Tag Archives: Death

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

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Advertisements

Where is my Second Passport?

Having recently naturalized to acquire my dual citizenship, incorporating a United States passport into my United Kingdom and EU travel opportunities, then moving to a new city in a new state to start a new job and find a new apartment while getting a new driver’s license and learn my way around my new place of residence, there are certain things that get lost in the transition. I naturalized in Houston, got my certificate, even took my passport photographs and filled out my passport application. However, with the move very shortly positioned thereafter, I never got around to stopping by the post office and getting it signed and sealed to be sent off to the American Passport Office for completion. It just sort of fell behind the curtain. After all, I still had my UK passport, so I was still a person, and I knew I was getting my US one, there were just other more important things happening at the time, and my travel plans weren’t set until the middle of 2012. I had time.

Time is an interesting thing. There’s tons of it everywhere, and you feel like there will always be a little more, and there’s always that one thing you wanted to do today but didn’t have time, so you just push it back until tomorrow. The days blur into weeks, and weeks into months. Even as a Third Culture Kid, one that travels the world and gets itchy feet if he stays in one place, I foolishly believed time was on my side when acquiring the single most important document of my entire life, my Passport, my key-card to the world.

Take, for example, the 18 year old boy that was driving his car home two nights ago. He was with his mates, enjoying life, approaching the same crossroad he always approached every day that was just minutes from his house. He crossed the intersection at a green light, a system we trust and expect to protect us. But as he did, a van ran the redlight, slamming into his vehicle and knocking him unconscious as the side of his car caved in upon him. Not long after arriving at the hospital, still unconscious, the driver’s heart stopped beating. It was a normal day for him, and if you can find any comfort in a story like this one, he passed with it being still just another normal day, completely unaware that anything had even happened, hopefully without any pain at all.

But for that boy’s family, normality shattered. That day was the most abnormal and horrible day imaginable. It produced a sense of numbness, shock, depression, and catastrophe that cannot be described, only experienced. It changed everything forever, a moment that the family will never forget, a life snuffed out of existence too soon and taken away from so many that loved him so dearly.

That boy was my cousin.

I have written an article about the cost of a TCK life and how TCKs deal with family loss, or near loss. But words don’t explain a thing, and no TCK handles loss the same way. All I know about how we handle loss is that we have a natural ability to do it. We don’t do it better than others, we just do it differently. We live in a perpetual state of being torn between getting attached and being ready to let go. Letting go is inevitable in our lives, it is something we have decided to make part of who are because our upbringing has made us into travelers. But every time we let go, we always know in the back of our minds, “I’ll see them again, one day.”

The last time I saw my cousin was in August of 2011. It had been over a year at that point since I’d seen him. He was becoming a mechanic and electrician so he was always busy with school and work. I remember I caught him changing the tires on his car. We chatted in the driveway as he went from tire to tire, talking about nothing. Then he rolled me a cigarette, something he called a “rollie.” I’m a seasoned smoker, but the concept of rolling my own cigarettes was a foreign one. He stepped into the garage and used a table covered in tools to roll me one. He handed it over and it was covered in grease and oil from his fingers. I lit it up and started smoking, the grease sitting on my lips and tickling my taste buds. It was salty. He asked how it was, and I told him it tasted better than a regular cigarette, which was true if it weren’t for the grease. He laughed, a smile that revealed a broken front tooth he had gotten repaired once but kept breaking, so he decided to call it quits and leave it snapped. He told me he didn’t like his job much, and that school was hard and he wasn’t having a lot of fun, but he loved his car, and his work paid for his car, and that made it all worth it. He finished putting the tires on his car, then he said goodbye and he left.

I thought about telling him I loved him. I thought about telling him I was proud of him for everything he had achieved, that our grandmother would have been so happy he had found something he was good at and a passion he could pursue. I thought about telling him that I was sorry for never being around, and that I wished I could come back and spend some time with him, maybe stay with him on my next trip. But I’m an introverted TCK. So instead, I said nothing, thinking “meh, I’ll tell him next time.”

Yesterday, I spent the entire day getting my passport in order. Fortunately, I have a friend that owns a premium travel agency for high profile travel. He used his contacts to expedite my passport processing, getting it back in my hands Wednesday of next week. But for now, I am sitting here feeling trapped and lost. Everyone is in England, dealing with the loss together, but my brother and I, the TCKs of the family, are over 4000 miles away trying to figure out how to get back.

And when we do, the question of dealing with loss will come into play once again. On the inside I am a mess, a storm of depression, sadness and spiraling thoughts, but on the outside I will be as I always am when it comes to goodbyes. I will be a rock, locked up and shut down, an emotional wall that cannot be broken while the sadness raves inside of me until I am alone and cannot contain it a moment longer. I see no benefit in being strong for others, but it is simply the way I work. I was trained to behave this way in the event of loss, and even when that loss is my little baby cousin who I loved to an unimaginable level, I am still just a TCK with a mess of issues.

