a few months ago and going through my promises has been a great comfort for my aching heart. For this situation the promises in Isaiah 66:9 and Psalm 112:7 have been so soothing,

      ” In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” says the Lord. ‘If I cause you the pain, I will not stop you from giving birth to your new nation.’ says your God.” NCV

      “{She} Does not fear bad news, {She } confidently trusts the Lord to take care of {her}” NLT

      How good is our God even in the most painful and desolate situations? He is good, He is wise. Even when its not how I want things to be.

  4. MaDonna June 25, 2014

    Hi Beth!

    These were really good reminders and so practical. I think your last point is so crucial. We think we have to “be strong and put on brave faces” for our kids – forgetting that they do need to see we are hurting, too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Beth June 25, 2014

      Hi MaDonna!  Yes, I do believe in this to be so very, very important.  I want my children to grow up sharing their heart with me, so I must do that with them too … both the joys and the sorrows.  Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Amy Young June 26, 2014

    Beth, thank you for sharing your experience with us and the ways in which you, your family, and even your friends walked this path. You offer rich suggestions! Thank you!

  6. Patty Stallings June 26, 2014

    Beth, your children are blessed to have you as their mom! 🙂

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