Thursday, 25 January 2018

Loss of Their World

In 3 months, we’re moving back to Canada. After 6 years in Manila, we are very excited to live near family again and we look forward to the familiarities we’ve missed. But the closer we get to this move “home” the harder it’s becoming to leave our “home” here. Manila, in all its hot, busy and dirty glory, has grown on me over the years and its beautiful people are our family.

My heart hurts knowing I have to say good-bye to so many dear friends. But what hurts the most is knowing that we are taking our kids away from the only life they’ve known. I know having the experience of living in another culture is amazing and it will shape them forever and I love love love that we get to do this, but there’s also some really tough stuff that comes with it and as we near this big transition, the big emotions are surfacing for all of us.

When I’ve felt overwhelmed by this move, I’ve tried to tell myself that the kids know Canada and that it can’t be very hard to transition into a life we love every summer! A life with grandparents, cousins, good friends, mountains to hike, forests to explore and playgrounds at every corner! And they’re excited about it…. we all are. But despite this excitement, and the good good things that wait us, I realize, too, that there’s also so much to mourn.

I’ve been reading Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, and its been super helpful to understand the way being an expat kid shapes the individual and all its benefits and challenges. While reading a section on hidden losses, I stopped in my tracks and realized, gosh, yes, this is really going to be a tough move for the kids. Here’s the excerpt from the book:

"Loss of their world. With one plane ride the whole world as TCKs have known it can die. Every important place they’ve been, every tree climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door. The sights and smells of the market, waves of people walking, darting between honking cars as they cross the streets, store signs written in the local language- everything that feels so familiar and “home” are also gone. TCKs don’t lose one thing at a time; they loose everything at once. And there’s no funeral. In fact, there’s no time or space to grieve, because tomorrow they’ll be arriving at Grandma’s house to see relatives who are eagerly awaiting their return."

Oh my word. My little kids, these tiny humans I nurture and care for so much to ensure they feel loved, safe and confident…. in 3 months time their whole world will be ROCKED and will never be the same. I cannot read this paragraph without tearing up. I know we will get through this just fine as a family, I know we are better because of our experience here, I know, I know, I know, but I also need to sit and mourn. And I need to acknowledge the hard stuff my kids will go through without offering a quick, “Oh, but it will be so fun to move to Canada!” and so on and so on. We have to let them grieve, let them feel the deep sad stuff, or else these hidden losses might hit them hard in years to come. Above all else, these little ones who hardly know the depth of what they’re going through, will need to be comforted. Here’s another section from Third Culture Kid that explains it well:

"Unfortunately, in their efforts to help another person “feel better,” people often confuse comfort with encouragement and end up giving neither. Encouragement is a person’s attempt to change the griever’s perspective. It may be a reminder to look at the bright side of a situation instead of the loss or to think about a past success and presume this present situation will turn out just as well. When encouragement is given before comfort, the subtle or not so subtle message is “Buck up; you shouldn’t feel so low.” It becomes a shame message rather than an encouragement. Perhaps because the TCK’s losses are far less visible than the widow’s, this mix-up between comfort and encouragement can sometimes prevent the TCK from being comforted."

I don’t know exactly how this move will affect our kids. In a few years Teyah (age 3 now) may not even have any recollection of the Philippines (which is so sad to me!). At age 6 and 7.5, my big boys, and also Teyah, are going to be sad. Really sad. And when they feel super happy and excited about being with their cousins at the same time as feeling big big sadness because they miss Kuya Fread, they might be pretty confused and won’t know how to express it or how to deal with the sadness, especially when there’s so much fun to be had. But I will encourage them to feel it all. I will try to create that time and space they need to grieve. In the middle of our joys for being “home” again, they’ll be mourning. And after a fun day of playing at the cousins’ house, I’m sure I’ll be tucking them into bed and Teyah will ask if Tita Sam is coming tomorrow. And Makai will wonder why we don't have air-conditioning in our rooms anymore and be worrying about that particular lego piece that was lost in the move. And Cody will be wondering what Zane and Noah are doing at school today. And I will sit there trying not to cry, I’m sure, because I feel it all too- my own grief and also grief for my kids, who will be mourning the loss of their whole world.

Please carry us all in your prayers as we enter this phase of transition. With huge hope we put our trust in God and know that he will carry us through it all, with the help of awesome family and friends to support us.

We keep reminding the kids that we’re bringing all their favourite toys to Canada, their familiar storybooks will fill the shelves of our new “home” and most of all, wherever we go in this world, we go together. Whether we live in Abbotsford or in Manila, there are so many loved ones we miss, but when I ask the kids who we definitely won’t miss, they excitedly name each member of our family of 6 and I think they do really know that all will be right in their world, no matter where we are. 

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