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The Grief of Leaving

“I CANNOT believe you are leaving that place!” one friend wrote on my Facebook page.  “Why in the heck would you want to sell this jewel?” another one asked.

Other legitimate questions have come from friends and acquaintances since Mary and I put our lake home on the market a few months ago.  This is not a “second home,” but rather our only home where I have lived since 2002, and where my new family has lived with me since 2005.  I designed and built this house with the encouragement of friends, a bank, and a builder.

Now there is nothing unusual about people selling their house. And to be honest, most people really don’t care what we do since it is our personal decision.  On the other hand, just because our house is on the market, it doesn’t mean we are moving into the city of Birmingham anytime soon.  Most people say it couldn’t be a worse time to sell a house.

And even if we do get an offer, we may discover that emotionally it is too difficult to sell and we decide to stay.  We are open, and we shall see.  We are living into the mystery and cannot know until we know.

The deeper question I want to explore with you, my readers, is why would any of us want to let go of a dream that has been realized?  What process do we go through to leave something we love for something that we do not yet know?

For me personally, this is a process of grief. It is also a process of realizing new possibilities.  But first, I have to experience the grief.

When I was a kid, I went to the lake with Steve Hope and his family.  Steve was one of my boyhood friends who lived two doors down from us in Montgomery and his family had a cabin and boat on the lake.  They would invite me to go with them and I loved water skiing, swimming, and riding in the boat.  Water has always been life-giving for me.  I loved hearing the night sounds of the lake and seeing the stars that I could not see as clearly in the city.

When I lived in Connecticut and had a day off from my church duties, I discovered a state park that had a lake where I could go and swim and relax in the sun.  I loved skinny dipping when no one was around, and I still do.

After I moved back to Alabama and my divorce was final in 2006, Libby Potts gave me the keys to her family’s lake house for a couple of days.  I sat in silence, staring at the water for hours, and felt the cool, healing water against my skin.  I dreamed of the day when I could have a place on the lake.  This dream seemed impossible on the salary of a chaplain who was struggling to pay off debt and start over at forty years old.

But six years later, building a house on the lake became a reality.  And now, I have lived here for eight years.

I love living on the water in the country.  I love the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  I love the wildlife of blue herons, loons, wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, and rabbits.  I love swimming and skiing and boating though I have done it less and less, year by year.

Why would any of us choose to go through the grief of leaving a place we love? Well, our lives change.

There is a yearning for simplifying my life.  I want to own less stuff, instead of my stuff owning me.  I want to cut my mortgage in half this year and eliminate it totally in less than ten years.  I want to own only one car.  The list is growing.  I will share more later.

What have you left that you loved? Why did you do so?  What have you discovered?  Do you have any regrets?

Thank you for walking this part of the journey with me.

3 Responses to “The Grief of Leaving”

  1. Malcolm,

    Sometimes we grieve when we must leave a job we love (our current economy makes this loss an even greater likelihood). Back in 1996 I had a midlife career change when I went into the nursing field. I was beginning a new phase which held many possibilities and I it has been a very good move for me. At the time, however, I was leaving a job I loved but held little career opportunity for one that was exciting and held the promise of a continued and developing career.

    I had worked with adults with developmental disabilities for 12 years at St. Andrew’s Foundation where I was program Director. I started that career as a live-in counselor at one of the group homes. Sharing a home and a life with adults with mental retardation caused me to re-evaluate my worldview and to reassess my ideas about what things are important in living a meaningful life. I came to see the importance of ordinary things: a simple meal shared, a conversation about little things, an outing in the park. My time at St. Andrew’s Foundation had been a time of re-tooling and reassessing. Prior to that, I had completed seminary and spent two years as an educational missionary overseas before concluding that I did not have a vocation for professional ministry (that was another grief process in itself). At St. Andrew’s, I went from a conservative Baptist framework to a progressive liturgical setting. I was doing ministry, but it was more in the area of social work, the people with disabilities with whom I lived and worked kept me focused on real life. In addition, I loved the new language of worship that I was learning in the Anglo-Catholic setting at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

    I felt that I had landed right where I needed to be – and it was where I needed to be for that time. Then as I started a family and realized I needed to equip myself for new possibilities, I decided to go for a nursing degree. That way I could assure myself of a career while being able to stay here in Birmingham or move if I wanted to. It was all for the best. I’ve been able to provide for my family and to stay involved in Birmingham. That job I had that was the best in the world no longer exists – St. Andrew’s Foundation group homes were taken over by The ARC (who have been doing great work with people with developmental disabilities for years).

    All of that being said, my first year away from St. Andrew’s Foundation was difficult. Even though it was the best move for me, I grieved leaving behind what I had loved.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Wow, Charlie, you have shared multiple stories of leaving that opened new opportunities for you. It’s so encouraging on this end to read about it after the fact and hear how it is worked out.

    Maybe this is where faith comes in? We make what we believe are the best moves for us at the time and trust that all will be well!

    Peace to you my brother,
    Malcolm

  3. Harry Durham says:

    Grief of Leaving really brought back unhappy memories for me. When our children were in the early grades Harry got an opportunity to advance his career by moving to another state. Even though I supported the move, my heart was broken. We lived in a small, loving community, with good friends and a wonderful church. I did not want to go and it only got worse. The community we moved into in a larger city was cold and uncaring, as was the church. The people were snobbish and unfriendly, and nothing changed during the three years we were there. The children were unhappy in school and I was so miserable I became physically and emotionally sick. One day Harry came in from work and asked if we would like to move back to the place were we had all been so happy. Our lives changed for the better from that moment.

    That move was still a good career move for Harry but was a very unpleasant experience for the rest of the family.

    Ina

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