Sunday, January 1, 2017

When saying good-bye is more than “See ya later”: Serving with Sensitivity.

For some people, “good-bye” is harder than others.  This is the reality of life; of unique experiences and personalities. 

Trauma and loss has a lot to do with it as well.

Our little Viv has said a lot of good-bye in her almost 2 years of life.  But she has never had to say good-bye forever to anyone.  No one she loves has died or left her.  What a blessing that is.  Some of us take such an experience for granted.

Where we live we cannot take it for granted that children have always known adults to come home. 

A few weeks ago, Viv discovered Daniel Tiger on Netflix (SO great that we can access Netflix in Zimbabwe now!) We love the show and the way it discusses emotions and social interactions.

The girls were watching an episode where the parents went out and the kiddos were sad, a song started playing with the lyrics, “Grown-ups come back.”  I was cooking dinner and heard sniffles.  I peeked out into our little living room and Vivi was dancing around and Ru was curled up on the couch wiping her tears.

I want to celebrate the diversity in this cute show, but I also want to point out that this song will not ring true for every child.You see as much as we love our girls the exact same amount, our love for them has to be different…because they are different and their histories are different.  

For Viv, God willing, she will ALWAYS believe that grown-ups, especially her mom and dad, will come back.  Her big sister on the other hand has experienced a life in which this is just not true.  Some grown-ups, including her first parents, were not able to come back.  For years she lived in a house full of children where grown-ups did not come back for them.  This reality has shaped how she lives in the world. 

When people come to visit us, she is so happy.  She loves the time and attention she receives from our visitors… but when they have to leave, she does not bounce back as quickly as one might expect.  

One of our little girls sometimes cries when friends or family say good-bye, she might not.  If she does, the tears last for a moment and she is consoled by her mommy or daddy and moves on to the nearest toy.  Our other, big girl, gets quiet a few hours before the goodbye is to come, she anticipates it and tries to protect herself.  When the goodbye comes she freezes and eventually in the privacy of her room, cries.  Sometimes she cries for a short time, sometimes she weeps for hours.  For her, good-bye is never just “good-bye,” it is a reminder of all the loss, of every drop of pain a good-bye has ever caused her.  A good-bye resurfaces all of those emotions and she gets to grieve them and weep for them in a new way.  It is healing, but it is oh so very painful.  It is not healthy for her to do it alone.

Last night as Ru wept after Auntie Lauren left, we took turns holding her.  At one point, she sat in bed with Viv and I and we talked with her.  Ruth couldn’t respond, but she listened.  Viv looked at her and said, “Auntie Lauren bye-bye, LuLu (RU) sad.” And her little sister gave lots of hugs.

In our family we do not shy away from big, hard emotions…we cannot because they are a part of us as much as the giggles and squeals. 

For some children, good-byes are not just good-bye, they are the band-aid quickly ripped off an old wound that hasn’t had time or space to completely heal.  Friends, let us try to remember that when we are choosing how to serve cross-culturally.  Let us make the sometimes difficult choice not to connect too deeply with children who have lost primary caregivers, or children who have experienced trauma.  Not all of them have a mommy, daddy and sibling to hold them when they hurt. We understand must leave, we can choose not to sleep in their orphanages or become a temporary part of their family if there is no safe, healing space to leave them in.  Let us ask the hard questions such as, “How can I serve here in a way that allows for a permanent caregiver to have time and space to connect and nurture?” Let our connection be shaped by the answer to the following question, "Who will nurture this child when I leave?"

The band-aid will be ripped off, let’s help ensure that there is somewhere there to kiss the boo-boo when it does.