Thursday, July 10, 2014

Until We Meet Again (observations on grief)

Another friend left this morning. She was “going finish” as we say here, mixing our English and our Tok Pisin (the Papua New Guinea  (PNG) trade language) to indicate that God has not called her to come back to PNG (at this time, anyway).
Waiting at our airstrip on a foggy morning

Finish. Her house is empty, her cat adopted by a new family, and her critical role here is waiting to be filled by a new global worker coming in a few weeks.

Over the last four Sundays, we’ve watched our church services go from overflowing as the Ukarumpa community members gathered together to honor our friends and coworkers who have served from a few weeks to 30 years in this country....and then, as the Kodiaks dropped one by one at the International Airport in Port Moresby, those packed benches trickled to empty. June is traditionally a month of tears—seniors graduate from the secondary school, workshops end, and so families pack up, chapters close, and we hug each other goodbye under the shelter at our airstrip. They are going finish....and today, we are staying.

We’ve all done it—shake firm hands, promising we’ll stay in touch through Facebook! and take one last photo for the album. We lift off from our passport country, touch down in our field country, then back again, as each one tears a bit more at the heart, a fresh bit of grief as another person leaves, or stays.

When I went back to the US on my first home assignment in August 2013, I was introduced to the concept of pre-grievers and post-grievers, but I lost the article until only a few weeks ago. (Now that I found it, I encourage you to read it yourself!)

The article suggests that there are two significant grieving patterns that people fall into—they either tend to grieve before the event, or they spend their grieve after it has occurred. When I was first leaving for my assignment in Papua New Guinea, my sister would announce every event dramatically—“This is our last time we’ll be buying ice cream at this store together” or “This is the second to last time we’ll be having dinner together”—and it about drove me mad. Why in the world was she borrowing tomorrow’s sadness and poisoning today? I, a classic post-griever, was at odds with my pre-grieving sister.

As the article expresses, both grieving styles have their strengths—pre-grievers can say goodbye to people and places while still present, and then, after the event move on to the next phase. Post-grievers, on the other hand, aren’t encumbered by emotion building up to the event and are able to focus and accomplish what needs to be done. On the flip side, it means that pre-grievers spend their last days in sadness before the transition and may be riding on an emotional merry-go-round, while post-grievers can be viewed as cold and uncaring...and then when they finally break down, they are in the new situation, potentially surrounded by people who aren’t familiar with the old.

Here on the mission field, both pre-grievers and post-grievers must become some sort of professional grievers as hundreds of people continuously come and go in our lives. As such, I’ve found such discussions helpful to understand a bit more about myself and others as we face yet another send-off, another finish, and we all try to cope in the best way possible, some in tears, some with smiles, but all with that certain hope.

"Goodbye," and we hug, "but only until we meet again."