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.

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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

The Leaving Series Part 4: Leaving the African “Nest”

bloemkleinprofielToday’s Leaving Story comes from a fellow blogger I started following years ago. I was drawn to Janneke’s blog, DrieCulturen, because I felt a connection with her writing. She was one of the few European writers sharing their TCK stories – it helped me understand my husband a bit more. Today, Janneke’s shares her story along with some insightful tips to help your university-bound TCK. 

May 1989. For most people it was a normal day in mundane life. This was not so for everyone. In the suburbs of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa there a 19 year old young girl was frantically trying to fit the last things into her bags. Between the last-minute packing were the last minute goodbyes. Very soon the car was leaving for the airport so there was little time to spare. Her viola would be part of her hand luggage; her tennis racket was strapped with broad tape onto the viola so that it would accompany her, too. Her parents, brothers and sister would all see her off at the airport. Of course there was a last family photo in front of the map of Zimbabwe. This was a historical moment.

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The 19 year old was leaving home. She was leaving “the nest”, spreading her wings and flying out into the unknown! She was the firstborn so she was the one to pave the way for her siblings. So with her head up, and gathering all her earthly belongings, she was going to board the aeroplane. Walking on the pavement heading to the plane the strap of her bag broke, obviously her bag was not designed for the amounts of luggage she had piled into it. Was this how the rest of her journey would go? In front of all the farewell sayers she was once again grabbing her belongings together and trying to make it to the plane in time. One last quick wave and she was out of sight. Finding her seat was easy, she was a routine traveller. The engines started, and then it was time for take-off. One last glimpse of the ones she loved, of the country she loved, of everything that was so well known to her. Before she could stop it there were tears streaming over her face. Not just a few tears, it seemed like a dam wall had broken and there were floods of tears. Something like the Victoria waterfalls in the rainy season. The tears were uncontrollable.

The past week had been busy and filled with goodbyes. There had even been a goodbye party, with school friends and friends from the church youth group. They had had a lot of fun, there had been lots of laughter but there had also been the painful goodbyes.

This was the country where her family had lived the past 6 years. Here she had cycled to school daily, she passed her driving test, she had received her first kiss, her first dance, her first date, she had turned eighteen, been a school prefect and she had written her “O” and “A” level GCSE school exams. This was the continent where she was born. Here she had learnt to walk, run, play, and laugh.

 In Africa she knew she wasn’t African and she thought it was because she was Dutch. Now, in Holland she found out that she is not really like the Dutch people either. Where was home? She remembered that her younger sister had asked that questions years ago. Her sister decided that “home” was where her bed was!

Of course I am the person in this story. I am the one that was born abroad. I am the one who was called “the foreigner” at secondary school. I am the one that did not quite fit in. I am the “hidden immigrant”.

Looking so Dutch but not knowing how to weigh the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. I remember observing the people around me, watching to see how others did it. How do you use the buses and the trains? Were the supermarkets open on public holidays or not? Some times I asked questions, but people would look at me and you could hear them thinking “how can she be so ignorant?” Which brand margarine should I buy? There were just too many choices to make. Even more difficult was: what clothes do you wear and what must you buy? I had been used to wearing school uniforms all my life. As a young child my mother always tailored the dresses, she even did the hairdressing.

Looking back, I think I was not fully prepared for this flight out of the nest. It turned out that I made a crash landing but somehow I survived. I still miss the warmth of the African sun. My heart yearns. My heart longs. I miss the continent of my first kiss.

Tips:

  1. Prepare your kids for their transition to university.
  2. Talk lots about the emotions, expectations and practical things.
  3. Read the book “A Global Nomad’s guide to university transition” by Tina Quick and give your young adult a copy.
  4. If possible transition with your child or make sure there are family and friends near their university, where they can easily visit.
  5. Make sure they have heard the term “third culture kid”, something I did not know.
  6. Choose a college or university that is internationally minded, where there are more TCKs or international students, chances are your TCK will feel more at home in this environment.

