Moving is not normally treated as a grieving event. Since the definition of grief is “the conflicting feelings caused by the change in or the end of a familiar pattern of behavior”, it is understandable why moving can cause feelings of loss. In fact, children are especially susceptible to the emotional effects of moving.
REASONS FOR MOVING
People move for any number of reasons. Our parents are in the military which means it’s just a fact of life that we are never in one town for very long. We just graduated from High School and have been accepted to a college out-of-state which means moving away from our family for the first time. We were recently divorced and our home is being sold as part of a community property settlement which means starting over somewhere new. We got a promotion at work which means transferring to the opposite coast and leaving behind everything we have known all our lives. We lost our job which means we can no longer afford to live in our current home. We lost our health and can no longer take care of ourselves which means we have to move into Assisted Living where we can get 24 hour care. These are just a few of the scenarios behind why moving can be a grieving experience for someone.
My very first move was as a 10 year old child. My Dad was transferred to England to head up a large satellite project. Not only were we leaving our family, friends and school, we were also moving out of the United States to a country we knew nothing about. I remember my dad getting out the world globe (no internet in those days) and showing my sister and I England. I am not sure it did much to help our situation other than to confirm England was very, very far away. Once we arrived there, our fears were confirmed – everything was different – the people, the schools and especially the food. It was difficult trying to figure out how we fit in. Despite the difficulties, my sister and I were able to pick up British accents and eventually become one of the “locals”. That’s not to say that we didn’t continue to miss our family, our friends and especially American food – Oreo cookies and root beer in particular.
So I figured out at a young age that moving can have both positive and negative impacts on us. The positive was that we got to travel through Europe, visit lots of historical places and live in a large Victorian house. The negative was that we missed everyone and everything that was American. I think we grieved even though we probably didn’t recognize it at the time as grieving. Fortunately my parents were going through the same thing and didn’t fill our heads with those “grief urban legends” like “Be Strong” or “Don’t Feel Bad.” They allowed us to go through those emotions which I think helped us to mostly enjoy our time in England.
THINGS YOU CAN DO
In The Grief Recovery Method® book, When Children Grieve, the authors talk about some of the things that we can do as parents to help our children when moving. I also believe that these concepts are practical and very useful for adults as well.
Take An Emotional Tour(s): You can take an emotional tour of your home, school, friends, workplace, neighborhood, town, etc. For example, this means walking through each room of your home, talking about the happy and sad experiences you had shared in each room, “thanking” and then “saying goodbye” to the room. This process allows you to “complete” the relationship with your home before you move on to your next one. This process can be repeated with just about anything listed above. It allows to have fond memories you can carry with you into your new experience. It makes leaving less painful.
Tell Your Emotional Truth: You don’t have to “suck it up” if you are sad about moving. I know I felt devastated when I had to leave my beautiful home and move into an apartment after my divorce. I was heartbroken for myself but more so for my children. There was no way I could afford to maintain a house on my salary in CA. I remember telling my children (who were very small at the time) that we were going to move. I told them how sad it was making me feel to have to move and that it was okay if they were sad too. Even if you don’t have children, it is important to be honest with yourself about how you are really feeling. It is normal and natural that there will be both happy and sad emotions. Recognize, accept and appreciate all of your feelings.
Recognizing moving as a grieving experience is important for an adult, and even more important for a child. If you have a plan-of-action for how to address it and are honest about your emotions associated with the move, you can start this new chapter in your life feeling complete.
Sending you love, comfort and peace!