5 stages of grief: PCS edition

5 stages of grief: PCS edition

by Jennifer Lambert
Stripes Guam
I feel like our military family goes through the Five Stages of Grief every few years as we pack up and move to a new location.
The Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
As soon as PCS season begins to loom, I go into denial. I don’t want to purge, clean, organize, pack out, and travel to a new location.
We’ve tried to extend a year at several locations … and DENIED.
I go about my business as usual.
I pretend it won’t be happening until I can’t pretend anymore.
After getting denied our extension…and realizing others had been granted theirs…
I got angry.
I got angry at the military, at the assignments officer (who even teased us with a phone call and messed up our orders), at God, at my husband for dragging us all over for 20+ years.
I’m angry at myself for being angry.
I’m angry that we didn’t get to stay another year, even though my daughter is a senior. I’m angry we didn’t get orders to anywhere I want to go.
I’m angry about silly things too.
I regret the places we didn’t get to go. I regret so many things.
It’s not like we have any real bargaining chips.
We have to go where we’re told.
Even if we’re excited about the new location …
I go back and forth with possible packout dates, car shipment, what to do with the cats. All the checklist items like transferring mail, packing suitcases and backpacks, clearing the pantry. So much to do!
How much can I fit in a suitcase? Usually we’re living out of suitcases for 3+ months and it’s hard to determine how little we need, what we can live without.
If we’re not thrilled with where we’re going…
I go back and forth in my mind, wondering what we could have done differently.
Did we put the wrong locations on the list?
Are we paying for some forgotten sin?
Is there a reason we’re being sent there?
Can my husband deploy or volunteer?
And I start to think of the next station. Surely, it will be better? We only have to be at this station maybe 2-4 years. We’ll transfer as soon as we can.
Reality sets in.
I get depressed.
I start to slowly organize, purge, donate, sell items we won’t need.
I snap at my husband who always waits until the last minute to do anything.
I get anxious about our cats.
I get anxious about money.
There are so many unknowns.
I halfheartedly look at housing at the new location. I research places to visit for day trips. I join Facebook groups.
I start to distance myself from the current location.
I realize I have to say goodbye to my houseplants. I’m sad because the new people won’t love my houseplants or herb garden the way I do, the way they deserve to be loved!
Once the household goods are packed and shipped, the house always feels cold and dark and silent. Ominous. I have trouble sleeping in an empty house. There’s little for me to do to keep busy. No beds to make, no projects to complete.
This is usually the stage when I get physically ill. The stress that has built up becomes too overwhelming.
I spent one packout completely bedridden, except for rushing to the bathroom to vomit or have diarrhea. The girls were trapped in the bedroom with me since we didn’t have anyone to help. This was the one location my husband wanted so much, to be near his family members. Such a disappointment that was! It was also the worst packout we’ve ever had, with “cousins” and “friends” arriving the last day to rush the pack job and stealing some valuables I hadn’t stored properly. Because I was sick!
We’ve also had some rental horror stories. We’ve never lived in a nice house. Most have been so embarrassing that we never want to invite anyone over for any reason. We’ve kinda resigned ourselves to having absentee landlords, lazy landlords, wornout and poorly kept rental houses, renting sight unseen…until we retire. We were sure we’d get our deposit back from one landlord, especially since we’d made some expensive upgrades to lighting in the kitchen and removed wallpaper from the kitchen and living room and painted it, but he kept making petty excuses. He wanted the lawn mowed and edged to perfection. In the dark! He even wanted my kids’ welcome chalk drawings power-washed off the sidewalk! We enlisted the help of neighbors to talk to him and we finally got it back later that evening.
The packers come. I’ve done all I could do. Luckily, we’ve been blessed with amazing teams (except that one time!) who make jokes, have fun personalities, and appreciate the snacks, drinks, and meals we provide.
I accept our fate as I stroll through my empty, cold, echoey house, awaiting the move date.
I feel poignant about the memories we share about this location. The places we’ve been, the meals we’ve eaten, the people we’ve met.
I start to look forward to a new beginning.

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