———————————–

In loving memory of my cousin, Jack. I wish I hadn’t waited for next time to tell you how proud of you I am, and what an amazing impact you have been on the lives of our entire family.

Update: The boy in the car sitting behind my cousin, who will remain unnamed out of respect to his family, was taken off life support two days ago. He passed away yesterday evening. I extend my dedication to him as well, and even though I did not know him, he was one of my cousin’s closest friends and a friend to many that have made me into the man I am today, and that’s more than enough to know that this world would be a better place with him still in it.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Hidden Value

Three days ago, I got a taste of something I haven’t ever had before in my life. I got a taste of what it’s like to fear for the life of someone you care about. I’ve lost people before, people in school, my grandmother, extended family, pets, but like all things in this world, they each hold a different weight on your mind. As a Third Culture Kid, loss is just part of life. You just sort of get used to it, and you get used to it at a very young age. If you don’t, it consumes you, because the life of a TCK is built upon the foundation of loss. Without it, we would never know how to let go, how to cease the moment of a new community, of a new culture, of a new group of strangers that are all waiting to call themselves friends. We would cling to the past, and miss the present, all because we had never bothered to find the key that opened the door to change.

I’ve found in my life that the abilities I gained in coping with loss as I grew up came hand-in-hand with knowing how to cope with death. Sometimes, people are there, and then one day, they aren’t. It doesn’t always work with losing people that are alive, and it doesn’t always work with losing people in death, either. But for the most part, the system doesn’t fail. You let go, not because you want to forget, but because you know that in holding onto something that is no longer there makes you miss living in the moment. The memories remain, the influence that person had on your life still making you who you are, but you acknowledge that there will be no more chapters in that specific book. Instead, you close it up, and start writing another.

By now, you have an understanding of my family dynamic. They are important because they are family, I was taught that by my First Culture Kid parents and extended family. Family is important. I don’t fully understand the reasoning, and I probably never will, but I know that in order to make my family happy, I must pretend to see that value and connection. And if it makes them happy, then to me it’s worth it, because though I sometimes do things that are spiteful or cruel, I am truly a good hearted person who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone, unless they cause pain to the people I love. We all have our weaknesses, and attacking those that I love is simply one of mine. Beyond that, I generally don’t care to cause people harm.

Regarding family, though, my parents are by far the most interesting. They shaped me the most of all my other family members, I suppose. I mean, they did raise me after all, or at least raised me when I was at home. They taught me life lessons as best they could, and I learned the rest from the people I met around the world. But for the most part, my parents did a good job with me. They are good people, or try to be, but like me they have their flaws. My father was usually grumpy as we grew up, and we were never really that close. My mother was always there, but as I’ve grown and evolved and sunk deeper into my TCK upbringing, I have started to notice that there are many things about this world and the cultures within it she simply doesn’t understand. Her view of the big picture only extends as far as most FCKs views extend. It’s not her fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of by any means, it’s just a difference in our lives that makes it very hard for me to relate to her these days. We fight more than we should, but that’s because deep down, we are both fundamentally different thinkers. I believe that’s a good thing, though. We learn the most from those that are different to us. Mostly, we learn why we don’t believe what they believe, and why those beliefs are important to us. Without her knowing it, my mother’s drastically different views on the world have done nothing but strengthen mine by showing me more and more why I don’t believe what she believes.

I digress, however, because the point in today’s post is this: Though my parents have never been what I would call the closest people in my life, they certainly hold a lot more value in my heart than I ever knew. My dad, who I’ve always told people I love and respect, just don’t really know, is shockingly closer to my heart that I ever realized. I know this because three days ago, he came down with a sore throat. That sore throat turned into an infection, a bad one, in a matter of hours. He was feeling bad by 08:00, and by 13:00, his vocal chords had swollen to a point he couldn’t swallow, couldn’t take, and could hardly breathe.

My mother was out of town with my grandfather who is visiting from England, both of them in Lubbock visiting my younger brother, so I took my dad to the doctor, who told me to take him to the Emergency Room at the hospital. As soon as we walked in, he was admitted, plugged into an IV, fed fluids, put on a monitor, given steroids, antibiotics, and oxygen. They kept telling us it would be okay, but that ability to read people better than they know that most TCKs have kept tingling in the back of my mind. Something in their voices, their expressions, it just didn’t feel right.

At 21:00, Dad was still in the ER. I stepped out of his room and hovered nearby, listening to the nurses at the nursing station. I heard them saying that everyone was fine on the floor, except for the patient in room 22 who’s blood pressure and heart rate were high enough that he was risking cardiac arrest. They said he needed to remain calm under all circumstances or he could suffocate, or worse, slip into cardiac arrest. My father was the patient in room 22.