Thanks, Janneke for sharing your story with us! If you’d like to read other stories about leaving please click on the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Remember, if you’d like to share your own story, there is still time to get them in. Click here for details.

eigen foto Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema is an adult third culture kid, M.D., and blogger @DrieCulturen “all about kids growing up in other cultures”. You can also find out more about her story as a guest writer for Rachel Pieh Jones here.

 

 

 

The Leaving Series – Part 1: Taking Time to Process

Today I start off the series with my own leaving story. If you’d like to share your story email me an original story with some pictures at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com.

Though I have moved quite a bit this one was the hardest for me…

It is said that the process of moving starts six months before you actually take your mountain of luggage to the airport to leave behind family or friends that have become extended family. For me, those six months were full of anticipation, grief, craziness, and mixed with a sprinkling of peace. I’ve been in a place now for a few years where I can share the story without tears.

It was a move that I did NOT want to make.

It was a place with some major history for me  – engagement, marriage, and children.

It was a move of LOST dreams and dear friends that had become family.

It was our move from mainland China to Taiwan*.

In those last six months we got our match for the adoption and a 13-month old beautiful girl joined our family – four months BEFORE we left.20150416_110521

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“I’m a US citizen now!”

During this time of building RAFTs, saying good-byes, and deciding what to ship to Taiwan we took important trips to Guanzhou and Hawaii for Mei Mei’s US citizenship, neither trip restful. It was a crazy roller coaster ride in my life. I was jerked left, then right, and spinning upside down in speeds that I could not control. I wanted it to slow down. I wanted to relish every last minute in the place I had come to love dearly. I needed it to slow down – to process what was going on.

 

 

 

My wise husband planned a time for our family…

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After we said our teary good-byes to two very special ladies we boarded a plane to Hong Kong for a one week vacation on Cheung Chau Island which was exactly what my broken heart needed – a place to slow down and let my heart start to catch up with my mind. No more packing, no more good-byes, just rest.

From there we traveled to Taiwan to drop off some bags and to begin the process of our resident visas, then on to the US to visit family. During our time in the US, we were sent to a pre-field orientation by our new school. I know it sounds ridiculous that we’d been on the field for about ten years and going to a pre-field orientation, but I’m so glad we did. It was another time of processing for me. While my children were being cared for in the children’s program and my husband was attending meetings to help him with work related issues, I attended sessions for the trailing spouse. I cried some ugly tears during those sessions. My heart was allowed time to grieve.

I can’t say that there were no more tears after we arrived and settled in our new home. There were more, but what I can say is that the time we spent away reflecting and grieving were important, nay vital, for me.

If you are in the process of packing to move, can I suggest that after you leave and before you get to the new home that you plan a retreat to reflect on all that you have just gone through. To let your heart catch a breath, to rest, to grieve, to begin to dream of the next place. It’s not just good for you, but would be good for your kids as well.

Take time to say good-bye well.

Take time to remember those you left.

Take time to reflect on those last few whirlwind days.

Take time to grieve – it’s part of the process. Don’t fight it, just go along with it knowing it will get better with time. (I know, so cliche to say, but it’s true!)

And if possible, take time to go away to do the above. It is good for the mind to have a bit of a break BEFORE entering the new.

*Please note, that I’m not saying Taiwan is or is not its own country – that is too political and complicated. What I am saying is that I moved from a place governed by Communism to a place that is not. Also, each place is culturally different due to their history. 

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Arrived in Taiwan with a double stroller – HA!

 

Good-bye book

As parents we want to help our children adjust to changes as best we can. Living the nomadic lifestyle of an expat leads to a childhood where the ebb and flow of transitions becomes a normal feeling for our kids. People come and go in and out of their life just like waves lap with the tides – in and out, in and out.

It is consistent in that it constantly is moving, but just like waves transitions are not always graceful and easy. Sometimes they are stormy and just plain hard.

