Goodbyes—The Summer of the Left-Behind

Posted on: June 09, 2015 Written by
Goodbyes—The Summer of the Left-Behind
Photography by: grapix from iStock          


It is May, again. We find ourselves on the porch saying goodbye, again. Their suitcases and duffle bags are packed and closed for a night flight. They are about to leave for a long time, most likely forever. We have already said TWO tearful goodbyes to a couple different dear families on this porch! It does not matter how long they will be gone—one year, 15 months, or forever. It is still a long, painful goodbye, to another friend made and lost.

This time it is my nine-year-old’s heart that is breaking; he is losing another playmate and close friend. Unfortunately, they are just the beginning of this summer’s soon-departing friends. At least three more times during the next month, we will say goodbye (forever) to even closer friends.

We have lived on the field for almost twenty years now. I have watched all of my four children say gut-wrenching goodbyes to best friends, close friends, and everything in between. Just a few months back we left our first-born at college—that was a painful goodbye for the rest of us.

Last week my nine-year-old wanted to spend time with a girl who was about to leave. I refused. I tried to explain to my youngest child that the week before her peripheral friend (someone she only knew from church and other social events) was to depart was not a good time for a play date.

I find myself thinking of friends in concentric circles at this time of year. How close to the inner circle have I allowed them to enter?

This is how we live here; we are expatriates who dare to make friends and to care about other expatriates. We make friends, they become part of our lives, and then they leave us. They may leave us some of their furniture, but they do leave us—forever.

I remember in our training that there was a lot of talk about THOSE kinds of global workers who never made it work with the local people. I believe we were warned against spending too much of our precious time with other expatriates, as other westerners were considered a distraction to integration.

The reality I found on the field was quite the opposite. Many global workers did not get along with each other at all. Then there were the global workers who not only did not spend time with expats, they preferred (in their introverted-ness) to be left alone! They spend their days making their own rules, and they become known as “The Maverick Global Workers.” These are the ones who passionately follow their own mission to save the lost. They (seemingly) do not have the need to make close expat friends. Then, finally, there were those who were too proud to reach out, invest in others, or ask for help.

So here is how I see it:

God created us to be unified, interdependent beings. The way we will glorify God is to love and work together. We are to work through our differences and help support each other through our challenges.

It is the price we pay.

I am like a square peg in a round hole out here on the field. I am in fact an extrovert. People give me energy. I like sharing myself, my time, my family, and my bad cooking with others—expats as well as the local nationals. I also am passionate about Third Culture Kids. I spend much of my ministry investing in the children around us along with my own children.

I cannot help but invest in the people around me. I lack the self-discipline to hold back when I see people, within my sphere, needing help. The world is over-flowing with needy people. I know, because I am one of them! I need people to be happy.

We all need each other; consequently, it is almost always a symbiotic relationship that I experience. All of these friends leave a little piece of themselves here with me as they have blessed our family in one way or another. We invest in our friends, and they leave me their leftover American food as a parting gift. So, after a year, or ten, together they leave us with a shelf or a rug or a bit of butter and a broken heart.

As I drive my baby home, trying hard to distract her from her broken heart and fighting back my own tears, I know we will do this again next week with some other dear friends and again a few weeks from then and so on and so on it goes. Then, the dreaded summer of the left-behind will begin. Sometimes it hurts so badly that I am not sure I can keep on breathing. So many goodbyes! It is my reminder that we are not yet home. We are but visitors here on this planet. We look forward to no more tears and no more goodbyes when we finally stand face-to-face with our beautiful Savior: when we say our final “Hello.”

Meanwhile, we are reminded we must pull in as many “friends” as we can. Invest! Then our final home will be filled with all of those souls we have known and loved!


Questions to consider: How do you do goodbyes?  How do you help your kids do goodbyes?

©2015 Thrive.

About the author

I am a global worker mother of 4 from Boston married to an African MK. We have all been living in Burkina Faso for 19 years working with SIM. I am teaching first grade at a small Christian school in Ouagadougou and home schooling my 8th grade son. My passion is to see global worker and third cultured kids grow up to serve and love Jesus Christ.

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  • Anna McShane

    It never gets easier. Now I’m the generation that is left behind while my kids and their kids are scattered across the globe, watching their children going through the same separation pain, goodbyes that they themselves weathered years ago. And I watch two generations, not just one.