For the first time, I had to make a decision based on what I’d learned that could greatly shape the lives of many different people. I could call my mother and tell her it was much more serious than they thought, and she could be on the first flight back to Houston the next day, or I could bite my tongue and ride it out. I realized that these events would take place within the next 12-18 hours, so even if my mother knew, she would not return in time. Telling her would only panic her, and possibly cause her to speak to Dad and panic him too, which was the one thing the nurses said couldn’t happen. His heart rate couldn’t go up.

So I chose to say nothing.

My dad was moved to the Intensive Care Unit for two days. For the entire first night, he was high risk. His heart rate began to drop when they put some more medicine into his IV, but they were still worried his throat might close. I stayed with him a long time that night, and we didn’t talk, because he couldn’t. I simply handed him a bucket he was spitting into between reading my book while he slipped in and out of delirious consciousness. But in that silence, I got to understand his importance. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if people annoy you, or if you don’t understand the importance of family. Sometimes, there are just some people in this world that the tricks a TCK has learned in accepting loss just don’t work on.

My dad is one of those people, and now that he’s stable and grumpy again, I’m hoping I can go to sleep for the first time in over 48 hours.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Price We Pay

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is a simple law of existence, a governing rule of the universe. You cannot have a push without a pull, a cause without an effect, an action without a reaction. Everything is perfectly balanced. For everything we gain, we lose something of equal value in return. It’s simply the price of life. The thing that you lose may not be something you even notice. It might not even be something you cared about. But it is weighted evenly with your gain, and so the trade is made all the same.

For Third Culture Kids, that give and take is one of the largest forces that have shaped us into the multi-cultural creatures we are. In growing up around the world, we have gained culture. We have gained world experience. We have gained knowledge and pride and level of understanding in people that’s almost completely unmatched by any other type of person on the planet. We have gained an insight into the “big picture,” along with ways to explain it and justify all that we know. We have gained the ability to up and move to a country that would terrify others. We have gained the ability to let go, to move on, and to experience the world through a lens shared only by other TCKs.

We have been given the entire world.

And that is the cause leading to our effect. We have been given so much, and so we must give up just as much as well. And in a world where family has always been the most important thing in existence, since the dawn of humanity, we have given up that very thing that keeps us connected to everyone else. We have lost our family. We have lost our home. We have lost what makes us relatable to everyone else on Earth. We have lost our sense of community.

It has been two years today since my grandmother passed away. She had cancer of the everything. It took her by surprise. We didn’t know until it was too late, and when we knew she was gone 5 days later. It all happened on this day, 730 days in the past. I got in a plane two days after it happened. I flew back to England with my cousins who were staying with my family in America. They were younger, all three of them below the age of 18. So I took them home, and waited with my grandfather until my parents arrived.

They asked me to do the Eulogy.  Well, they didn’t ask, they just sort of assumed I was going to do it. It makes sense, I suppose, with me being the writer and the oldest grandchild. But like I’ve said before in The Illusive Home and in this very post, nobody understands a Third Culture Kid other than another TCK. The only other TCK in my life at that time was my brother, and he was not in attendance at the funeral. He had just changed schools and couldn’t miss his first day, and so I stood alone in the crematorium at a pedestal in front of over 250 people and talked about my role model, Anne Mitchener.

And here’s the kicker. Here’s what no one else seems to understand, and yet what every TCK that is reading this blog already sees and understands completely. I was talking about a woman who I idealized, but hardly knew. My cousins who sat in the audience, my mother and father, my grandfather, my aunt and uncle, even my ex-girlfriend (who I had not started dating at the time) were closer to my grandmother than I had ever been. They knew her in a way I never could. They knew her as a caregiver, as an integral part of their lives that was always there. They knew her as a home they could drive to and visit, as a person that never missed a birthday and gave them pocket money every week. They knew her as someone that “just stopped by” their home. They knew her as Granny.

And there is the greatest trade and largest sacrifice of my life. The woman I loved and respected I knew no better than someone who I hoped to see once a year for a couple of weeks at most. Sometimes, I didn’t even get that. In fact, at the time of her passing, it had been two years since I’d seen her, three since my brother had seen her. And because I was in university and didn’t have a phone capable of making long distance calls, I would Skype-call their home once every few months at most.

That’s the price we pay. It’s here that all the benefits of being a TCK come crashing down. I’m telling you this because, even though I love my life and am so proud of the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have, I sit and wonder every single day of my life: “What would my life be if I’d never left the United Kingdom?”

The thing is, I’ll never know.

———————-

Dedicated to the memory of Anne Mitchener, my Granny, the most amazing woman I never really got to know, and with whom I wish, every single day, that I had gotten to have just one more conversation.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener