A TCK Goodbye

The TCK GoodbyeI think that the silent enemy of every Third Culture Kid I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, both in person and digitally, is buried deep within the moment we pride ourselves on handling better than anyone. I don’t like the term “we’re only human,” because honestly, I don’t believe in universal truths when it comes to human behavior, but I do know that the issue in question is one that affects a great deal of people in this world, TCKs not excluded despite what we may want you to believe. Just like everyone else, perhaps more so for reasons we hide so very well our entire lives, we are in constant battle with Goodbye.

Goodbye for TCKs is a drastically different thing to what it is for First Culture Kids. At the risk of over-generalizing yet again, FCKs have a tendency to treat goodbyes with extreme finality. The weight of loss that couples a goodbye appears to be so much heavier for them, and as that goodbye grows with the reality of that finality, for example a death instead of a departure or an increase in distance, that weight appears to become unbearable. TCKs, on the other hand, seem to handle those goodbyes with a more nonchalant approach. But appearances are often deceptive at the best of times.

TCKs have had a lifetime full of loss. Some TCKs, like myself, may have been fortunate so far in their lives in terms of the permanent loss of death’s heavy hand, but there are other TCKs who have experienced it plenty. But despite the permanent loss, the number of goodbyes we’re faced with in just a few years are larger than most FCKs deal with across the span of their entire lives. And more often than not, those goodbyes are just as permanent as the finality of life’s end.

But for me, those goodbyes are handled so differently than the goodbyes of my FCK friends and family. I believe I have told the story before of when I left San Antonio on my most recent move and the way I handled that long string of multiple goodbyes, but for the sake of my point, I will tell it one more time. When I left San Antonio, I did so in what I consider to be the best way to handle goodbyes based on a massive history of goodbyes. I know that to me, saying goodbye to my friends that I have grown to love over the years is just a natural state of affairs. Nothing is permanent, and all great things pass eventually. So I handled the goodbye with a quiet, sneaky twist.

I invited everyone out, some in groups, some on their own. I told them I had plans to move, I said I’d be leaving soon, but never gave a date. I rounded them up, saw them all, and left every night saying “Yea, we’ll have to get together and have a big haza before I leave! I’ll give you a call before I go and let you know when I’m actually off. We’ll get together again before I get going, so don’t worry.” And then I never called. That was it. That was their goodbye.

I did this because I knew that saying goodbye for many FCKs is an awkward experience. The knowledge that most of them, if not all of them, would probably never see me again in their lives is an odd thing for anyone to process. We’d spent years developing that friendship, and while I’m not claiming to be the most impacting force in their lives, there’s always a sense of regret associated with saying goodbye to anyone you’ve established a relationship with.

The only person that got a real goodbye, or more the only person that I wanted to give a real goodbye to and never got to due to her busy schedule, was Erika. She has been quoted in this collection before, or perhaps The Illusive Home, under a different name. Possibly Elizabeth, but I can’t quite remember. She was the first girl I ever lived with, the first girl I thought “I will marry this one,” and even when all of that was behind us, she was the most influential and shaping person in my life. There are exceptions that prove every rule, and she’s my exception to my rule of goodbyes.

The level of understanding “goodbyes” that can be found in most TCKs, or perhaps just  this particular TCK, extends further than just saying goodbye to friends. Goodbyes come in so many forms, and one of the most interesting to me is the finality of death. That goodbye, more often than not, comes silently and sneakily, snatching life away in an instant. At least, that was the case for both of my most recent and highly life-altering losses, my Grandmother, Anne Mitchener, and my cousin, Jack Allison.

At both of these events, I held my ground better than I expected. I watched as my family crumbled, as tears were shed and as people mourned the loss of truly incredible people who should never have had to leave this world. But, like all amazing things in life, everything has an end just as definitively as it has a beginning. Even now, I have friends and family both that will break down and cry at the loss of both Granny and Jack, more-so Jack these days given his recent and tragic passing. The total sense of loss, the ultimate goodbye that was never said, it has broken many of my FCK family and friends so severely that it looks like they will never come back together. Of course, they will find the pieces one day. Eventually, everyone is at least partially consoled. But right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

What shocked me, though, was how both my brother and I handled the situation. We were the buffers of the family. The ones that kept it together, held our own, and didn’t break down. I had a drunken moment with my cousin, Gregg, where I lost it, but the truth is I wasn’t losing it because of Jack, I was losing it because of how broken the family I love and know so little about had become. That was what hurt me. Empathy, more than anything, cut me to my core. But the loss, the lack of a goodbye to my baby cousin whom I loved so completely, that part didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as I had expected.