How can we help our kids through these times, especially if they are really young? Help them build a RAFT. This could look different for you, but for me it was making a Good-bye Book. Basically, I took pictures of people and places that were their favorite and made a book for them. After our move, we’d pull out the books and look at the photos and talk about the places that we left. It was good for all of us.

I’m a writer, so I crafted them after story books themes that I thought might work with each city. The kids were really young, so I used ideas that would appeal to that age, so we could go back and look at them after we moved. Now that the kids are older, I think I’ll still do something like this but use an online photo book to be printed out and get their input as well – cause I’m sure GeGe and Mei Mei will NOT want a toddler type book this time around.

Below are some pictures of different books that I did. They still like to go through and look at the pictures. They don’t remember the places, but it allows us to retell stories from those places to connect them to their own past. It helps them to develop their own story beginning…

Ge Ge was almost two when we left Shenyang, so I used an ABC style for his.

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When we left Wuhan, I made Mei Mei an Acrostic Book to remember her first home with us as a Maurer.
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For Ge Ge’s Wuhan Book, I did a theme on colors instead of the ABC’s. You can see that I did do an ABC book of Wuhan, but it was for Jie Jie.
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And speaking of stories, remember that I am still taking stories for The Leaving Series. There is NO deadline, just email me your story and some pictures if you have any. I will publish one story each Thursday. I’ll start the first of the series this Thursday – so if you don’t want to miss these stories make sure you are subscribed to receive notifications in your inbox. You can also like the Facebook page and get information about other places on the web that reports about raising kids overseas.

Changing the Way I View Good-bye

“Good-bye!”

I’ve never really liked that word, though I’ve written quite a bit about it. I’ve written about how we should teach our kids to say it, how important it is, a great tool to use to go through it, and how I just feel that it stinks. I mean it sounds so final and ending. When I moved to China I learned the word for Good-bye (再見/zaijian) really meant “see ya later!” ~ my translation, but fairly accurate as it has a meaning of seeing the person again. I remember grabbing that meaning soon after my arrival. It was the bandage to my bleeding heart just after having left my family. The hope that I’d see them in a few years, that the good-bye was not final.

But, what if something happened to one of them and it was my final Good-bye?

The thought had plagued my mind at various times that were usually not convenient – like staff meetings or in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. This thought turned into a fear. The definition bandage was not enough. I needed something stronger. Out of my comfort zone, away from dear friends and family who had always wrapped up my fears with encouraging words and support, I clung to God’s Word. Hebrews 11:13-16 spoke loud and clear to me.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

(Heb 11:13-16, NIV)

Note that this passage is in the middle of the “Great People of Faith” list in Hebrews. Namely, Abraham came to mind. He left his home and family and just started out on a journey that he had no idea where he was going or when the traveling would end. Yet, he went in faith. I am no Abraham, but his example encouraged me to stay where God had placed me.

My fear became reality.

Death eventually did come. My grandfather. My grandmother. My own father. Each was difficult. There was grief. A few days before she died I talked on the phone with Grandma, the tomboy of a grandmother whose farm had been my second home. We both knew it was coming, and yet she encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. We talked like we’d see each other again. I grieved, but understood and knew that we would see each other…one day.

A few years later, the phone call came that my dad was on his deathbed. He had battled leukemia for many years, and it had began to attack his body again. His immune system was shot – pneumonia snuck in. My siblings shared with me on the phone that he was peaceful those final hours. My mind raced to the last time I had seen him just five months earlier. I remembered as I hugged and told him good-bye wondering if it would be my last. As I hung up the phone I realized that my dad knew it would be. I remembered the look in his eyes as it seemed he wanted to tell me something, but being a man of few words he patted my back and choked out “I love you.”

