Transition, Grief & The PCS Funk
For the past couple of months, I’ve been in a sort of funk, and not the kind that makes you want to get up and shake your groove thang.
I’d expected things to be a little rocky at first after we arrived in Germany. When we left San Antonio, the future was a blank slate. I knew we were going to get on a plane, there would be a hotel waiting for us, and… that’s about it. We arrived with our boys, a dolly full of luggage, and a little bit of faith to re-build our life upon.
But, we found a house right away. Our things made it unscathed (and earlier than expected). Everything fell into place. We began to find a good rhythm. I started making friends.
And… the funk hung around.
I started getting angry at myself, then, because I expected this. I prepared for this.
As soon as my husband announced that we’d be moving across the world, I began trying to mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally strengthen myself for what was to come. I did my research. I made lists on top of lists, and checked everything off. I prayed. I tried to take care of myself by eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. I said goodbye to our house, our family, and our friends.
Looking back, though, I’m not sure there was much I could have done, no matter how hard I tried. I had to dive in head first, and then figure out how to swim.
To be completely honest, the re-building process that has gone on over the past couple of months has been one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced, and until recently, I’ve been pretty down. I didn’t expect to be so very heartsick.
I hope this post doesn’t come across as whiny and ungrateful. Germany is a beautiful country with kind people (I’ve learned that much so far), and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to experience it in this unique way. However, I wanted to share these thoughts and experiences honestly with you, because I thought they might help someone going through a similar experience realize they aren’t alone.
I’ve discovered transition pain isn’t something that is openly talked about among military families. Not because it’s only for the weak, but because, as a culture, the military is defined in part by its secrecy and stoicism. The hard stuff is often packed away for good and necessary reasons, and that extends to the spouses and children, as well.
But, the truth is, I’ve been carrying around a divided heart. While one part wants and is thankful to be here, the other has been full of sadness and anger. I’ve been sad about all of the family and friends we’ve left behind and the time we could have had with them, and angry at myself, mostly, for being so sad. It’s a vicious cycle.
On top of it all, though, I’ve been feeling ashamed, because I thought I had to be only one of a few people struggling with these mixed emotions, and I just wanted to snap myself out of it. I mean, come on. The chance to live in a foreign country doesn’t come around very often, and I want to make the most of our time here. As I began opening up to new friends one by one, however, something strange and wonderful happened. They surprised be by saying: “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve been there, too. It is hard. But, it gets better. Just hold on and give it time.”
And, you know what? They were right. Next month, we will have been in Germany for half a year, already, and I have a much more positive outlook on our life here. I’m excited about all of the things we’ve gotten to experience so far, and I’m looking forward to what we have planned this Fall.
In one of my textbooks, I came across a chapter on transitions for service members, as well as their spouses and children. In Counseling Military Families, Lynn K. Hall (2008, p. 193) writes “the defining word for the military family is change; change is what their lives are about. The most useful tool any counselor or therapist can have is to understand transitions and change, which includes the process of grief and loss.”
Change, of course, is not unique to military life, so I believe this idea can be applied to any considerable transition.
Hall goes on to discuss how PCS and moving to a foreign country involves an element of loss, one I’d never considered before this experience. In a way, it’s comforting to hear it’s normal – healthy, even – to go through a grieving process of sorts in the midst of something like a move around the world. Letting go of the life we had – the relationships, the community, the comfortable routines – and what could have been if we’d stayed was so much harder than I expected it would be.
On tougher days, what helps the most is remembering why we’re here, what (or rather who) is most important, and, ultimately, who is in control.
Our lives are in God’s hands, and I believe we are in Germany right now for a reason.
In this season, the military is our ministry, and my husband’s duty is to support the global mission that is in progress here. As his wife, my calling is to stand by him and support him, and, as much as we love and miss our extended family and friends back in the states, our little family of four – my husband and our boys – is what matters most. Together, we will make it through and overcome each transition (along with the funk that’s sure to follow), and we will do a lot of learning, growing and adventuring along the way.