Hey friends, welcome back to Third Culture Thriving. I’m your host, Karli Von Herbulis. I’ve heard from a number of you recently who are struggling with the transition and periods of grief after friends, colleagues, and community members leave your host country. Today, I hope you feel both understood and seen, AND encouraged and held by the savior who knows your heartache and loneliness well.
For the last 7 years of my life, I’ve lived in a transient community of some kind. First, there was the training farm in Texas, where we were the lone family (with baby Halle!) amongst many single post-grads cycling through every few months. The pain of having to say goodbye to people I’d gotten attached to was so difficult, but I realize in hindsight that this prepared me well for the expat life. I was used to both the blessing of digging deep, and the pain of sending someone forth, of letting go.
Kigali is a popular expat hub for east Africa, so we have everything from Peace Corps to US Embassy to regional directors for large religious NGO’s worshipping with us on a given Sunday morning. Then, there’s a thick crop of “long termers” like our family- those who have committed to Rwanda for the long haul, with no plans to leave anytime soon.
What does this result in? A lot of goodbyes.
A lot of reconfiguring community and social structures and re-finding “your people”.
I know that many of you are in situations that aren’t really anything like Kigali. But many of you know the pain that comes in the summer, when the community shifts and changes. Maybe, for you, it only comes every few years. Maybe, if you’re like me, “leaving season” is something you’ve come to dread. Something that often leaves you scrambling.
Make a plan for keeping in touch. This is incredibly hard, especially if there are time zones to consider. I’ve had dear, dear friends leave Rwanda and we instantly go from talking every day to talking once every few months. But I have other friends that have left with rhythms or plans and still keep in touch really well. It could be as simple as sending photos or short updates back and forth on a certain day of the week or month. Or maybe it corresponds with a rhythm you had previously. Whatever you choose, make it attainable and reasonable, but agree on them and stick to it, especially in the beginning.
Say goodbye well. Resist the temptation to just gloss over the goodbye, even though it may feel easier at the time. Have an intentional time together- maybe a short trip, or a farewell meal. Go somewhere that was special, or do something that was memorable to your friendship. Pray over one another. Say the things that your heart guides you to say, and don’t leave anything out.
Don’t numb. Sit with your feelings. Maybe give yourself a prescribed mourning or hibernation period, and really allow yourself to settle into the sadness that comes with losing an integral part of your community. This is infinitely more healthy than not acknowledging the loss at all. Of course, it can also be a slippery slope into disfunction and depression, so have some accountability along the way.
Give yourself grace. It’s very normal and okay to struggle when you have an upheaval in your community. Hopefully you have some mentors or accountability people that can help guide you through, but also know this: it’s so, so okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel a little lost for a while. Take care of yourself. Only you know what that really looks like: be kind to your body and your heart.
Don’t seek a replacement. It’s really easy to just choose someone else to true to fit into the same rhythms you had with someone else. While that may naturally happen in the future, jumping into that while you’re still reeling from the loss of a friend isn’t likely a healthy choice. Not only is it not fair to the new person you’re sliding into an opening, it won’t give you the time to properly grieve and process your own loss.
Do dip your toes in. Maybe you need to try a new small group. A new church. Maybe meet a new friend for lunch, while in the back of your mind praying through whether she might make a good accountability partner someday. Maybe you invite a new family over for brunch. Not as replacements, in any of these scenarios, but instead as people to help usher in a new season of community in your life. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly.
Do seek the direction and accountability of those who know you and love you well, as it can feel very unmooring to be without people who were anchors to you. Lean into the people you have, whether they are in your immediate community or maybe even elsewhere around the globe. Ask them to speak truth and life over you, and pray for you as you recalibrate and find new community.
Don’t let your heart be hardened. There comes a point, after a few seasons of these goodbyes, as you come to accept the transient nature of this life, that you’ll want to lean into your jadedness and avoid building new relationships as a protective measure. I implore you- don’t let that happen. Ask the Lord to keep your heart soft and receptive. Resist the temptation to decide how much of yourself to give based on how long someone’s contract is. Be sensitive to the spirits leading, and invest in the people he places in your path.
Do bring your heart to Christ, he knows grief and heartache and loneliness well. He is big enough to handle your sadness and anger and frustration and loneliness. He can take it, and still be God, and still be good and kind and close. He can hear all of your fears and doubts and still give you peace. Bring your raw self to him, and let him begin his great work of healing you and rebuilding your spirit as he reforms your community.
Friends, as you traverse this loneliness in this season, I pray that Christ would be the hope that anchors your soul, firm and secure. I pray that you would both take the time to grieve your loss, and move in confidence that He will bring the right people into your fold in due time. I pray that your heart would be soft and open as you consider what life will look like moving forward, and that you would be receptive to the gifts Christ has for you as you continue to faithfully work in the community Christ has called you too. He will meet you there, and he will provide for your every need in due time.