by Jess Cropsey
The last day of school is supposed to be full of great joy, but as we drove away from the school that my kids have come to know and love over this last year in Michigan, I listened to two of my children weep tears of deep sorrow. Yet again, they are being asked to leave behind a piece of their hearts as we get ready to return to Burundi in early July after a year-long sabbatical in the USA.
We’ve gone through this good-bye process countless times over the years (every transition from one continent to another; the constant comings and goings of visitors, interns, short-term workers; etc.) and our kids seem to feel it more acutely each time. It’s heart-wrenching to watch and exhausting to experience.
Elise & Anna (2015) comforting each other after saying good-bye to some good friends
But my biggest fear is that one day there won’t be any tears or sorrow because they’ve learned how to protect themselves from the pain of loss. I dread that one day the pain of their many good-byes may cause them to keep people at a distance as they ask themselves, “How long will this person actually be around? Is it worth investing in this relationship?” Instead of diving deeply and quickly into relationships like they do now, I fear that their hearts will grow cold and wary like my own at times.
Loss can come in multiple forms and many TCKs (Third-Culture Kids) like ours experience more loss in their developmental years than most mono-cultural adults do in their lifetime. As one writer puts it,
“The layers of loss [for TCKs] run deep: Friends, community, pets. Family, toys, language. Weather, food, culture. Loss of identity. Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world. Home. These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over.”
During our cross-cultural training, the adults learned about paradox while the kids learned about a pair-o’-ducks: the “Yuck Duck” and the “Yay Duck”.
We’ve been talking about the pair-o'-ducks lately. The "Yay Duck" about leaving the USA soon is that we get to go back to our home in Burundi and be reunited with our friends. The "Yuck Duck" is having to leave behind our family and friends in the USA. It’s confusing and hard to feel happy and sad at the same time! Yet, I’m reminded that every transition (and there have been many!) is accompanied by loss, no matter how many Yay Ducks are waiting on the other side.
So how do we help our kids (and ourselves) cope with the loss and grief that they will experience during transition? We give them permission and space to mourn. We weep with them. We seek out ways to remember — photos, special mementos, journals, etc. We acknowledge the losses and try not to minimize their grief by reminding them about all the good things they have to look forward to. Certainly, we don’t do this perfectly and we are always open to other suggestions, so feel free to comment with any thoughts you have on this topic.
As I reflect on this past year in the USA, my mother’s heart is deeply grateful for the many people (adults and kids) that have reached out to my kids (and us too) this year and loved us well, knowing that we would only be here for a short time. We will cherish our memories with you long into the future.