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On Grieving and Military Kids

This article was sent to us by Kaitlyn H., a 10th grader stationed in Virginia. Do you have a story to share with your fellow military teens? Visit our writing page to find out how you can submit to Bloom!

Growing up a military kid, you’re constantly told that you’re strong and resilient. You’re told that you handle change better than anyone else because you face it on a daily basis. This change is routine to you - every two years, you pack up and leave. Saying goodbye is hard, but reminiscing after the fact is always harder; regretting and missing them is always harder. However, it’s expected, and you know you’ll deal with it. Were you given a choice not to deal with it? You know change is necessary, and you know how to saddle up, prepare yourself, and hold on for the ride.

However, what happens when a change that’s not routine comes? What happens if you lose someone you weren’t expecting to lose? What happens to the “strong, resilient kid” that everyone expects of you? Change happens, right? Yet, this is new. How do I deal with it?

It feels like another move. You’ve just been on the receiving end of a sit-down talk, and the words “he’s gone” were told gently to you as if you’d run away. You don’t process it - in fact, you can’t because that’s how our brains work. The loss is compartmentalized because that’s what you’re used to doing. How do you separate those you’ve lost due to leaving and those you’ve lost due to death?

They’re the same thing at the base level. You say goodbye, then you never see them again, you never talk to them again. You pick yourself up, and you deal with it. You push it away until a rainy day, when you have nothing to do other than pick apart your brain and reflect on cozy BX runs and sleepovers with people you’ll never see again in your life.

You push the loss deep down until your life is basically split into three. One - the life you lead on a daily basis: talking, drinking, eating, laughing. Two - the dusty, dark corners of your memory palace that hold all the pain, pain from leaving people and starting all over again. Three - the deeply fragmented roots of yours, roots you hold together with quivering hands, trying to uproot and replant over and over until your roots don’t fit anywhere anymore. Eventually, you realize that you left a part of yourself back in England, Germany, or Korea.

Grief usually fits neatly into the second compartment. There, goodbyes with teary eyes become, goodbye, let’s stay in touch! And the painful numbness of knowing you won’t drown out everything around you for days, months, or even years afterward. Then it hits you - the jarring realization that their faces are starting to blur in your mind, and you can’t remember the sound of their voice, and it just-

Becomes too much.

This peculiar experience raised the question: how do I disentangle my grief for the dead from my grief for those I’ve lost? I’ve thought about this for a long time. Why do I feel the same way about both? But then it hit me.

I process these things the same way because, in my mind, they feel the same. Logically, I know the girl who tied ribbons in my hair in first grade is somewhere safe and probably leading a good life, while the smart boy from middle school is likely attending an Ivy League and changing the world. Yet, to me, they’re frozen in time, tucked away so I can relive moments I’ve lost. And these are moments I can’t make any more of because, to me, they’re gone. To me, their lives began the first time I met them at the youth center, and they ended with goodbye gifts at the base airport tarmac. In my head, I still grieve for them.

I grieve for my grandfather, too, who recently passed away. He was a man who I’ve known for my entire life, and yet his death felt like all my other goodbyes because I grieve for them too. I grieve for the girl I met in Alconbury, England, who lost her life over there. I grieve for the lady at the Commissary checkout who was friends with my mom (because everyone was friends with my mom). All these people - I’ve learned that I grieve the same way for death as I do for moving. The grief hits me in waves as I sit, typing on my laptop at three in the morning, thinking about those stuck in time.

Change comes. It’s expected. And change comes that’s unexpected, where you end up wondering how to deal with it. I don’t have an answer to that. Unhelpful and shocking - I know. But as the self-help books say, everyone processes grief in different ways. Whatever the reason you’re grieving, just know you’ve experienced this a thousand times before, and you’ve come out okay. Maybe some of your roots are still entangled with those that you’ve lost but understand that you will be alright one day.

And while you process all the dark, dusty corners of your memory palace, understand that you are, as people say, strong and resilient. The tidal waves will consume you, and you will be hit by every possible emotion under the sun - every memory, every touch, every smile. Yet, one day, the water will stop thrashing, and you will wash up to shore. Grief never leaves you; in fact, it shapes you. Whether it’s the grief you experienced as a military kid or the grief life has dealt you, know that you’re not alone.


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