Monday, April 20, 2015

Thoughts on Grief as an ATCK

I wrote last week about the good and hard parts of growing up overseas. Grief. That was the the most painful part (for me) of growing up overseas. I neither want to say that my experience is true for all third-culture kids (it's not) nor do I want to sugar coat it and say it was just one small part of a wonderful life. I simply want to tell the honest story.

Every kid will be different. They all struggle with different things. For me, grief was the most painful legacy of my unique life. The parade of goodbyes to homes, friends, family, cultures, things I loved... it wore on me. I see parents now preparing their young kids for transitions and goodbyes and that is good, but it is the teen years that are most powerful. The most crucial developmental things happen then. The wounds are deeper, the joy is stronger, everything is exacerbated and the ripples spill out into life and years down the line. And so, with me, by the time I was a Junior in high school the rending of the world I loved had cut deep. I knew the pain already, and I knew there was more coming. The goodbyes of my last few years and the final goodbye at the end of high school in which I left the life and culture I loved and moved a world away.... was the grief of a family member dying.

You can read old posts about it here and here.  It's nigh impossible to explain grief to people, you can only really walk through it. No one else can carry loss for you, or really enter into it with you. How can I tell you what it feels like to lose your world? This was our song back then about what we were all going through.

It wasn't stuffed. I did process it. I grieved when others were unwilling to grieve, or perhaps didn't need to. I am so thankful for that, that though the process was long, I was able to be at the reentry seminars, snow camps, and Ruth Van Reken's presentations. I'm thankful for the scrapbooks, journals, and eventually blog posts where I poured out memories and pain. The length of it took me off guard. I still found myself, a pretty practical and non-emotional adult, weeping over Papua and loss into my mid-20's. It was my raw place, where the scent of rain or a photo of my mountain or the longing for the friendships left behind brought me to my knees again and again until I felt pathetic.

But there was healing, eventually. I had a counseling professor in college ask me if I had a picture of what healing would look like. I didn't. I only knew sadness over my loss, and I didn't know how to find the other side of it, because for me the grief was intertwined with love. I fiercely loved the place, the people, those years of my life overseas. As long as I loved, how would the grief lessen? And yet, there was healing. There was a journey to knowing God, a journey of identifying most strongly with a home and identity in God. There was building a life in America.

It was long in coming because the grief was big, and it took some growing up to get to the other side. The past four years have been different, a look from the other side, where I have loved my past and Indonesia without aching for it. There has been peace rather than pain as I think through loss. My past is the same but the wound isn't raw anymore. There has been healing. It seems like, timing wise, some of the change came with entering motherhood 

I don't know that there was any way to make my experience better. In my senior year my school brought Ruth Van Reken (the best!) in to give a talk on tcks, identity, grief, and transition. My parents held me and cried with me so many times over the years, I never felt alone in my grief. Goodbyes were said properly, acknowledged the way they should be. I went to a reentry seminar that helped the transition. I guess what I'm saying is that those who are raising TCKs can help a TCK walk through it, but they probably can't take away that particular pain. It's a part of the life, one of the toughest parts of the life. 

Here's the thing about suffering. You can't protect your kids from it. But you can walk with them through it. And you can pray for them. Through the suffering, they will learn about life, love, and God. Pray that they will meet a God who knows suffering in the midst of their own pain, and that they find a greater love by far. That was it for me. The transiency of life and the loss of much that I have loved gives me a picture of heaven where things are made new and all that was good is renewed and unpassing. And, more than that, it forced me to ask if truly, I loved the things God had given me, more than I loved Him?  Did I trust that He was good, when the life He was walking me through was so filled with pain? This has been the refining of my faith, in which platitudes are not enough and I am raw before a God who is not safe but who, yes, proves good. And Who is in the business of healing and filling and renewing what is broken in and around us. 

That's the legacy, in the end, for me. And if grief was the price of those beautiful years growing up overseas with wonderful people that I still love, it was a price worth paying.

Frederick Buechner said God speaks over our lives:  "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you." 


Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh this brought tears to my eyes. I love what you wrote and I lOVE the pictures and how happy and connected you, and we all, look. And yet, now, I'm almost glad I've had that experience. I don't even know why really, but I think I just find it incredibly hard to imagine who I would be and how my heart would be without having had it - the riches and the depths - of those teenage years. That was interesting to me that you said "The most crucial developmental things happen then" re the teenage years - I thought the most crucial years developmentally were the first 5 or so? It's amazing that God heals - and he does. A family member of mine who lost her daughter as a baby said that after that pain is healed...and it can take did she put it? I think she said something like "It's still emotional, but it doesn't hurt anymore." Maybe like a healed over physical wound - it's still sensitive, and you remember it, but it doesn't hurt anymore. At least, it's not raw. Anyway, I find myself wanting to tell people I meet that "Yes, healing is possible" but sometimes in the midst of it they can't even hear that, and I remember that too. I remember feeling like even that was a platitude. Glad to have shared those years with you. Love you.

Kacie said...

You are right, I think, that the most crucial development in terms of physical and brain development is indeed in the first three years. But there is a unique power to emotional development in the teenage years. The impact is deeper than most other years of childhood.

And yes, it's still emotional, but it doesn't hurt anymore. That's true for me.