Why? Because like many TCKs in this world, I have learned more about goodbyes than anyone should ever know. I can taste their inevitability from the moment we meet. I can read them in passing words that others would miss. I can predict their arrival no matter how far down the line of life they will fall. I am always, always ready for them. And so when we lost Jack, when we lost Granny, the moment of goodbye was done. And while everyone was devastated he wasn’t there, that they couldn’t have just one more moment, that they never had a chance to say goodbye, I was fine with my memory. Because to me, to this TCK, a goodbye is just a door being closed, an isolation of memories, an acceptance that there will never be another created for as long as we live.

But the way I see it, whether we’ll meet again or not, that goodbye isn’t the end. If you simply don’t want to see me, or perhaps no longer walk this world, the end result is always the same. I am a TCK, and I have lived my entire life in a string of relationships that last not much longer than the passing of a season. But just because that relationship has floated on in terms of time spent face-to-face, the moments we shared have shaped me into a different person, and pieces of you will live on with me forever. In that single season, in just one tiny conversation, you changed me for the better. And even if we are never to cross paths again, I will carry you for the rest of my life, and share what you taught me with others.

In the end, I will always keep you with me, and the lives of those I meet will be made better because of the time we spent together. And that’s my TCK goodbye.


The Author





Post by: James R. Mitchener

16 thoughts on “A TCK Goodbye

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      I think that’s certainly the case with TCKs and many Expats, but for some reason, FCKs are locked into it with such finality. It’s sad really. It becomes the ball and chain that prevents cultural blending.

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      I am glad we agree. It’s always hard to fully know how much of what I see is a TCK issue for many of us, or just an issue stemming from the introverted personality that rages inside my extroverted shell. Thanks for reading!

  1. D

    There are times when I am naive enough to try an convince my FCK friends that it is not final, that simply because I am not physically close to them does not mean our relationship has to end. I’m preparing for a move, as you know, and in the last week two of my closet friends here have said something unsettling to me. One said to me “you have become my closest female confidante! How am I going to replace you when you leave?” and the other also mentioned how on Earth would she replace me. Though I believe their underlying sentiment is sweet, that they are telling me I am irreplaceable, when they say things like this is hurts me because they feel they need to replace me. They think about how to replace me rather than investing energy into potentially maintaining the friendship over distance. Every time I leave somewhere, this is the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. Their unwillingness to try and their conviction that it will not work even if they did try.

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      It’s funny, too, how many of those friends that think with that mentality try to relate themselves to TCKs. Erika, the one discussed in this post, has always said how her cultural blending from her mother being Portuguese and growing up in Venezuela combined with her father moving from Wisconsin to Mexico for several years before coming back state-side made her understand things others couldn’t. She has family all over the world, but of all the people I’ve known in my life, she is the worst long-distance-friend anyone could ever be. But then, I suppose I’m not much better. When I leave, I forget to call, I forget to interact, and I generally hit a reset button. I suppose I should just decide if I want to be the pot or the kettle in this situation, really.

  2. evansson¨

    Hi James,

    Just wanted to thank you for an excellent post. I’m just starting to come to grips with being a TCK and so many pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. You are spot on when you say, “I can taste their inevitability from the moment we meet. I can read them in passing words that others would miss. I can predict their arrival no matter how far down the line of life they will fall. I am always, always ready for them.” I find that this really prevents me from being able to, or even trying to build meaningful relationships.

    There are so many things I feel a need to address, none of them easy. Knowing that there are so many others in the same situation helps a lot. So thank you for sharing and expressing these thoughts in words in a way I’m unable to. I will surly borrow some of your formulations, hope that’s OK with you.



