How does one make a good transition? Is it luck? A fluke? Roll of the dice? Maybe you haven’t really thought about making a good transition. You just go from one thing to the next without giving it much thought.
As you look at the following model written by David Pollock in his book “Third Culture Kids”, think how this can be useful in any major transition, not just crossing oceans. It is called building a RAFT: Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. I have added Communication, making a CRAFT that you carry with you in any transition.
When you’re leaving a place or situation, it is quite important that any and all Reconciliations needing to take place happen, as far as it depends on you. For example, if you are leaving a job, going on to college, or moving overseas to work long-term, remember that reconciliation with any and all parties with whom you are currently involved is essential. If you don’t, you will carry the hurt and unresolved problems with you into the next situation. I’ll give you a great example.
When we left Brazil for the final time, I was in a lot of denial. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of leaving everything behind, including relationships. So I ignored people, shut myself off from really addressing any feelings of regret or sadness. So, when we were in the US for our transition to Portugal, I continued to shut down my emotions in the belief that by not feeling pain, I would be better off. Unfortunately, I lived this way for years. By the time I left Portugal four years later, it had pretty much become a way of life. I struggled with depression, feelings of worthlessness, and hardly had any friends. Shutting off my painful emotions also shut me out of joyful ones.
I remained stunted in my personal growth in the area of reconciliation until years later. I had to learn how to have long-term relationships with my husband, children, and friends. My tendency in conflict was to withdraw and to avoid, as I had not been taught how to reconcile with others.
The next step is Affirmation. This is to give thanks in a concrete manner to those who have played a significant part in our lives up to the point of transition. For example, when transitioning out of high school or leaving a job, thanking those you will not see again in the same context, is very valuable. A card, note, small gift, etc., expressing heartfelt thanks and appreciation is incredibly valuable, not only to yourself but to those benefiting from your communication. I have kept notes for decades and want to make it a regular practice in my life. I don’t think we express our appreciation for others enough.
Farewells. Ah yes. We all know how to say the word “goodbye” but do not always know how to make a good exit, an outstanding farewell. I know I had absolutely no clue how to say goodbye as we were leaving Brazil. I have a few scenes stuck in my memory. We had a great dog, a terrier, Bambino (Beano for short). He was mischievous, running away to sew his wild oats, roll in garbage, and try to sneak back with his tail between his legs, hoping to go unnoticed—even as he left a trail of stench.
We could not bring him to the US, so dad found a good home for him. I was not prepared for him to leave. The last thing I remember, Bambino was in the back of the new owner’s car as it was driving away. We were all standing in the middle of the street and Beano was looking at us through the rear window, wondering what was happening. No final hug goodbye or tears shed in farewell. Just emptiness.
Saying proper farewells to People is essential. Having a farewell party can be a way to accomplish this. We had plenty of these types of parties. However, they were numbing and I just wanted them to be over. I think what I missed was saying a proper farewell to those who really mattered to me. I didn’t think I could bear it, so I selfishly ignored them. It was a great and terrible way to numb myself. So much so that when I left Portugal for college years later, I shed tears for no one.
Saying farewell to Places seems odd at first. However, having the closure of goodbyes to places that will no longer by part of your everyday life is quite important. This can be a high school building, home, or park. We left Brazil for the final time in 1974. I did not visit there again until the summer 2011. Being wiser and much more aware the importance that played in my life, I made a point of going to my neighborhood, the park we frequented, and the school I attended. I said my final goodbyes with appreciation for that time in my life. I finally had closure! It was amazing the peace and gratitude that entered me, even after so many years.
Finally, saying goodbye to Possessions. At first glance this may seem silly. However, without those proper goodbyes, I believe there is an attempt to replace those losses with other things in an unhealthy manner, or vow to never own anything that matters. There were many things we left behind in our travels; furniture, dolls, art, books, toys. We simply did not have the room to bring everything. I think it is important, especially for children, to be able to bring one thing that matters to them, no matter how trivial. It is a sort of anchor, an “I was there and it wasn’t all a dream”.
The final “log” in Pollock’s RAFT is “Think Destination”. What is the new life going to look like? What kind of lifestyle will we have? What is our support system going to be? How will our new way of life impact us? Reading books, doing research on the new location, job, or school are all helpful steps. Additionally, finding a counselor to help with internal resources to transition well is incredibly valuable. Sometimes we need help learning healthy coping mechanisms to deal with all the changes.
The “log” I added to this raft is Communication. All parties need to be free to communicate concerns, feelings, hopes, and dreams. So often the trailing spouse is left to fend for themselves and the needs of the children, with little to no regard for what they are experiencing. Perhaps there is fear that if too much is expressed, it will be all negative and the whole transition will be aborted. On the contrary, feelings buried alive stay live. Being able to freely express and be heard helps the individual come to terms with the needed changes. Concerns can be addressed, solutions found, and then the stressors involved in transitions can be minimized. This is true for all ages, even small children. They need a way to process their feelings through different means when they don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves. Our challenge in all transitions is not to bury our feelings, but to fully, and in a healthy manner, express ourselves.
Originally published here on December 20, 2013.