The Five Stages of Grief as Told by Moving

Just like the seasons, life will change. It’s almost a given that no one likes change. Take a look at Spring, your body rejects the change and that’s where allergies come from. However, change is a fundamental part of life and with change comes new life obstacles. Change comes in many forms and will not be easy. But whatever may be adjusting, people have dealt with the same adjustments in the past and have gotten through it. The only way to get through adaptations is to eventually embrace it and accept it. Everyone deals with changes differently and its important to remember that it will be hard. You will need the support of your family and you need to remember that a lot of the time they are dealing with the same challenges you are.

Specifically, to my own life, moving has always been the biggest change I have had to face. Regardless of if its just to the next town over or half way around the world, moving is always a big deal. It felt as though my entire life has been uprooted each and every time. I knew that the familiar was about to disappear and the unfamiliar was rapidly appearing and the unfamiliar was on the horizon. Everything I knew changed, but I didn’t know is that it’s perfectly alright not to be fine.

So how did I deal with change you may ask. For a long time, I buried how I felt about moving. I have initially rejected the change of each and every move and each time, it has gotten me nowhere. The hardest move was when I was fourteen. I had lived my entire life up until this point in Southeast Asia and the thought of moving to New York was daunting. And as a result, I rejected this change for an immense period of time. The first year I lived in New York was the hardest year I have ever undergone. I was holding onto the past and refusing to let go of the life I had in Bangkok, Thailand. I couldn’t see myself making friends and the friends I did eventually make, had nothing in common with me. And not having friends I could confide in was definitely the hardest part about moving to New York.

Just like death, the stages of grief directly apply to moving as well. The first stage is denial and isolation. With parents who work for the United Nations, change can hit our family out of nowhere, depending on where they have to go for their job. I got a definite answer from my parents that we were moving to New York the night before my last day of 8th grade. And when I received this news, I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I felt angry, sad and confused all at the same time. I knew that change was on the horizon, yet I flat out denied change was going to come. And the fact that it was the night before the last day of school made it that much harder. I hardly had time to process the idea of moving, let alone tell my friends that I was no longer going to be in their lives each and every day. With the denial of moving, came a lot of anger and frustration that I buried for a long time and this led to isolation. Personally, I hate change, and I have never been great at dealing with it and I knew this was about to be the biggest change I had ever undergone. Don’t get me wrong – moving anywhere is hard – but this wasn’t just moving to the next country over like it had always been, it was moving half way around the world. I had only ever been to Western New York and that was during the summer. I do hold a U.S. passport but never considered myself American, and now suddenly I was expected to live in the U.S. and call it home.

Along with the denial and anger of the entire situation, came the inability to let go of my life in Thailand and this is what sparked the isolation. I had moved several times before but this move was much different for me. For the first time, I felt like I had someone to say goodbye to. There were people I was going to miss not having in my life everyday. There were memories that I didn’t want to come to an end. Not to mention that I didn’t want my life in Thailand to end. I felt as though my life was perfect at that point in time. And due to that I had a very difficult time making friends in New York. And not having friends is hard, but its especially hard when the people you are trying to surround yourself with do not understand what you are dealing with either. The first year in New York was me putting up a façade and pretending to be happy, when in fact I was hurting deeply.

The next stage was bargaining. I would continuously tell myself that I was alright, when I was not. I was continuously coming up with ways to keep living in the past and not try to assimilate to life in New York. And these two things created a larger issue. And that brings me to the fourth stage: depression. I was in a very dark place, and leaving behind the people you’ve come to grow so close to, especially at such a prominent age, was very hard. The lack of acceptance I had for the situation created an emptiness inside of me. Every emotion I was feeling was negative but I would act like everything was alright. No one had any idea of the pain I was in, and it really would have helped if I had shared how I was feeling with my parents. After all, they were going through the same transition I was.

I remember getting on the plane in Bangkok and the emotions were overwhelming. Sadness over took and I just sat on the plane, numb. I felt nothing in the moments the plane was taking off. I felt as though nothing would have meaning for a long time. And nothing did have meaning for a long time after that move. The sadness and anger I felt over the duration of that first year in New York… I do not know how to describe it. It truly felt as though a part of me was ripped out of me. I was hurting but didn’t know how to express myself. The stage of depression continued for a long time and did not come to an end until I accepted everything and that was the first step in the healing process.

The acceptance stage was definitely a relief once I had come to terms with the move. Don’t get me wrong, I was still hurting, but I saw hope. I could see myself building a life in New York and because I saw that, I was able to slowly start to make friends with a select group of people who did understand me to a certain extent.  It took me a year to get to this point. A year of feeling alone and out of place later, I slowly started to feel at home. I had to accept that I left people behind and that if they truly were important to me that I would see them in the future. Accepting the change allowed me to start to build a new life, and allowed to me grow comfortable in a new place. And the acceptance was ultimate healing. Accepting my new life allowed me to let go of all the emotions I had been feeling and it allowed me to move on from my life in Thailand. I needed to allow myself the time to accept the change, but in the end I did need to accept it.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with changes – especially changes this big. Its alright to feel lost and alone. Its alright to deal with it in your own way as long as you ultimately accept the change. Acceptance is the greatest healing and without the acceptance, you won’t be able to move on with your life. What I learned is that if you live your life in the past, there will be no progression. And that was the single most important thing I’ve took away from moving half way around the world. Now as I look back and put everything into perspective and being able to connect the dots years later, I realize it was in fact the perfect time to move. It may not have felt like it at the time, and my emotions clouded my fourteen-year-old judgment. But with that being said, it would have been harder to move any other year. Finishing middle school and starting high school in a new place was the right choice. Although, I would not have chosen to move to New York, things have worked out beyond well and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had in New York.


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