Navigating Grief: When you have to say goodbye to the place your heart feels home

By Melissa Ens

“Good grief, Charlie Brown.” I’ve sighed a lot these last few years and wondered what kind of grief, exactly, is the good kind? True, there is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, (2 Cor. 7:10) but what I’ve needed is sorrow that would lead to healing.

In December 2011, my husband, our 3 children and I moved to Peru, where we expected to live for the next decade. Less than two and a half years later, however, we moved back to Fresno, brokenhearted after saying goodbye to our friends, our dreams, and the best golden retriever in the world.

In California and in Peru, seasons come and go. Yet even years later, memories mixed with grief can surface. I still sometimes hesitate to feel and release the sadness they stir up for fear that releasing will somehow mean forgetting.

And that’s what I really don’t want.

I don’t want to forget the wonder I felt in the warmth of our first southern hemisphere’s holiday season. The wonder of arriving in a new country with dreams of a new life there. Our kids’ first Peruvian church service. The ladies spontaneously taking Mikaela and me to see Juanita’s amazing nativity display with hundreds of animals and figurines. (How I miss those mujeres!)

I want to remember Pastor George picking us up near midnight on Christmas Eve, driving us through the plaza to see the decorations on the way to his home to share Christmas with his family. (We still laugh about Timothy falling asleep in the car and then sleeping on the couch through the whole gathering. He was sure after that he’d never been to Pastor George’s house!)

I remember the oddness of seeing Christmas decorations – snowmen, Santas and wrapping paper – on display right next to swimsuits and beach towels for the summer vacation that was just beginning. We got our kids a pool for Christmas the next year and our dog barked in circles around them as they splashed the January afternoons away with our Peruvian pastor’s kids.

Maybe you’ve seen Panetón here. (It’s a sweet cake with candied fruit pieces that Peruvians can’t celebrate holidays without.) Walking through the supermercados there, I was stunned by the endcaps stocked and shelves sky high with boxes and boxes (and hundreds more boxes) of Panetón. Christmas “chocolatadas” for the neighborhood kid ministries meant gallons of hot chocolate made over a wood fire in a huge pot in the back of Anny’s house. (And more panetón.)

And the music… It’s the music I miss the most. I fell in love with Peruvian Christmas music at that first Christmas Eve service. There was even more music in the malls and markets, in restaurants, and the town plazas all decorated for Christmas with trees, trees and more (artificial, but huge and fancy) Christmas trees.

Melissa and her friend, Claudia, pose together in Peru where they met.

 

In 2013, suspecting it might be our last December there, I bought a couple recordings of the traditional Christmas music piped everywhere during the holidays. Two years later I was back in Fresno with those CD’s in my hands.

I had yet to listen to them.

I held them that morning in 2015 and read the titles of the songs wondering what kind of flood of grief would come crashing on the shore of my heart when I heard them. (The year before, I couldn’t even stand the idea.) Now would it bring a tsunami of tears that would wash me away? Or would I just laugh at how awful some of the music was?

I recalled the Christmas program at church our last December in Peru. The kids performed and I had recorded Toby’s class on my phone. As I held the CD’s, I was terrified realizing I didn’t know where that phone was, or if the photos and videos were backed up anywhere. No matter that if I played that song Toby would run away to hide from the grief it stirred up. He couldn’t handle it yet, but I needed to find it so I could hold it in my hands and listen to it again and not run away.

I think now that’s what good grief is. It’s whatever grief we don’t run away from but are willing to run to Jesus with. It’s grief we allow Jesus to carry us through. It’s grief we allow to rain down or well up and felt for what it means – that something or someone we love is no longer with us in the way they used to be.

Good grief recognizes the good that was and accepts the sadness in holding it as just a memory now.

 Dreams, hopes, and even places we held dear in our hearts become part of us. When we lose them or have to let them go, it hurts and we need space to grieve. In our case, leaving Peru meant we all grieved the loss of friendships, the surrender of dreams, and saying goodbye to a place, people (and even a dog) we truly loved.

I finally understand good grief.

Good grief trusts that even as specifics of memories fade, it really is the love that remains. I might not remember everyone’s names, but I will forever carry love for them in my heart. Good grief trusts that carrying love and being carried by Love will be enough.

I knew someday we’d look back and marvel at the fact that we really lived in Peru. I knew it would eventually feel a bit like a dream, but the sadness helps me know it was real. The ache helps me know we really did live there, and we really did love there. I am thankful for that.

Immanuel is still with us. In many ways, healing has come. Grief (and sadly, memories) will continue to fade. But love will always remain.

 

Melissa Ens loves Jesus, singing, words, learning, laughing, watching sunsets with her hubby of 21 years and playing games with her kids. She thinks praying with a pen and journal or talking with friends are the best forms of therapy ever. She used to blog at Musing Melissa, but these days is working on finishing and sharing her story. She’s excited about visiting loved ones in Peru this summer.

 

 

Don’t miss the other articles in this “Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward” series. Feel free to SHARE with a friend who might need these words of encouragement.

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

 When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope. Let’s connect!

About Dorina Gilmore

2 Comments

  • I so resonated with Melissa. We went as missionaries to Honduras and I figured it was permanent. But when our children’s educational needs dictated that we leave eight years later it felt like I cut out half of my heart. Everyone in the family did, but we didn’t know what was happening to us. We grieved individually, and hurt so much more than we needed to. This month, as my daughter celebrated a big birthday, we finally pulled out videos of the last year there, and let the peace of loving that place and those people wash over us. Healing–finally.

    • Melissa Ens says:

      Hugs to you Jane! I wish we could sit over coffee and share stories. I’m so sorry about the sorrow your family went through and pray God continues to bring deeper healing where and when it may still be needed.

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