Getting Over Grief: Part II
This post is my answer to Greg's* questions about how to get past the pain he felt as a TCK coming back to his 'home' culture as a young adult. I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking about it and remembering how I felt at that age which was surprisingly more difficult than I expected. I spent the week feeling quite emotionally disheveled.
It occurred to me that although Greg's pain was about the specific challenges of being a TCK, his broader question was: "What do I do when it hurts? How do I move through this? Is there a future for me?" so I decided to write to him about grief and loss more generally.
I've spent some time thinking about your email. While it sounds as though the main issue is dealing with the 'culture left behind' part of being a TCK, I think actually, at the core, your main question is 'how do I deal with my grief?' because that's really what it is.
All grief comes from loss, whether it's losing a parent, pet or place, dream, hope, way of living. Or whatever. There are many types of losses in this life. Some are more widely accepted than others; death is an obvious loss and people are given space and time to grieve in publically accepted ways. Losing a 'borrowed culture' is not as publically acceptable, but it is still a loss, which brings with it the associated grief and need to grieve.
So, allow me to translate your question into this: "what do I do with my grief, because I have a lot of it, and because it's not socially acceptable to have it, I don't know how to just leave it behind and 'move on'."
First up, I suggest you write yourself a 'hope story'. We had to do this as part of the therapy with our son who has autism. At the time I thought it was stupid, but six years down the track, I see how useful it was. He was three at the time, and we had to write a story of what we hoped for and dreamed of when he was five, and then when he was 13, so basically, in two years and ten years time.
Sit down and write yourself a paragraph or two, describing something you will be doing in the future (you hope) and what your feelings and thoughts about the country you grew up in will be then. Be observant of yourself as you do it, and how you're feeling. What you're doing is saying, "I want to live, and I want to live well, and I believe it will be possible."
By doing this, you are NOT saying, "I want to forget my experiences and my love for where I lived." That is not what grieving is. You don't have to forget anything, or let it go. By doing this, you are simply saying, "There will be a way to live peacefully in the future with my present and my past."
Secondly, it's good to think in terms of the long term. Grief isn't something you 'do' in one day or one session. It takes time. Just like (I'm imagining) a painting takes time to get right. You can do a lot in one sitting, certainly, but perfecting it takes hours and sometimes it needs to sit untouched for months before you're ready to work on it again. But each time you do a little more, things are easier. You might think about your grief every minute of every day for the first period, but eventually you think about it less, and one day you notice that it's not at the forefront of your mind at all, and one day you look back on your grieving period with a calm and a quiet and you know it's over. It will be over, one day.
Next, I'd try to see your grief as a physical object. Can you draw it? If you see it as something that you're carrying for a while, rather than something that's part of you, or taking over you, it might help. You can carry it for as long as you like, and that might be what you want to do, but you can also give yourself permission to put it down sometimes, just to take a breather, but all the while knowing you can pick it up again when you are ready. Depending on how well that image works for you, you could put it down in a special place and leave it a little longer each day before picking it up again. Eventually you could leave it in a special place and only carry it on particular days or special anniversaries.
In terms of people contact, I think I'd try to make an arrangement with someone – perhaps someone older who has a gift for listening and a pastoral heart. If you can't find a friend or someone, try a professional. Ask them to spend an hour a week, or more or less, with you. All you will do is talk about your experiences, and all they are required to do is to listen. They don't have to fix it, they don't have to do anything. All they have to do is look at your photos, and listen to your stories and spend time hearing you on the subject. Perhaps you could do the same for them in time?
Creating rituals is an important part of remembering things you never want to forget, and I hear you saying you're afraid that you're going to permanently lose this special part of your life. Can you create special things you do every so often to remember? Perhaps you could learn to cook a favourite dish. It could become a specialty that you serve once a month to friends and family. Or you could take a day out, dress in national dress and head down to the equivalent of Chinatown for your country (if you have one in your city). Or do an annual family slideshow and celebrate on your country's National Day? I'm sure you can think of something that would work for you.
And then there are the support groups (although I've never done these especially well…) I joined an Missionary Kid (MK) group when I was at uni, which was kind of fun, although it got a bit dull when everyone wanted to talk about Papua New Guinea because that was where they grew up. But you get the idea. Is there a get together of MKs you can be part of, or even an annual thing which you travel to? Could you set up a facebook group for your particular friends, or look for MK blogs to comment on and have a community with? Maybe you could even go back to your old school and do a few months as a volunteer? It's very interesting how returning to a place can change perspective for you.
Here's a story which might help. I've got four children. The first three all had what I considered to be 'terrible' births. Lots of medical intervention and trauma, and I didn't enjoy any of them. With number four, I worked really hard with a midwife friend to prepare well and work out some of my blocks to giving birth naturally. I put months and months into it – it was a really big deal. Finally the baby was born, and it was fantastic. Everything went to plan, and I felt very strong. I was on a massive high. As each day passed the high got less, and I felt incredibly sad that I was leaving this part of my life, in which I had been strong and successful and happy. I didn't want it to be over. I wanted to stay on that day, in that moment forever. But I couldn't and I felt sad about it. Then I realized I had a baby with me, and she was growing and changing and starting life, and I needed to be in each moment with her, not just that glorious one of her birth.
So I did a few things: I wrote about my experiences on my blog and for a magazine; I told all my friends (although obviously not everyone was that interested) and I made a point of thinking back to the time every time I needed a little boost of happiness. I also take time to re-read the birth story on my daughter's birthday. It's not forgotten, but it's put down in another place for now while I get on and live the rest of my life.
Greg, I hope all of this goes a little ways towards helping. I'd really love to hear how you go.
I then spent the next month not hearing back from Greg and feeling nervous. Was this all baloney? Had I written stuff that was so obvious that it was lame and babyish? Was it too neat? Too pat? When I finally heard back from him, I was anxious to open the email and find out what he thought.