As New Year came around, I watched discussions of New Year’s resolutions on Facebook. I don’t normally make resolutions, but I have in the past made yearly goals. However, my mind was a blank for 2019 apart from ‘just get through it.’
Grief makes your brain a fog. You can’t think like you used to. You reach for thoughts or ways of thinking and they’re just not there. You feel lost in your own head, and not like yourself. I was so encouraged to be excited about and able to articulate these recent posts, as a sign that maybe my brain will not be so dim forever. Nevertheless, there’s a vast difference between momentarily having the clarity to write down some Tanzanian theology, and having the emotional space to make goals, especially ones that are so far beyond the immediacy of today or this week.
But there’s another reason too. 2019 will be broken into two halves for us, and it’s the second half that dominates my thoughts. We’ll be on home assignment for 6 months starting from July. Home assignment is so far from our normal life that it feels hard to make any goal other than just ‘get through it and get back to Tanzania’.
Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful things about home assignment. Holidays, spiritual refreshment retreats, dates. Seeing grandparents! Non-polluted beaches. Friends from our own culture, with whom we have history. We hope to give Elliot experiences of theatre and drama as this is his happy place and his opportunities are very limited in Dar. Foods we love and normally have no access to (the list is long!). Being involved in causes and communities we love but which we can’t really share in from Dar. And of course, seeing our partners and talking about Tanzania. We love doing that.
But all these good things are abnormal for us. And different good is still different, which means it’s hard, even though it’s good.
And the logistics are stressful.
Even before we get to the plane travel, I have to work out what we will do with our place here in Tanzania. We can’t just lock it up for 6 months. Even if that was OK for security, I don’t fancy returning to a house interior covered in mould. Having someone live in it (and clean it) would be ideal. But who? That’ll be my job to try to coordinate in the first six months of the year.
Then when we get to Australia, the level of change sends our kids out of their minds. New climate (we’ll arrive in the middle of the Australian winter), new house, new school, moving around to different churches. If we get into a routine, it’s a routine frequently disrupted by camps, or trips interstate, or one parent being on one of those things. That’s without all the cultural differences.
It takes them about 2 months just to reach some kind of equilibrium. We can do all the mindfulness and exercising and processing we want with them, but in the end, we just have to bear with them while their little nervous systems sort themselves out. It’ll take about a third of our time in Australia. And that’s just the arriving.
How will we manage to speak at conferences if our three-year-old refuses to be separated from us? Let alone go on the dates we’re so looking forward to? How do we explain to those looking after our seven-year-old that although he has awesome road sense, he gets confused by what pedestrian traffic lights mean? When he doesn’t join in with others, do we bother explaining that it might be because the thing that’s happening is foreign to him, or it might be that because he’s never been expected to ‘fit in’ in Tanzania, he is yet to develop the skills of fitting in anywhere?
Of course, we are not alone in all this. The offers of help are many. There are grandparents willing to babysit. There’s also the CMS SA branch with its emphasis on pastoral care. But at the end of the day, they’re our children: we know them best, we are responsible for them, and we’re the ones they want. So at some point I am going to have to claw my way out of the fog to come up with some strategies for them.
I’ll have to sort out some self-care strategies for myself too, not just as a parent trying to work full-time while kids are in crisis, but also as a grieving twin. What will I do on church visits when people want to talk to me about Red Twin? Though it will be more than a year after her death, it will still be our first time seeing people since her funeral. We’ve just been at a conference in Nairobi. Four conversations in a row people gave me their sympathies. On the fifth, completely unrelated one, I burst into tears. But I don’t want to tell people not to say anything. I’m not interested in erasing her from my life. However, I expect the normal home assignment emotional rollercoaster of visiting churches and speaking to 100s of people to be exacerbated by my current vulnerabilities.
By March 2020, we’ll be back in Tanzania, having completed the 2 month adjustment period, and anticipating some more settled years in Dar Es Salaam. It will be the end of the 3 year period that saw Red Twin get sick and die, Arthur’s role change at TAFES, our family go back and forth from Australia, and also move to a whole new house, school and community in Dar — plus home assignment. So, pretty much our entire second term in Tanzania.
At some point, perhaps we will look back and see the things that God was making new in this season. But for now, I am thinking, just get through it. Just get to March 2020 with everyone in our family in one piece.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.