5 Stages of Grief when PCSing…and How to Overcome Them

Sometimes, a duty station works its way into your heart until it feels like home and you never want to leave. It’s hard to PCS away from a duty station you truly love.

When we lived overseas in Spain, we loved the beautiful location, quality family time, our travel opportunities and the small intimate community on base. Unfortunately, our orders there ended after three years. I had mixed feelings about moving back to America. There was relief and excitement to return to English-speaking stores and see family again, but there was also a painful awareness that we were leaving so much behind. I expected the move to be filled with emotional ups and downs.

I didn’t expect grief.

During the first few weeks at our new duty station in California, everything made me homesick. I missed my friends. I missed Spanish culture. Whenever I recalled a memory of Europe, it felt like a stab in the heart. I would dream of Spain and wake up feeling sad and empty. When my friends stationed there shared photos on Facebook, I felt like crying. Even though California has beautiful beaches, sunny weather, Spanish speakers and the same flowers as Spain, it was not the same. I felt like I had left part of my heart in Spain, and that part was dying.

I was experiencing grief.

At first, I felt silly using the term grief to describe homesickness. I have lost family members before, and I know that the depth of emotions at a funeral does not compare to the sadness of moving. But the more I learned about grief and its various stages, the more it seemed to accurately describe what I was going through. Grief is experienced because of loss, and military families lose a lot when we move. Putting it to words helps it make sense.

The stages of grief are five different ways people experience grief. You do not go through the stages in order, as if you were accomplishing a five-step checklist. Instead, you may spend several weeks in one stage, or you might swing through three different stages in one day. Both experiences are normal. It is also normal to move back and forth through different stages, repeating some for a long time. The more you know about the grief process, the easier it will be to identify what you are going through when you PCS.

1. Denial

Once you have fallen in love with your current location, you don’t want to think about leaving. You and your spouse discuss the possibility of extending the orders for a few years or transferring to another unit—whatever it will take to stay put. When you receive orders to a new location, it may not feel real. You might go through the motions of researching the next base, but part of you will be holding your breath to see if the orders will change.

Even after you have moved, your new house won’t feel like home for a while. “Home” is that duty station you loved, where the kids grew up and you have so many friends and memories. These feelings are normal, but you have to move past them.

The work through: Move through the denial stage by surrounding yourself with specifics. Before your move, the more details you can get about your new location, the more real it will seem. Connect with spouses at the new base through Facebook pages. Ask someone to photograph your assigned house on base. Look up your new base on Google Maps so you can start to learn about the area and learn street names. Once you arrive, take the time to connect with your new location. Visit a non-chain restaurant and try local food. Go for walks to appreciate the views. You will still miss your old home, but you will have tangible connections to your new home, which is important.