I’ve been thinking a lot about loss this week.

About three months after I’d returned to the United States from South Sudan, I was fortunate enough to attend a counseling retreat center for people who have lived and worked overseas. It was three weeks of seminars and counseling and fellowship with others who had somewhat similar experiences to mine.

As I went through my individual counseling sessions, one of the themes that emerged was loss. I realized it was important for me to identify and name all the different losses I had experienced, both while I lived in South Sudan and after I had returned home. So I sat down with some paper and colored Sharpies to make a list.

For the first part – losses experienced while in South Sudan – the first thing I listed was community. As I wrote the word in magenta, I began to cry. After crying for a few moments, I kept writing: certain parts of my home culture, a sense of security, freedom of mobility, tacos, etc.

Then as I got to the second part – losses experienced when I returned home – the first thing I listed, again, was community. And again, tears. I went on to list other, similar things as before, except this time goats made the list. I had also lost meaningful work and other more serious things.

It’s amazing how healing it was to simply write it out, to recognize and name the losses I had experienced. It still has a profound effect on me today. I’ve come to believe it’s important to be aware of loss and to allow space to feel it and grieve.

Loss is a significant piece of what makes transitions difficult. In South Sudan, I had to come to terms with certain losses as I transitioned to life there. And it was painful at times. Then I got to a place of feeling at home or belonging or as if we were being woven together somehow. And then, I left.

Since I returned to the United States, I’ve also had to come to terms with certain losses. It’s a long, winding process, but I know I’m getting there.