The Pain of Loss and Grieving During Relocation

This article posted at the Canadian expat network website, as a guest blogger.

"to avoid pain of loss would be to avoid the love and life we shared" C. S. Lewis

A few weeks ago while I was speaking with one of my clients she shared with me her feelings: "I moved to an amazing city that has so much to offer, I can explore art exhibitions like no other place in the whole world, I can enjoy good theater or Broadway shows, but instead I feel so lonely and sad. My friends are so jealous of me, but mostly all I do is cry, I am not even sure why. Then with my husband, I used to tell him how I feel but he felt so guilty for seeing me so sad that I stopped telling him. I just pretend as if everything is okay, but I miss my family, I miss my friends, I even miss the food. No matter how much I try, I cant really enjoy anything I have around. You know, sometimes I even feel that I am not strong enough. I don’t get it,  I suppose to be happy, but instead I am so sad… why am I so sad? It just doesn’t make any sense"  
“Actually it does,”I tell her, she is not the only one who feels this way, many of my clients who went through relocation experience feel the same way. Some transitions in life like death, divorce, losing your job are painful changes and they are also life transitions that our surrounding is easy to acknowledge our pain. But in other life transitions, like marriage, having a new baby, or move to a new place with a big house and yard it is harder for us and the surrounding to see the struggle, these transitions are categorized as "good events” and we will see less support or understanding around our pain.
When we decided to make the move to North Carolina, I knew it is the right decision for our family as a whole and for each one of the individuals in our system to move. But in the back of my mind, I was also saying goodbye to people and places in Brooklyn, NY. It meant accepting the feeling of loss for what became our community, the people who were part of our daily lives and more than a cultural experience, It was a symbol of many personal struggles and then learning points that allowed me to shift my perspective from I don't know who I am anymore and how I can do it, to I know!.  I felt a whole person, I was connected and grounded.

While processing the pain of loss, I have realized something that happened through our first move. I was restless; there was a change in my emotions. One moment I was angry, the next moment I was out of energy feeling very sad, I didn't feel like working, I didn't feel like connecting with other people, I just wanted to sit down and read an 800 pages book I received from my husband. Then I would wake up for another full of energy and feel that everything is great! I am done being sad and things started getting better, I was creating, connecting, I felt fine, until, you know the next day when I woke up and again I was out of energy, going back to the 800 pages book with no desire to do anything else.

One day my friend came over for a coffee and asked me how I am. "I don't really know how I am anymore", I told her, feeling ashamed and guilty for my behavior, "the only thing I really want to do right now, is read a book. And you know what? I feel so guilty about it.". "That's ok", she said, "You are just grieving".

She was right, I was grieving, I wasn't grieving the ending of an important period in my life, I was grieving the not knowing of who I am going to be after the move.
You might have heard about the five stages of grief, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through all of the phases or in the same order, but knowing you can experience them through loss can help you cope better with your relocation experience.  I believe many people who go through relocation experience part or most of these stages.

Denial -- means disbelief. It doesn't mean you ignore your move, it means that you still can't believe it is happening, or it is going to happen, and mostly the people around you who are also sad about the loss react in the same way.

Anger -- anger shows up in many ways and shapes, many parents shared with me the guilt about yelling at their kids, they were tired, emotionally exhausted and they took most of the anger on their kids. My anger wasn't really logical, I didn't even know why I just felt like it is not fair!

Bargaining -- mostly in relocation bargaining shows up as guilt, you tell yourself "only if" we would have done things differently. Guilt also shows up a lot with the partner who is responsible for the move, they feel as if it is their fault. They will say something like "if only I can make him/her feel better, I just want them to be happy ".

Depression -- I am not talking about a sign of mental illness that is a long term thing, but the feeling of emptiness and the sadness we feel at certain times in our lives. After the relocation, the grief gets into our lives on a deeper level, but this is our way to keep us protected until we adapt to something we can't handle. The paradox is that the longer you will try to push the pain away from the longer it will stay. The depression will stay until it feels it served the purpose of loss, so instead of fighting it, try to accept this phase and allow your uninvited guest to stay. You can invite them for a cup of coffee, just sit with the pain try to understand it more, acknowledge it.

Acceptance --is about accepting the new reality, it is about understanding that this is our new reality and it is going to stay here permanently. I know you miss your past or dreaming about a brighter future, but if you want to create a better present for yourself it might be the time to accept where you are and while acknowledging there you had a wonderful past and one day a brighter future, the present is where you are. 

If you, or anyone else you know, have ever experienced all or part of these stages, please know it is okay. You are not crazy, although you feel this way. You are also not weak you are just processing the pain of your loss. In a strange way, accepting the grief brings us closer to coping with the transition in our life. The ending is how every transition begins, and when you will be ready to let go of your ending that's when you will start to connect with other people again and create new opportunities in your life.


“to avoid pain of loss would be to avoid the love and life we shared”

— C. S. Lewis