07 Nov Loss & Grief in the Midst of Relocation & Transition
Some moves are planned and welcomed. But some may be out of sheer necessity or enforced circumstances like Covid-19. Therefore the loss and grief emotions may vary.
For positive moves such as overseas education, a new job, recent marriage or the wish to be closer to family members, there might be feelings of excitement, inspiration, new adventures to share, new schedules, new people to meet, new friendships to build, new activities…
For less positive moves such as those due to a job loss, end of contract, sudden death of family member, or a global pandemic like Covid-19, there might be feelings of anxiety about all the work involved, regrets over unfinished projects, financial concerns, sadness of leaving people and familiar things behind, fear of the unknown that comes with any relocation, stress with packing and moving and storage, looking for new accommodation and even a new job.
If the move involves a family, then different family members may have entirely different sets of feelings. When adults talk to children about a move, we tend to give them a long list of reasons why they should be excited and often discount their sadness, fears, struggles and concerns.
What never crosses the minds of most adults is that moving can generate grief emotions. Grief is the result of any change in familiar behavior patterns. Whenever we move, it involves change! It is not only a change in actual physical home or location, but change in the way we move about familiar or new places, simply because it’s a new route we have to take. It involves changes in neighbors and relationships even with regular shop owners and staff. The changes could add up to an overwhelming list, whether we are adults or children.
1. So we need to talk [and also ask the children and listen to them talk] about how we feel about the move.
It is so important to give yourself and the children permission to grieve what was lost in the move.
After listening to their feelings of fear, disappointment, etc.. let’s acknowledge how they feel. Then help them say “goodbye” to what they are leaving behind, so that they can truly look forward with excitement to the new things and adventures ahead! Taking this action can help them avoid “acting out” or developing anger management issues that parents often experience with children struggling with a move. Even if this was missed out before the move, parents can still help their children after the move, by opening the conversation and allowing them to express how they feel and talk about what’s going on.
My husband and I lived and worked in Hong Kong for 10 years. We brought up two sons while there. After my husband died on July 19, 1994, a month later, I travelled alone to Hong Kong to pack up 10 years of life there. After that, my sons and I remained in Singapore.
It was very tough settling down in Singapore with my two sons, who were just 6 and 8 years old then. It used to be a happy place where we would spend a month, twice a year, enjoying the holidays with family and friends. Now, it had become a painful place with no Daddy hugs — miserable and unbearable.
2. We need to adjust to changes and new patterns. We need to help the children too.
We had to cope with multiple losses at the same time — for me it was my identity as a wife, saying goodbye to our friends and church community in Hong Kong, having no home while we were guests at my brother-in-law’s house, a lack of confidence as I had not worked for 10 years, no one to discuss major financial matters and decisions concerning our sons, and a shaken faith in God shrouded with fears of bringing up boys on my own as a solo mom.
My boys missed their childhood friends they had grown up with since they were babies. They missed their school and schoolmates that they enjoyed so much. They missed the condo playground and activities with other children there, favorite nature parks and spring-autumn-winter seasons including barbecues with family friends. In short, they missed the life they enjoyed while in Hong Kong.
Now they have to adjust to new school, education system and demands, culture changes, fitting in with new schoolmates, language challenges, etc.
I remember being stressed driving around Singapore, trying to find where the shop selling school uniforms was – and there was no GPS or Google Maps back then! Getting lost at nights was scary when I could not find where the block was in Chua Chu Kang, when I was visiting my close friend at her late father’s wake. It was so dark and scary that I gave up and drove home and then hailed a taxi!
3. We need to build new relationships [and help the children too.]
Social support from parents, siblings, in-laws, close friends and church community are so important. I requested and received practical help from family and close friends, including consulting them about the education system, finding tutors and coaching my sons.
Not everyone can fully empathize with our loss and grief, especially if they have never lived away from Singapore!
I also made social arrangements with other school mums, arranged play dates around soccer and swimming which my sons enjoyed. Later we also joined church camps and shared family vacations, so my sons got the opportunities to interact with other fathers and mothers and children their age.
4. We need to build physical, mental and emotional resilience.
I joined a gym to work off all the pent up negative energy. It kept me mentally healthy and physically fit. I grabbed self-help books on grief and learnt to process grief, instead of stuffing it down. I journalled my thoughts and feelings.
Creating a new physical health schedule over weekends is great for the entire family, be it exploring the various nature parks around our island or bicycling anywhere. I recall the long drives on Saturday taking them to their weekly soccer training, but it was worth the investment of time and effort.
5. Moving beyond to our desired better, different and more
After a period of time resettling, adults can get the children involved to discuss new plans for themselves and as a family.
The adults can try out volunteerism while awaiting new career in-roads if necessary. In the case of moms who quit their job for an overseas posting, and now relocated home without a job, it can be seeking re-skilling for employment. Take full advantage of the current Skills Future Grants and search for the categories you have previously enjoyed or are passionate about, but never had the chance to pursue.
Moves – transitions – loss and grief – do not have to lead to an empty, humdrum life.
There is the bitter and the sweet mixed together in the pot of life. Anyone can heal from losses and grief and recover to live life as we choose to fulfill new dreams for self, family and community.
Beginnings and endings: This is the rhythm of life. With correct information and choices, we can recover from any major loss. We can embrace the different seasons of our lives, making the most of our significant relationships to love, laugh and live!
The tools to help parents of children are spelled out in detail in “When Children Grieve,” by John W. James and Russell Friedman.
The tools for adults dealing with the grief that comes with any change in familiar behavior patterns are covered in “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” by the same authors.