Relocating and Loss
November 10th, 2010

GAP and I had a little disagreement the other day.  It was a very little disagreement, but it piqued my curiosity about other perspectives and so I thought I’d take your temperature on the topic.

We were talking about moving.  Moving as in “from one-house/city to another.”  Not moving as in “put your left hand in, put your left hand out, put your left hand in and shake it all about.”  (If we’d been speaking Spanish it would have been mudarse versus moverse.  But I digress.)  My sister just moved into a new house, which sent us down this little philosophical path.

I said that I think moving is fundamentally sad.  Not exclusively sad, but fundamentally sad.  GAP disagreed.  I opined that even if you are moving for good reasons – a new baby is on the way, you got a big promotion and are being transferred, you are living in an oppressed country and finally have your ticket out – there is still implicit sadness in moving.  My basis for this is that any time we move we experience some element of loss.  We are leaving a part of our lives behind.  And walking away from some fleeting aspect of our lives or some version of ourselves is always sad. 

This isn’t to say that moving isn’t also frequently overwhelmingly joyful.  My point is not that the sadness is predominant, but that it is omnipresent.  Perhaps it is just a drop in a bigger wave of other emotions, but it is always there in some quantity.

Every time I have moved I have felt sadness.  Every time I have moved there has been a happy occasion prompting it.  (I’m very fortunate.)  And yet a certain pang has always grazed my insides as I reconciled myself to the fact that something that was true about my life no longer is.  

Is it possible to transition from one phase of life to the next with no feeling of loss?  Is it possible to leave something behind – even something imperfect or painful – without any sadness?  Is moving always implicitly sad?  Even if imperceptibly so?  And if it is imperceptibly sad does the sadness still exist?

I say yes.  But perhaps you disagree?  Enlighten me.

11 Responses to “Relocating and Loss”

  1. EverySixMinutes Says:

    Interesting thought!

    I have done my share of moving in my adult life, averaging one move every 2 years. Many of the moves have been international, from Hong Kong to San Francisco to New York to London and back to New York. And for every move, there has always been a twinge of unpleasantness at the end (even when I was moving from a place I couldn’t wait to leave). I am not sure if I would call that twinge of unpleasantness sadness. Maybe it is and I am being too semantic. It is a hard one to describe.

    So, as I am trying to isolate that feeling and explain it, the best I can say is that, for me, it is more the sentimentality of staring at a empty space, a mixture of the inevitable let down after accomplishing something (i.e., stressful packing) and the melancholy of the knowledge that certain possibilities have been foreclosed. With respect to the latter, it is not so much that we are leaving a part of our lives behind, but more the loss of the potential of things we could have done but didn’t do.

  2. Lindsey Says:

    I agree with you. No matter what delightful reason takes us to a new place – and there are many – there is always the saying goodbye to a place (house, city, or both) that holds memories and there is always a pang of sadness in that. At least for me!

  3. Says:

    I agree as well, obviously, since I wrote about it. My excitment at moving has overpowered the sadness, but I think when you “nest” and connect with a certain place, you’ve formed a relationship that’s always bittersweet to leave behind. Maybe it depends on how much you emotionally connect with “place”.

  4. e Says:

    I absolutely agree with you….as a woman of many moves (quite often to better options), the feelings of leaving part of your life behind are very real. I do think that when the move involves children it may be harder from the actual physical home front – coming home from the hospital, first steps, etc. My heart pangs were always more for the people we left behind, but closing that door behind you and turning the key was never easy. At the same time I believe there may be something healthy about not getting too tied to the material things in life – even if it is your home. Memories carry with them the location in which they occurred, and it is nice to think back and remember all those places we’ve called “home”.

  5. Gale Says:

    EverySixMinutes – Welcome to TDT, and thanks for this thoughtful response. I’d not thought about the door closing on opportunities as a source of the “twinge” at leaving someplace. But it is also very present. When a phase of life ends the possibilities that existed within it also die, which is its own variety of loss. Interesting perspective.

    E – Thanks for the reminder that as chapters of our lives close (whether due to a move or other changes) they still live on in our memories. That does help cushion the blow of change when it comes. As always, I appreciate your wisdom and vantage point.

  6. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I’m with you and my fellow commenters, Gale. As the veteran of many moves in my adult life, I have always felt some pang of loss commingling with excitement. And on those few occasions when I’ve felt nearly uninterrupted excitement around the time of a move, I’ve often been hit by waves of nostalgia for my old home weeks later and then regretted not having taken a moment to mourn the loss that comes with every change.

  7. John E. Says:

    Sweetie, you never lived in three rooms on the second floor of 3951 Camp in New Orleans in 1944, We were not sad when we got to move to Wirth Place. Love — Granddaddy

  8. Eva @ EvaEvolving Says:

    I agree with you too, Gale. This is the very definition of bittersweet, isn’t it? The promise of something good, but shrouded in the loss of leaving something behind. There will be good memories in the future at your new place, but they are still gray and fuzzy. The memories at the home you are leaving are vivid.

    I haven’t moved many times, but I think about other key points in life. Deciding between two great colleges, knowing that you are at a fork in the road that will determine the direction of your life. Deciding to leave one job for another opportunity. These are necessary, but tinged with sadness.

  9. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Huh… So interesting. I moved many times, all over the country, and to Europe a couple of times. All over the course of about 20 years. Rarely was I sad in any of that. Always excited. Always feeling like I was going toward a new adventure.

    I will say that has changed, since leaving what was our family home, post divorce. But that is because the move was tinged with so many other emotions, and of course, unwanted goodbyes for my children as well.

    I wonder if I would greet another move with the kind of openness and excitement I had most of my life, or if the sadness would find me. Hard to say. I think any time you are separated from children (which wasn’t the case in the two decades I managed), there is a piece of your heart that is too far away. So a move means some sadness.


  10. Dana Udall-Weiner Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this lots recently, as my kids seem to be growing and changing so fast. I think there is inherent loss in any change, and really in any choice. If we choose one thing, there is loss because we have said goodbye to the other(s). And I definitely think that applies to relocating, as well. I’m a new reader, so I don’t know your blog well, but from your two most recent posts, it looks like you are connected to your environment (your neighbors, where you live). I am certainly this way, and as a result, it really hits me when I move. Glad to know of your blog and your ten dollar thoughts!

  11. Cathy Says:

    I am with BLW on this one. I’ve moved many times in my adult life. My husband and I have moved cross-country three times and moved countless times within the area locally. Most of the time I never felt anything but excitement for the impending change. I relish the opportunity to start new, but really I think it’s because I love to throw things out. I dislike clutter and collection and moving seems to make you weed out all but the necessary. :-)