  • Heidi

    I almost made it thru the article without crying, but no, I didn’t make it. I know the feeling so well of all the friends leaving and our family being left behind. Now this time I have left my friends. I am so sorry Karen to leave you with a beautiful bedspread and a broken heart. My heart is also broken. I will miss you, your family, and our beautiful community there so much, I can’t even explain. I am grateful that we live in a time when we can still communicate and even with travels, that we will see eachothr again at some point. Imagine how it was with the early missionaries packing all their belongings in a coffin because they knew they would never return. Thank you for your article, Karen, and your beautiful thought-provoking words. I’m sure many ladies will be able to relate and will be encouraged. Your friend, Heidi

  • Rebecca

    We have been overseas for 16 years….working with those in the armed forces. We pray over those that leave on our “table of tears” (or coffee table at all other times). That table has seen hundreds of goodbyes. My daughter says goodbye to her best friend this week as they move on to another location and the tears have already begun. At 18 she knows the routine but it never gets any easier. We share in the joy of pregnancies (as a surogate family), we watch babies be born,, learn to walk and just when it gets really fun they leave.
    The great part is that we have friends all over the world. We took a 5 month home assignment last year and traveled 3 of those months staying with those we have loved over the years. We met spouses and children and visited the places they now worship. And yes, it was full of tearful goodbyes but also wonderful welcomings.
    Thanks for the article….I get it!!!!

  • I have read your article and the comments and it helps me understand how hard it is. I am about to move from Australia to the Philippines. I dread the thought of all the goodbyes. I wonder how my children will cope and if they will be able to make friends. I wonder how they will handle it long term. I just cried reading the article. I moved before to other countries, but without children or with a baby. Now I have a 5 year old and a 10 year old. It is different. Just the thought of living here is hard, it’s obviously harder living than in Australia, and I am struggling. My husband adjusts very easily to places but I tend to connect deeper to people and places. He feels I am worrying and complaining, but I feel I am just struggling even to breathe from the overwhelming feeling of the change, I wish it was easier but I think we just have to brunt the pain and go ahead. And trust God that He will look after all our needs, emotional, social, belonging, etc. I lived in India before so I thought this would be a piece of cake for me, but after living for 7 years in Australia, it doesn’t seem that easy to adjust to here. I just know God will help me and give me and the kids the grace, but I feel so lonely and battling this thing all by myself as my husband can’t relate to my pain.

    • Karen, your article was beautifully written and touching. We are so proud to call you are friends. As we pray for your ministry, the focus of our concerns, are expanded even more. We will pray for health, safety, for the word to go forth and bare fruit, for spiritual energy as trials will continue, but we will add special prayers for you and your family as you face the hurt and pain of those terrible good byes. Thank you Jesus for that time we will all worship together. Love, Sandy Tocchio

  • Susan W

    Thank you, Karen, for expressing what so many of us feel and experience far too often. Having grown up an MK in Asia, returning to the US/Canada at age 14, then later marrying and working in missions three times abroad with my husband, you would think it gets easier, but it doesn’t seem to. Right now we are preparing to return stateside after 8 1/2 years in Africa and our feelings are so mixed. We were recently in the States on leave and to attend our son’s medical school graduation. While there we dropped off our two daughters to work at a youth camp for the summer; they’d had to say their goodbyes to friends and pets in Africa a few weeks prior. At this point we knew our work was transitioning to North America thus we were often approached by well-meaning friends and family with this and similar comments. “Isn’t it exciting you are moving back?!” How does one explain what one really feels? Sure there will be excitement to be closer to some family and friends, but we are leaving behind so many dear ones too. In the past we’ve felt like we were the ones always saying ‘Goodbye’ to friends leaving. Now we will be saying ‘goodbye’ and yes, then ‘Hello’. Transition, change, is supposed to be good. We’ll look for the good and not dwell on the tough. That’s one thing we’ve learned. During this past 8 1/2 years we’ve moved seven times with three local country moves, but this coming move is to a far different situation, returning to our passport country. I love what you shared about this world not truly being our home, Karen. I remind myself of that often with similar thoughts. And the ones you shared as well, about making more and more friends for the kingdom while we have the opportunity now. Sure there is pain; there are many goodbyes. But in our heavenly home we’ll look back and be thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to make new friends around the globe. Looking forward with you to our eternal home, and living in the moment thankful that Jesus walks with us each step of the way, through every goodbye!

  • Karen

    Thank you everyone, it has been the hardest bunch of good byes all in one year. We keep getting to practice letting people go, our first born has been the hardest as he continues college in the US. Just keep praying and believing this momentary pain will not be more than a tiny dot on our heavenly time line…

    • I thought I was “over” letting go of our first born, since that was 2 whole years ago, and we’ve since sent the second to college. Reading your article did awaken some feelings, but I can tell you – two years down the road, as I see our firstborn thriving and choosing her path in life, it’s getting easier. There are many hurdles ahead (two more kids to send off to college!), but God IS with us. I may not have anticipated this stage of life when I first said yes to follow God into missions, but GOD did! He’s still with us. All of us.