As the years pass I know I’ll experience more deaths. We are mortal. It is part of life. Through these years of moves and watching countless others move out of my life, the Chinese meaning of Good-bye has changed from a bandage to more of a reminder of the passage above. Taipei is not my home; nowhere on this planet is really my home. I’m just a traveler passing through this life until the Lord decides to take me to my real home. A place where there is no more tears, no more pain, no more Good-byes!

Until then, I feel that I must live the life that God has asked me to live – not for myself, but for Him who through his death and resurrection made the harshest of good-byes of this earth just a “see ya later!” I know there will still be grief, but in the midst of that grief there is hope – that sure knowledge of knowing what will come. And for that I’m forever grateful for his saving grace.

This post was inspired by The Groove and is part of a link-up with Velvet Ashes. Thanks for letting me share a bit of my heart today. Please feel free to comment below or to contact me via email.

 

Helping Your TCK Say Good-bye

Yesterday I wrote about building your RAFT during the moving transition. It really is important to take time to do it and to be intentional to help your TCKs build their own. Children are not mature enough to understand all that they are feeling about this impending move. Maybe they didn’t have any say in whether the move was going to happen or not. Maybe they did, but their vote didn’t count – or at least that is how they feel. Either way, it is always good to talk about it with them – or at least try.

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Ask open ended questions – not ones they can answer with a “yes” or “no”. Ideas could be “How do you feel about….” or “What do you think about…” Whatever questions you ask, the point is to get them to talk about the moving process.

Listen, Listen, Listen – After you ask the questions, listen and take mental notes. You might be surprised what they tell you. Your child might tell you about an argument she was in with her best friend. Or maybe he/she might mention a favorite place they will miss that you had no idea was such a big deal to them. You might hear about the fears, the anger, and the grief that your child is going through.

Plan Good-Byes  – Sit with your child and make a friend’s list, then plan what they would like to do to say good-bye. Maybe they want a sleep-over, tea and cake party, or even going out and doing something – remember though to do what your child likes to do, not what you love to do. Oh, and take pictures – lots of pictures. Another idea is to have your TCKs write letters telling their special friends good-bye. It will help them process and give them the opportunity to say “Good-bye”.

Note Memories – Do something with the photos you’ve taken. Either make an album or allow your child to make their own album. My friend, Shelley, made her daughter a photo album when they went back “home” on furlough last year. She put in photos of her child’s home, desk, bedroom, favorite activities, and friends. I just took my daughter bowling with a group of her good friends. I took many photos, of course. I had a notebook that I had each girl write in. They could write a memory or whatever they wanted to tell Mei Mei. I told them to leave a page free and as soon as I develop the photos, I’ll put them in. Later after we move, I’ll give Mei Mei her book. Now, my son doesn’t want his friends to write anything – but we’ll still take photos of their upcoming campout and I’ll make some sort of album for him because I know he’ll go back and remember the good memories.

Use a Calendar – Remember to say good-bye to places and things. This could be favorite restaurants, night market stalls, tea shops, parks, swings, even a climbing tree or hiking trail. With all the good-bye parties and end of the school year activities time will run out if you don’t plan. Use a calendar to mark out dates to go and see whatever your children (and yourself) want to go to one last time. Again, TAKE photos. Seriously, after a few years – or even months – you’ll forget and wish you could remember.

Read books about TCKs – This one you could do anytime, but right now I’m holding a giveaway party with Valérie Basenceney, author of B at Home: Emma Moves Again. She has agreed to give one signed copy of her book about a TCK moving to one of you! Here is your chance to get a book for your child. You still have time to register – so click here and here (extra points). Other books that I’ve reviewed can be found by either clicking here or clicking on the tab labeled “Book Review”. It’s always good for kids to read about others to know they are not alone in how they feel, especially when it comes to moving.

These are just a few ideas, but I think the most important is communication. Remember that communication involves listening, not just talking. Sometimes I think as a parent it is easier to do all the talking and we forget to listen – or maybe it is just me.

Remember, only one day left for the giveaway. May 30th is the deadline, so go and enter the giveaway. It costs you absolutely nothing.