The Leaving Series Part 5: Leaving in a Hurry Doesn’t Mean Grieving in a Hurry

Today’s guest writer comes all the way from DjiboutiMany of you, I’m sure, are familiar with her writing. You may even be familiar with her story, but today she has so graciously opened up and shared even more of that evacuation from Somaliland and what she learned from that traumatic experience. Please welcome, Rachel Pieh Jones.

leaving in a hurry1

In 2003 my family evacuated from Somaliland. I have written about it here (The Big Round Table) and here (Brain Child) but the short story is that we had thirty minutes to pack a small bag and leave and I didn’t go back for over ten years.

We first flew to Ethiopia, where we stayed for three days. Then we flew to Kenya where we stayed for three months. Then we resettled in Djibouti and have now stayed here for eleven years.

In the flurry between that final phone call and when we started the drive to the airport, my husband and I had to close down our house, remember to grab the essentials, keep our toddler twins from becoming frightened, and hold our own broiling emotions and thoughts in check.

There were a few flashes of fear, a few brief tears, even some laughter as I helped the kids wave goodbye to friends they couldn’t see and toys they had left behind. But there was no time to fully feel the impact of what was happening. We had to function, keep moving, don’t think, don’t feel. Just get out.

The emotions struck like an earthquake two days later.

I had to walk away from our family meal at a cafeteria. I climbed rickety stairs in the hotel in Ethiopia, up to our tiny room. I lay down on the bed and cried.

Once the ‘just get out’ had been accomplished and everyone was safe, once we had informed our families and read some newspaper headlines, once we had time to sit down and breathe and no work to rush off to since we were in limbo-land, I started to see flashes of the faces of the people we had left. I started to think about what had happened to cause our flight, the gunshots and dead bodies. The what-ifs.

I kept crying off and on for a few days. When the kids asked about whether or not they would see their friends again, when the kids asked after a book we hadn’t brought along, when my husband asked where we should go and we tried to talk about work prospects.

We flew to Kenya where we received some post-trauma counseling. We made plans to move to Djibouti, on the invitation of a Somali friend who wanted my husband to work with him, teaching. We moved on.

But the aftershocks of grief followed us and occasionally shook the ground, unexpected. I was surprised by this. We hadn’t lived there long, no one I loved had been killed. Just a home, possessions, work, and an idea of what the future would look like. But it was still loss and so I learned to let myself feel it. I was also surprised by the resurgence of it now and again into the following months.

I still thought about people, still wondered what had happened after we left. Who was now taking care of the chickens in our yard? Who would keep the dirt watered so the neighbor’s goats could come and munch weeds? Who would hire our guard so he could continue to provide for his family? And I thought about all that we hadn’t finished – my husband hadn’t finished the semester at the University. What about his students?

Eventually the sadness faded, as we stepped into the new place and new life, and after a long time, as I began to feel at home in Djibouti, I came to think of our village in Somaliland with nostalgia. Sadness had somehow transformed into a tender affection. Gratitude even, for the privilege we had been given of a few short months living there. I don’t think that is what happens with all forms of grief, not even close. This is one of the biggest things I have learned about loss. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and time frames and so does the grief that follows. Leaving in a hurry doesn’t mean grieving in a hurry. And so enters grace. Grace on ourselves and on others to allow each other to uniquely grieve.

Thanks Rachel for sharing with us today. I really appreciate your willingness to share your grief with us. I love your last few sentences, which is why I bolded them. Such wisdom.

If you still would like to share your leaving story with us, you can contact me at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com. I will be closing the series in a few weeks unless I hear from more writers. I’ve truly enjoyed reading and gleaning insights from you all.

Here are links to the other stories if you didn’t get a chance to read them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

djiboutijonesRachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She has written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, the Big Roundtable, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones

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One thought on “The Leaving Series Part 5: Leaving in a Hurry Doesn’t Mean Grieving in a Hurry

  1. Pingback: Leaving and Grieving | Djibouti Jones

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