I spent this weekend in the Pacific Northwest. It has been an odd adjustment to what I call this place. I used to say “I’m going home for a visit.” In a 7 year period my Mom, Dad, and older brother all died. I had moved away as soon as I could in 1981 to be somewhere bright and sunny. As I was preparing to go “home” for my 40th high school reunion, I had trouble saying “I’m going home.”
This was a new phase for me acknowledging the loss of almost all of my immediate family. My only living sibling lives in Ohio and while I have a nephew who still lives in the Pacific Northwest, it does not feel like home anymore. The location that I called home was where most of that family resided and I once did with them. So I find myself pondering where home really is and I’m working with the words of that proverb “home is where the heart is.” When I thought further about this I realized the distinction and importance of knowing that what I was feeling was loss and not to gloss over it. I was uncovering another layer of grief that seemed to link into the deeper well of grief that occurred throughout my childhood.
By the time my family had moved to Tacoma Washington, we had lived in 3 countries and 5 different states. I was 15 years old. While the trip this weekend had many happy highlights, it also had moments of deep sadness that I couldn’t understand until I recognized that same old feeling I used to have at that time in my life. Being a child in a military family comes with a fair amount of loss on many fronts. In my particular experience, by the time I was 15 I had left countless friends, schools, pets, belongings, and homes. The trip this weekend was the first time that I felt this same kind of angst and sadness brought on by my confusion about where I call home now, combined with seeing my classmates and revisiting memories of 40 years ago.
At the end of the weekend, I got myself to Sea-Tac airport and quickly consumed some sugar and caffeine, I had the blaring recognition that this habit of soothing with food came into full swing around those years of high school. As a rule I eat healthy and am very active but at times fall into this habit. While in that moment I was overwhelmed and had been stressed in the traffic trying to get the rental car back to the airport, I made that choice. I recognized it and for the first time could see the “seed” of that habit from all those years ago when I did not recognize that I had experienced a LOT of loss. For military families though, this is how life is and there was never much, if any, conversation about grieving losses related to moving etc. The greater fear of course is the potential loss of life.
As I stepped off the plane in Sacramento, California, I felt the veil of heaviness and sadness lift. I was home – this is my home and my heart is also full of those who used to reside in Tacoma, WA, the place I used to call home. Much of the work of loss and grief is going through some sort of “re-identification” like this. It caught me by surprise but I am glad that even in the happy moments of this weekend with old friends, and time spent with my nephew and his young family, I also took the time to just BE sad and cry when I felt like crying. If I had not been in the hurry and stress of airport travel I might have been able to allow everything I was feeling that morning instead of eating it. I gave myself great compassion and acceptance as I witnessed myself taking the best care I could in the moment. Sugar and caffeine definitely change your brain chemicals but the continual habit is not the healthiest for my body! But acknowledging and expressing grief and sadness is a pure emotion and will move through me and THAT is normal, natural and healthy.
I invite you to check out my new book “Growing Through Grief” that offers some perspectives and activities that may help if you are experiencing loss and grief.