Let’s get right to the point: leaving somewhere is never easy. Leaving a place where you’ve established roots, built a home, invested in friendships, learned to belong can be devastating to anybody. That’s one of the hardest things about the transient lifestyle: saying goodbye. When my family moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, we were immediately immersed in an international community. Our school was almost entirely ex-pats (people living outside of their passport country), as well as international business families, and some military. I loved living in the midst of so many languages and cultures, getting to know kids who had traveled the world and done things I had only dreamed of! (Not many fourth graders can speak four languages already, which is something I’ve always wanted to be able to accomplish).
The transitions were always a challenge. Every year or two to have to say goodbye and start over and get ready to not be normal – whatever that means – was really, really hard. I didn’t know how to say goodbye in a healthy way that would allow me to grieve but also to let go.
Thankfully, there are ways to do it well.
Tina Quick, a cross-cultural trainer and international speaker, and author of the book “Leave Well to Enter Well” said this, “Leaving a place you have been rooted in for any amount of time is never easy, but making the time for proper farewells is something no one has ever regretted. Proper closure and forward thinking help pave a smooth road to transition and reduce the stumbling blocks of adjustment…”
What a word. What does that mean? How can life continue to be normal when nothing about it is normal?
In the book, “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds” the authors, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken talk about what is needed for a healthy closure when it comes to saying goodbyes.
Think of them as building a RAFT:
Reconciliation: As transient people, it is easy to deny or avoid confrontation with others you’ve had disagreements with because you know you’re going to leave. Because you’re moving, it is likely you won’t have to see the person you’ve disagreed with again. However, this is an unhealthy habit that can cause bitterness and deeply affect future relationships down the road. It is so important to resolve any problem, ask for and receive forgiveness BEFORE moving and forever ignoring that there was ever a conflict.
Affirmation: Leaving in peace is key. There are no doubt people you have encountered and befriended over the years or months you’ve been where you are. Before being in a place emotionally and mentally to move on, let them know you appreciate them! This helps you focus on the positive times you’ve experienced and also solidifies your own relationships with them, enabling you to have more closure before meeting all new people and forming NEW friendships.
Farewells: This is self-explanatory in name, but it isn’t always so obvious when you’re leaving. There are so many other things going on when you’re in the middle of packing and moving that you can forget to actually say the words goodbye. Give yourself time to pay attention to the things you’ve enjoyed or gotten close to, maybe visit your favorite restaurant or take a picture of something you’ll miss.
Think Destination: What are you going to need where you’re going? In the midst of all the goodbyes, its important to focus on the future, just to prepare yourself and your family for the approaching transition. Be practical and let yourself look forward to the new things that are coming!
Ultimately, yes, goodbyes are hard. But they can be a good time to re-center yourself and to realize what is important in your life and for your future. They can be helpful in seeing some old friends and in re-living some of the fun times you and your family have had. Be encouraged that there are so many people who are leaving somewhere and going somewhere else! You’re not alone. Give yourself grace as you move, and allow your family to grieve and to process in whatever ways they need to. We live an exciting life that can be full of adventure and stories and fun people and places! Let’s see the good in goodbye, and learn to do them well.