4 Stages of PCS Grief

The military has a culture where everything is fine. There are often times you don’t have control over your life. Where you move, where and when your husband will be gone and it is all just fine. We have this “I can do it” motto we live by. Probably because that is the way it is and maybe it just the way we have survived.

The military has a culture where everything is fine, but sometimes things are not fine. Go with me to look at the 4 stages of grief and how it is totally normal for everything not to be fine.

Everything most people take for granted the military puts in speed mode. You have a few years to live at (sometimes less) each location and you go about unpacking, settling in, exploring, finding a new church, school, grocery store, gym…the list goes on and even includes your community. You don’t have the luxury of time so you dive in. And often forget about the emotions that come with everything you have to deal with. You don’t have time to grieve. You feel the time crunch and don’t want to sit and wait and especially deal with those yucky emotions you may be feeling.

But grieving is normal and important. And maybe for the first few Permeant Change of Stations (PCS) you get by with just stuffing and going. But with all the life changes and chaos the military throws at you ignoring your emotions usually leads up to some unhealthy life habits. The stress and emotions will find a way to come out. So instead of ignoring them I have come up with a list of the 4 Stages of PCS Grief (but it can relate to many other life circumstances) and some tips on how to deal with them. And I guess it is also a reminder to let you know it is okay to have feelings and that dealing with them is important, even if the military makes you feel as if you should be excited and happy all the time.

4 Stages of PCS Grief

Reeling (Finding Out When and Where You are Moving)

    1. You find out you are moving and where. Sometimes these things happen at the same time, but most often (at least for me) they are set in two separate waves.
    2. Sometimes you don’t like where you are and you have a countdown clock to when you can finally leave. Other  times you love where you are and can’t imagine having to say goodbye. You have to deal with the fact you will move if you continue with the military life and weigh your options and have open and honest discussions with your significant other.
    3. Then you find out where you are going. Happiness, excitement, nervousness, frustration, worry, fear are just some of the emotions that come along with this. They are all normal.

It can take time to come to terms with the reality of your move. And even when you think you have made peace with what is to come you can find you are back in the reeling stage. This is often the shortest stage and then you move on to the next stage of Feelings.

Feelings (Preparing to Leave)

  1. Here are just some of the emotions you may be feeling or experiencing
  2. Sadness, Resentment, Detachment, Excitement, Fear, Anxiety, Loneliness, Frustration, Helplessness, Guilt, Happiness, Nervousness, Anticipation
  3. You may feel yourself withdrawing from others who are not currently in the same situation as you. You may have trouble sleeping, headaches or feel fatigued.

The most important part of this step is to realize it is normal to feel all these emotions. And finding someone to talk to about these feelings who will validate you and listen (not give advice) is so important.

Dealing (Shortly after the move)

  1. Involved with thoughts or actions to help you cope/adapt to your new location. Both mentally and physically.
  2. Dealing with the emotional aspect means reaching out for help, maybe starting to find new friends in your new community.
  3. Physically this can look like unpacking and settling in. You start looking for a new church, find the local school options, test out different grocery stores, etc. And your house begins to look like a home instead of a giant mess of boxes.

This step takes time and it often looks like people have all their stuff together when you just look at the highlight real of social media. But there is often a lot of hurting in hidden places.

Healing (Getting Connected in Your New Community)

  1. You have dealt with the feelings you have with moving and are getting adjusted to your new life. This doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It just means you are moving forward and starting your new life.

There will likely still be bumps along the way and you may go back to one of the four stages as life events happen and maybe some of the choices you made require you to do mini start overs again.

Moving is really hard and each of us experience PCS Grief in a different way. Someone may be excited about living in one place and another person find it really difficult. We are all on our own journey. The best thing to do is to help each other by being open and honest about our feelings.

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