When Do You Grieve? Pre, Post, or Present?
(this is a bit delayed, I have good reasons which I’ll keep to myself. In any case, I’m posting it now)
When my twins went back to boarding school last April, I was a hot mess. A throwing myself on the bed and sobbing, holding my head in my hands and yelling at my husband (so the kids wouldn’t see), kind of mess. It was a really hard goodbye. It was the goodbye that closed the door on their childhood home, the goodbye that meant an ending. Sixteen years in the Horn of Africa (Somaliland and Djibouti) and it was over for the twins, at least over in the sense of living under my roof and being children here.
The goodbye was sweet, too. We celebrated, we had a graduation Open House and friends from all the varied and diverse sectors of our decade and a half in Africa came, we did all their favorite things, we laughed hard and played a lot, like we Joneses do.
But it was a goodbye without a hello, there was no new adventure to move on to just yet, simply the final semester of boarding school.
When they then graduated from boarding school in July and we spent the afternoon saying goodbye to roommates and dorm parents, best friends who had become more like family, and packing up dorm rooms to fly things back to the United States, I was a mess. Crying, taking all the pictures, hugging all the people, watching the kids say goodbye to their friends and feeling my heart explode. So much love, so much loss.
It was also a sweet goodbye. These people, both other students and particular staff members, have been sources of life, hope, laughter, challenge, community, strength, and rescue for my kids. One group in particular, watching them say goodbye to each other was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scenes I can imagine.
But it was also a goodbye without a hello. It was goodbye to Kenya, goodbye to these people, but it was not yet time to move on to the next adventure.
Now, with both of them going to University, the goodbyes still sting. It is still hard and strange and new. But it is also a great big hello. It is hello to exploration and adventure, to curiosity and new community, to the next step.
We are really dragging out this goodbye. We’ve been saying goodbye since April and the goodbye will last until January, when I leave Minnesota and go back to Djibouti to join my husband and our other daughter. It is a real good, long Minnesota goodbye.
As I questioned why my emotions have drastically shifted from grief and loss to pride and excitement, I realized that I am a pre-griever.
I anticipated this pain and cried it all out at the start of the grieving season.
Some parents have shared how they were surprised by the hurricane of emotions that struck them in the dorm room when they said goodbye and turned to leave. They would be present-grievers.
Other parents have shared how a week or two after dropping their student off, the emotion hit and took their breath away. They would be post-grievers.
Knowing this about myself and my response has helped me not feel guilty for not crying in the dorm room. It helped me understand why I rushed out two weeks before they left to buy them surprises and why I wrote them long letters ahead of time, but also how I am okay when they don’t call or text me for a few days after the separation.
It also helps me understand my husband and our youngest, as we talk through how we are each doing.
Helps us not compare our specific emotional states in time.
Helps us not judge other parents.
Helps us not judge ourselves.
Helps us do the grieving so we can do the healing, too.
How about you? Pre, Preset, or Post griever?