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  • Writer's pictureTali Lichtenfeld

THE BETWEEN-STAGE: What’s between relocation and death?

**Please Note: I use the word Relocation loosely, same as I do with the word Expat, but I am aware there are many of us that have moved to stay and not temporarily, or maybe they came for just a couple of years, but that was 20 years ago :-).

‘The maggid of Mezritch* said:

“Nothing in the world can change from one reality into another, unless it first turns into nothing, that is, into the reality of the between-stage. In that stage it is nothing and no one can grasp it, for it has reached the rung of nothingness, just as before creation. And then it is made into a new creature, from the egg to the chick. The moment when the egg is no more, and the chick is not yet, is nothingness. And philosophy terms this primal state which no one can grasp because it is a force which precedes creation; it is called chaos. It is the same with the sprouting seed. It does not begin to sprout until the seed disintegrates in the earth and the quality of seed-dom is destroyed in order that it may attain to nothingness which is the rung before creation. And this rung is called wisdom, that is to say, a thought which cannot be made manifest. Then this thought gives rise to creation, as it is written: ‘In wisdom hast Thou made them all.'”‘

When relocating to a new country, there is a physical change to our world: we live in a different house and shop in a different grocery store, speaking a different language. But there’s more to that change. Something is gone, lost forever and something new has not been born yet. It’s the in-between place that the Great Maggid above was talking about. When I moved to Germany, I realized I was not Israeli anymore, but I wasn’t German, I felt precisely that – in between. Then I moved to London and I’m definitely not Israeli anymore – even if I were to move back to Israel one day – I will not be that same person that I was when I lived there. And I don’t feel myself as German even after living there for a decade, and I still don’t even know where and how things are being done in my new home in London – so who am I really?

The force that precedes creation is the force of chaos, confusion, uncertainly. Something needs to disintegrate and die, before something new can be born, like the sprouting seed.

I’ve been working with a lot of clients in these situations, after relocating to a new country and feeling stress, depression, experiencing panic attacks, feeling isolated, lonely, identity crisis, loss of meaning… sometimes someone would come to my office (well, now it’s all online, but back in the days you remember.. ) and say, ‘I need to re-invent myself’. What is that? That is exactly that feeling – that something died and is gone and needs to be re-invented, re-created.

I feel there’s a correlation between grief and relocation.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described five stages of grief. They include:

  1. Denial

  2. Anger

  3. Bargaining

  4. Depression

  5. Acceptance

According to this Swiss psychiatrist these are the stages people go through when they lose a loved one, or a job or they find out they have a terminal illness or go through an accident or other traumatic life event. I argue that these grief stages are also evident in people after a relocation process.

Comment: This refers to the time post-honeymoon phase that I spoke of before, for example here.

Some of my clients will go through some or all these stages:

Denial: they may deny they’re here, ‘we’re here temporarily, moving back in 2 years top’. Or denying they’ve lost something that won’t be back, or that they need to adjust themselves to the new country, in terms of job, relationships, friendships etc. At this stage nothing makes sense in the new place and it’s all too overwhelming. Life as they knew it is over, and they’re in a state of shock.

Anger: they become very angry, blaming others and resentful mostly towards the partner who initiated the move, angry at the people around them in this weird annoying place, why don’t they behave ‘normally’ for god’s sake? They might feel disconnected, ungrounded. life is shattered and forever changed and there’s nothing solid they can hold onto.

Bargaining: ‘we’re staying here for 2 years and then I get to choose our next destination!’ negotiating with themselves and others is a form of false hope, a desperate bargain in an attempt to get their lives back. They start tormenting themselves with endless ‘what if’s’: ‘what if we’d never moved here, what if we’ve moved to Canada instead, where would we be on Saturday if we were back home right now… ‘

Depression: oh, some people stay here for a long time. Some, unfortunately, go very deep into depression and stagnation, feeling numb and powerless, annoyed and frustrated but helpless to do anything at all.

Once the 5th stage of Acceptance kicks in, then work can begin. They come to terms with the new reality. Adjustments to the new surroundings are starting to take place, they make new friends, go out, work on relationships, grow and evolve.

Do you recognize yourself in those words? Do you need support? I am supporting internationals integrate and be happy, overcome relocation struggles, frustration and stress, to re-discover their resources, passion and joy.

*Source: Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, translated by Olga Marx. New York: Schocken Books [1947] 1975, page 104.

{Dov Baer of Mezritch, the Great Maggid, disciple of the Baal Shem, died 1772.}

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