Loss and Grief for MK’s


The hardest part of being a missionary kid for me was saying good-bye to people that I loved. When my best friend left to the United States after having known her my whole life, I felt disoriented and lost. She knew me. I didn’t have to explain myself. She believed the best in me. I assumed that she would always be there, but her family moved back to the U.S., and I was left in Guatemala without her.

I slumped into a depression that I was unable to recover from for years. I suddenly had no sense of belonging. Of course I never belonged in Guatemala. But I belonged with my best friend.

I made other friends, and I was forced to say good-bye to them and never to see them again. It’s like going to a funeral every few years. Either MK’s learn to harden up and not let people close, or they continue to let people in and feel the stinging pain of loss every time we say good-bye.

Here is a video where many MK’s share a similar story to mine, where their loss is captured in words:

Here are some of their comments:

  • Because I’m an MK, I will always have somewhere or somebody to miss.
  • I think losses have just become something very normal and expected in life.
  • The weird thing about saying good-bye so often is that, at least for me, you don’t actually get used to it. You can either get used to it and become hardened against it and not want to attach to anyone, or you can remain loving just as hard, and it’s still hurting as much every single time.
  • Because I’ve said good-bye so many times, I expect to say good-bye to people when I meet them.
  • Because I’ve said so many good-byes, it’s a little bit harder for me at first to open up.
  • You always have a sense of longing for what could have been, but of course, there is nothing you can do about it, so you just live with the reality that you’ve lost it. It’s gone. It’s never coming back.
  • I used to not want to meet new people because I was going to say good-bye to them.
  • I often distance myself from people because I realize that I might leave them at some point.
  • So I go into a relationship, thinking that I’m going to lose it. But I do get close to them. It’s not that I draw back. It’s just know that I’m going to lose it.
  • Having to say good-bye all the time doesn’t mean it gets easier.
  • Even though I get attached to people, I still feel that I hold them at arm’s length. I don’t expect them to really care enough to stick around.
  • My mind set now is to enjoy every moment of life.

How can missionaries help their children to overcome this loss and grief for Mk’s that is a normal part of their lives? They can help their kids prepare for good-byes and understand the process of grief. They can encourage their kids to continue to value relationships while knowing that some of them will not last. They can encourage their kids to love others regardless of the pain of an eventual separation.

And the truth is that if those relationships are real, they can last a lifetime. My best friend is still my best friend, even though we live thousands of miles away from each other. We call each other once a week and talk for over an hour. We visit each other every few years. And she still knows and loves me more than anyone, except for maybe my husband!

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10 Responses to “Loss and Grief for MK’s”

  1. I understand this so well. And I have learnt to keep the people a bit at lenght too. And to always think that people are here just for a while, not to stay. Even to become a bit unconfortable if the goodbye doesn’t come “soon enough”. And to move around and build my life again about every four years.

    • Susan says:

      I know what you mean. I expect to say good-bye to people now. But I don’t hold them at arm’s length. Most MK’s go to one extreme or the other, to love hard and weep when saying good-bye, or to hold at arm’s length and not feel the pain. I’d rather love, even if it hurts.

  2. TJ Finlay says:

    As an MK and TCK myself, I can very much identify with this. But there’s another side that needs to be emphasized. We experience loss more often and sooner than most people..but there are all kinds of suffering and loss people endure. The the answer is the same..Phil 3: 20-21 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Separation is an inevitable consequence of sin and death in the world. We will all face it. But for those of us who know Jesus, we have the eternity of heaven to look forward to. MK’s who take this lesson to heart learn the longing for heaven sooner than most. At whatever age we experience loss, we need to focus on eternity where there will be no more crying or shedding of tears and we will forever be with the Lord and His people.

    In the meantime, never miss an opportunity to tell those you love how much they mean to you. This life is fleeting.

    • Susan says:

      What a beautiful, godly response! You are right. MK’s often have to grow up faster because of experiencing pain sooner, but this only causes maturity, which is good.

  3. rachel says:

    While I grieved the best I could for the innumerable goodbyes I’ve made, for me the greater loss that has stayed with me was the loss of culture. Even now many years later I often struggle with a sense of belonging. People often relate through shared life and shared cultural experiences and not having either of those making friends can be so hard. As an Mk, knowing that and watching that happen was extremely frustrating.

    • Susan says:

      I feel a loss of culture, too, and a loss of belonging. Now that I’ve been living in one place for 14 years, I can make friends without feeling like I’m going to be hurt, even though I still get hurt sometimes with friends moving away. Americans are quite mobile nowadays and move from one city to another for job-related issues all the time.

  4. Terry Johnson says:

    As a third generation missionary and second generation MK, my life has been one of goodbyes. I’m always having to tell someone goodbye. Though it’s sad, I have become used to it and rely on God’s help to handle it, which He has always done.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I grew up in the MK environment, but was actually a Townie, and my experience was “let’s see who stayed for this year”. We didn’t have the luxury of communication back then like we do now, and it was always a surprise who’d be the classmates of the year. It was bittersweet, and yes, you learn not to get attached and hold out or be over expressive because even though you are a child, you realize you don’t have all the time in the world. Which I think is a blessing too. I think I am the over expressive, fast friendship type and some people get a little overwhelmed by me. LOL. Oh well… Love ya Susan!! Thanks for the articles. They hit home.

    • Susan says:

      “I think I am the over expressive, fast friendship type and some people get a little overwhelmed by me.” Haha! Me, too! I actually love that about you!

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