On the Topic of "Goodbye"...

We all have a story to share. No matter if you were raised in Detroit or New Delhi - you've had experiences that others need to hear.

Over the last year, I've been in therapy and a huge part of therapy is just telling your story. Therapy is just processing your story.

When it comes to growing up overseas, we have a little different need to share our stories because there is a consistent element of change. Based on conversations I've had with mono-cultural friends, I've had a higher amount of "goodbyes" in my life than they have had.

The first goodbye I remember was when I was 5 and we moved to Budapest. My parents did a phenomenal job preparing my sister and me for our departure from Chattanooga. From the time they told us we were moving, it was a regular topic of "when we get to Hungary" or "when we leave Chattanooga". We had to begin to think about our new home and when the time came it was hard, but it wasn't unexpected.

Another oddly significant goodbye I remember from childhood was a goodbye to someone I wouldn't be able to identify now...One of my first and favorite playmates in Budapest was only there for several months. His family was required to be in Budapest because they were adopting a child from the region. To this day, I cannot tell you anything about him other than we had the best time playing together. He came to my 6th birthday party. We were in the same Sunday school class. We caught grasshoppers together after church. Because his family was there temporarily, he would come over to our loft apartment just outside Budapest to play...but for the life of me, I cannot recall his name.

That was the first time I remember recognizing that living cross-culturally was different than that of the life I'd come from in Chattanooga.

Probably the most significant goodbye I have ever experienced was the day I graduated. I graduated with 27 other people that represented 11 different nationalities. I, likely, will never again (on this earth) be in the same space as those 27 others. The day I graduated, I said goodbye to people I grew up with. People who formed who I was up until that point.

When I say the word "goodbye", generally, I think people associate that with the choice to leave. In the Ex-Pat (ex-patriot) community, goodbyes come in various forms. They come in re-assignment from an organization, they can come from the local government not allowing you back in the country, they can come from you staying but your friend/family member going "home". Goodbyes come in all sorts of ways.

Somethings I've learned about goodbye are that they never get any easier. I guess with advances in technology we are able to stay in visual contact, but it is still hard when there is a lack of physical presence (and this is by no means isolated to the TCK life).

Something else I've learned, experienced on the receiving end (and probably given as well...?) is that when there is an impending goodbye, the easy thing to do is to pull away. The member preparing to leave begins to seclude themselves. They stop showing up to functions or are not all in when you're in conversation with them. To me, this is the part that hurts the most. As someone who has left or been left literally 100s of times, with no potential to see those loved ones anytime in the planned future, please give it 100% until you step on that plane/get in that car to move...and even once you've begun to set up your new life, include your friends you've left behind.

In this day and age, there should be zero excuse for "out of sight out of mind". There are dozens of avenues for staying involved in the lives of people you care about - I "attended" my mom's 60th birthday party via FaceTime while she was in Europe and I was Stateside this year. Just because you don't see them daily, weekly or even monthly, doesn't indicate a lack of care. Pulling away is the easier thing to do, but it's not entirely the wiser thing to do.

Queen Elsa famously said "Conceal, Don't feel" and that is what a lot of TCKs end up doing...which leads a lot of people to a place that could make it potentially hard to form new friendships. Many TCKs see friendships as having an "expiration date"...one of you will be leaving at some point so why try to have a relationship?

I am hyper aware of this feeling, and I'm pretty confident that my ways of combatting it are somewhat extreme. Case and point, for the last decade of my life I've moved to a new dorm, apartment or house (sometimes those were across campus, across town or across the country. Since 2007 I've lived in 4 States.). I currently live in Birmingham, AL and I love it...I've been here less than 5 years but I've lived in 2 apartments and now a house. What did I do to fight to urge to move on from Birmingham? I bought a house so I'd have a reason to stay. It had nothing to do with my community, but everything to do with my internal clock indicated it was time to say goodbye.

A side effect of all these goodbyes is a feeling of abandonment. I say this gingerly - "abandoned" in this case doesn't mean the person leaving doesn't care for me, but that they still care but they're not going to be immediately accessible for the day-to-day. I've had to reiterate to friends my care for them and have actually asked for validation of our friendships on occasion to make sure that I wasn't the reason they were moving. This is extremely self-centered and narcissistic, but as a very strong Enneagram type 3 I seek affirmation in relationships I care about (this is also something my therapist and I talk about regularly, but that's for later) and I do believe this stems from the significant number of goodbyes.

But, over the years something has remained true, people who want to stay connected to you will. It's a two-way street and sometimes you have to be the one to initiate the re-establishment of that connection...but those who care will make an effort.

Goodbyes are hard. There is no arguing there. MCs and TCKs alike go through them. We all experience them a little differently, but that doesn't make them any less painful.

Take comfort in knowing that others struggle with this too and I'd encourage you to find that friend on social media and reach out. Everyone loves to know they're being thought of.

The 2007 Senior Class from Internation Christian School of Budapest on their Senior Trip in Cyprus.


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