    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      Thank you for reading, Thomas. The fact that what I’m saying is something that you can relate to makes the openness of this project worth all the introverted turmoil. You are certainly welcome to borrow some of the ideas my friend. Of course, if you feel like throwing a plug my way when doing so, I’d appreciate that too! And if you ever have any questions, feel free to email me. I’m always here to help my fellow TCKs however I can.

  3. Candise

    Excellent post. My younger Brother and I were just talking about this subject the other day. We also discussed the futility of trying to explain to others that your best friend in the world is a TCK 3,000 miles away, you havent spoken to them in a year but still you know it will be just the same lovely friendship as before. For years my Brother and I tried to become just one nationality, to fit our passports. We tried everything we could think of but it just didnt work. We are both much happier being who we are, TCKs. Borders really just dont make sense.

  4. Grace

    Hi James,

    I just “found” your blog and have been reading it for a couple of hours now 😉 This one really hit home. For several reasons, mostly how much I understand it. How each Goodbye adds to the countless ones before it until the feeling is familiar and constantly in the background. Goodbyes are no longer new and though we might still dread them, they no longer surprise us and we don’t fear them.

    I wanted to especially thank you for the comparisons you made with FCKs. That is the first time I’ve ever read anything about this very significant difference. I really helps when you read about something you already feel/suspect is true.

    In the near future I am leaving my current country and moving to the next. I am finding it hard to manage the different “weights” of what Goodbye means to my best friend (my “Erika” if you will) who is a FCK and myself. Weird, but I feel that the differences in dealing with eminent Goodbyes are already a form of separation.

    I was wondering if you had found ways of bridging the “Goodbye Gap” between yourself and your FCK family?


  5. sherylo

    This was a thought provoking post. I agree with so much of what you said, but not all of it. I really think you rob your FCK friends of a good good-bye (as much as that is possible) when you leave as you did in San Antonio.

    While some good-byes are really see-you-somewhere-down-the-roads, not all are. It may be easier on you (and perhaps on them) in the short-term to minimalize the “formal” good-bye, but I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy. I think it just delays some grief.

    1. Michael Pollock (@at_mvp)

      Here’s one TCK who at 48 is glad to have learned perhaps a little of the art of putting the ‘good’ back into ‘goodbye’. I found myself nodding as I read down through your post however I’m going to go with Sherylo and say I think that sneaking into non-goodbyes is just pulling the wool over our own eyes and yelling, “you can’t seem me”. Much that I read in research seems to bear this out. (Lately I’ve really appreciated Doug Ota’s ‘Safe Passage’ as turning on the light to the brain research behind loss, grief, attachment and the importance of our stories). One more quick analogy, what would I feel if a friend gave me a book of 11 enchanting chapters and I found on completing chapter 10 that she had torn out the final chapter. Just a thought. Affirmation and closure can be under-rated in the ATCK community because we all want to avoid pain. But walking into the pain of goodbyes can also bring deep healing and prepare us well for the next adventure- TCK or not. MHO

  6. Pingback: Saying Goodbye – Again

  7. Miki

    Good article. It doesn’t make it any easier for TCKs to say good bye though. Kind of like flying. It doesn’t matter how many times I have done it, I still get nervous during the take off. Similarly, while I realise that there are many great things about being a TCK, I still yearn for that feeling of belonging in a single tight-knitted community. Somewhere you can go back when you are an adult and catch up with your childhood friends and where a lady at the grocery store who know your parents still recognizes you after all the years.

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author


      I’m sorry you feel this way. Being a TCK can certainly be challenging, but your cultural understanding and unique perspective on global affairs are unmatched by anyone else, all thanks to the inconsistency of your developmental years. Yearning for what you don’t have is a very natural human response, but it won’t change the fact that your youth built a person that is entirely different to your desire. Having someone at a local store that recognizes you after all those years is wonderful, but so is knowing that you can fit into almost any community where those who have been isolated could not. There’s incredible beauty in the TCK life. It’s just a very different kind of beauty, one in which you don’t have a home because the entire world is your home.


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