Helping youth deal with the loss of leaving

24 Jan

“Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.” David Pollock

Anyone who has lived in an expat community knows that transition, change, and leaving are constants – sometimes the only constants. Whether you are the one leaving, or the one left, it can be painful.

Two guest speakers came to the youth groups in Phnom Penh in early December last year. They spoke about the changes and transitions faced by both the “leavers” and the “stayers.” They spoke on the RAFT model and how that process is an important one to think and act through whether you are a leaver, or a stayed who needs to farewell someone leaving.

They did an excellent job at leading the youth through some guided reflection, but it stirred up in me another thought – mostly that you can say good bye well – but then you are still left to live with the loss.

I think part of what becomes so wearisome is that these changes are constant – a constant stream of hellos to new people and a constant stream of goodbyes to old friends. And as blessed as we to have facebook and skype, nothing can take the place of a hug, a cup of coffee, a late night talk, a shared glance that speaks an entire conversation, the little everyday exchanges that are so important.

I LOVE the movie UP; it shows this so well. The characters are living with loss and grief. The old man has lost his wife and throughout the movie we see him missing her, the sense that “she was supposed to be here.” Russell has also lost his Dad and he mourns the loss of the little everyday things – “I might sound boring, but I miss the boring stuff the most.”

Russell’s new friend learns to see past his own hurt, his own sense of direction, and is willing to have a new adventure with Russell. And at the very end of the movie when he returns home, he joins Russel in watching the cars go by.

When Kris Rocke spoke on pain and loss, he said that it is only by facing our own pain that we are free to enter the pain of others. So I suspect my role as a spiritual caregiver is twofold, (and not only as a spiritual caregiver, but also as a child of God).

  1. Help youth acknowledge their own loss – not only the loss of a friend, but the loss of that friend’s house as a safe place to go, the loss of a group of friends. Sometimes this loss is cumulative; even familiar places can become hard to visit, as it brings with it the reminder of times when others were around. Grief is a process – one that takes time and energy. Unfortunately, at the end of the school year when so many people are leaving,  both time and energy seem to be in short supply. In the midst of exams and end of the year celebrations and goodbye parties, TCKs need to somehow find time to grieve in their own way. As adults, we can model this and be open about our own grief processes.
  2. Help youth move into a place of entering others’ pain – becoming compassionate, caring individuals and remembering that others’ losses are significant. We, and they, can learn to come along side others and give of ourselves. Like the old man in UP how we can move from focusing on our own situation into helping another person in need.

Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs


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2 responses to “Helping youth deal with the loss of leaving

  1. Tanya

    January 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    “Help youth acknowledge their own loss – not only the loss of a friend, but the loss of that friend’s house as a safe place to go, the loss of a group of friends.”
    I think this is a very good point. It’s not just a person leaving, it is a piece of a life. Their whole world can be affected – who will I talk to at lunch? Who will I have sleepovers with? Who will I go get icecream with?

    “Sometimes this loss is cumulative”
    Yes! Maybe only one friend is leaving, but it was 4 the year before, and 3 the year before that – an entire friendship group gone, nobody left who remembers what it was like in the “old days” or whatever. The power of cumulative loss is huge.

    I think it really helps to let kids know it’s okay to grieve, that they’re not SUPPOSED to hold it together and just get over it, that loss is supposed to hurt, helps.

  2. Becky

    January 26, 2011 at 5:30 am

    This is a great reflection/encouragement about the grief of living in an expat community. Although I am now back in my home country, I find that it can still be hard to forge new friendships because I am not sure how long I will be in the community that I am currently in and it IS painful when you have to leave, or when others leave you. I have an image of a wound that is painful, but eventually heals when a friend leaves your life, but living as an expat is different because when a dear friend leaves (or you do) you know they’re still out there, and in addition to mourning the loss of the tight friendship, you are also faced with guilt for not trying harder to maintain friendships via e-mail, skype, etc. But you know you need to make new friends where you are. You know that your have left pieces of yourself in the hearts of your friends, literally all over the world, and so you don’t feel like you can be whole again until all of those pieces are reunited.

    But at the same time, these wounds and scars are what make us human. Even if we know that we will be hurt in loving others, we still must reach out and take the risk. We must invest in other people and allow them into our fragmented lives. If we fail to do so, it is to our detriment.

    “Beloved, let us love one another.”


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