Why unresolved grief affect your relationships?
PART 3 – “Why unresolved grief affect your relationships… and
what to do about it”.
By Ruth Van Reken.
For me, it was important to be willing to actually look at my grief
and name the actual losses. Truthfully, I didn’t even know that’s
what it was when I started the journaling that became my first
book, Letters Never Sent. I only knew something was driving my
behavior and responses that didn’t make sense to me. In doing the
journaling, I made a commitment that I wouldn’t stop the tears if
they came while I was writing.
And as I wrote, I re-experienced the feelings of that first night
in boarding school at age six, the moment when the plane carried me
away from my beloved Nigeria at age 13, and so on. As the tears
fell, I let myself stay in the moment and wrote furiously to try to
get the right words to name the feelings I was having.
I knew they were what I felt so many years before, but at that
point I had to survive them, not define them. It’s interesting how
those past moments are as real as if they were happening once more
and that’s why it’s so hard to let ourselves go back. Who wants
pain? And we’ve become masters at avoiding it.
I don’t know what others do when they have named the reason for
their tears and the ache in their hearts in such moments. For me,
when I have the language then I pray for the comfort that I would
need if, in fact, this was happening in “real time.” Others may
find other ways to express or release the pain through art, talking
with others, and so on. Often this is where a professional
counselor can also be of help to give a safe space where the grief
can come out. Counselors may not all understand your life
experience, but if you can name the losses, especially the hidden
ones, they will be able to help you process it, if needed. For me,
none were available so it wasn’t even an option but the journaling,
prayer, and friends who would listen were enough for me to release
the pain for that while.
By the way, it was important for me to also realize that I wasn’t
disowning my parents or my faith to look at these losses.
The reality is we don’t grieve for something we don’t love and I
had, in fact, loved my life as a TCK, I had loved
my family, and the grief was an affirmation of the very goodness of
these things or I wouldn’t have minded losing them. Even for your
brother, his sense of being abandoned is, in reality, an
affirmation of how much he wanted your parents because there was
the potential for deep relationship there that it seems didn’t
happen for whatever reason. In other words, we can even grieve for
the potential good that was missed in our lives.
When we have named our losses and allowed the grief to be expressed
at long last, and found a place and way to be comforted in that
discovery process (yes, comfort from somewhere or someone is
essential for healing of grief), then we will realize we can
actually make new choices.
One friend with a story similar to yours of always moving in hopes
of finding the magical and elusive “it” began to name the high
amount of mobility and thus the ongoing
losses in her life. In the end, she felt those “itchy feet” again
and started to talk of moving when it occurred to her for the first
time, “I like it here! I have a good job, good place to live, have
just begun to make some friends. Why is it I’m wanting to move
except from habit?” For the first time she realized she could make
a choice to stay!
For me, as I began to recognize the patterns of withdrawal I threw
into my marriage, in particular the days before one of us was going
on a trip, I could make a choice in a new way. I could see the
behavior for what it was…a protection…and make a choice on
I wanted to withdraw and lose this time as well as when my husband
or I would actually be gone, or if I would choose to stay engaged
and kind during the time we did have, and not fear crying like mad
when we were finally apart. Ironically, instead of making the
leaving worse, it made it better as I didn’t have all the regrets
of how badly I had been behaving to go through.
In Part 4, I will discuss a growing myth among TCKs and likely from the line in our definition
that says a TCKs sense of belonging is to others of like experience.
Looking forward to helping you.
Ruth Van Reken