When an Adult TCK Grieves

I am many things.

I am a daughter. A wife. A Mom. A friend. A Christian.

I am also a missionary kid, and while I am not living that lifestyle right now, I know that I will always be a missionary kid.

I spent my entire childhood growing up overseas, my feet coated in a thick layer of African dust, the tribal language of Songhai flowing off my tongue as easily as English words. I spent the days playing with children of an entirely different culture and skin color than me. The only people I ever saw who were American were my Dad, Mom, and older brother. But I didn’t notice all that. To me, the children were my brothers and sisters, the women were my extra Mom’s and Auntie’s, and the men my Uncles and extra Dad’s. That’s just the way the culture worked. Everyone was family. Everyone depended on one another, everyone was that proverbial village that raised the child.

As I grew older, I started to identify more with my own American culture than with the African culture I had identified with as a child. My teenage girlfriends were starting to get married and start families when we were still 15 and 16 years old. They had chores and responsibilities that I still don’t have to this day. We started to grow apart as I attended boarding school away from home and they put all their time and effort into their new growing families.

After high school in Africa, I graduated and returned to the States. I have now lived in the United States of America for SEVEN years. SEVEN.

Did you know that not a day goes by that I don’t flash back to Niger? To the dusty streets, the Songhai flowing from my lips, the wrap-around zara’s I could tie like a pro, the smell of the butcher or the fari-masa frying in oil? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the slamming metal/screen door, the sound of rain on a tin roof, the echo of the prayer call throughout the day. And did you know that not a day goes by that I don’t think about the people? The men and women, the Uncle’s and Auntie’s, and those brown-skinned friends that I spent every moment of my childhood with. I think about them every day, and I know that they are apart of me. I have no contact with them, I have no idea where they all are or what they are doing today, but I do think of them often. I’m grateful for all they have taught me and the faithful friends that they have been. I know that if I were to drive down the streets of that village today, we would pick up right where we left off. Our friendships were a bond that is stronger than distance, and I still consider so may of them “family.

Yesterday I received some hard, hard news from back home. My Mom received a phone call from someone who knows someone, and the report is that Karimun was killed in a road accident earlier this week.



My brother.

My little brother.

(Karimun and I having a tea party)

(this photo basically sums up my childhood!)

It’s been years. YEARS since I have heard from him, since I have seen a picture of him.

But right then and there when I heard the news, my worlds collided.

So often, as an ATCK (adult third culture kid), most of my childhood seems to be just memories. I have no sights, no sounds, no smells, almost no contact with that world that I grew up in. I miss it every day, but I often feel a disconnect. It seems like I lived on a different planet growing up, and now I’ve moved and have no association with it.

Until something like this happens. Tragedy strikes, and no matter what world I’m in, I need to grieve.

I need to sit down and look through old pictures of our old neighborhood. I need to look through all the pictures of those dusty brown-skinned Africans playing with the dusty white-skinned American children. I need to hear the Songhai language rolling off my tongue and the banter back and forth between us kids. I need to hear the laughter that we rolled in, no cultural boundaries stopping us from being friends, and brothers and sisters. I need to reach out and connect myself with that world so that I can grieve.


Although we were never sure (birth records are very difficult to maintain in Niger), we believe that Karimun was about two years younger than me. His Mom, Maimouna, was our house helper and my Mom’s cultural mentor/language helper/assistant and friend. Maimouna is without a doubt like a second Mom to me. She helped raise us and was at our house every single day. She only lived two houses down, but I’m fairly certain that my brother and I spent 96% of our time in her presence. She had several children, and her son Soumeyla was my brothers best friend, and her daughter Sophie was my best friend. Karimun came next and was always around. Always.

One thing I will always remember about Karimun is the epic temper tantrums he could throw. When he was about three, he would throw temper tantrums that are still talked about to this day. He would begin by whining, then stomping his feet, his feet would stomp faster and faster until it almost looked like he was dancing a jig. He would then begin to flail his arms and continue to whine/cry. If this did not produce the desired results, he would then throw himself in the dirt and flail around down there. I remember how all the adults would be SO amused by these temper tantrums. Poor kid.

Karimun always came to Bible club. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget him sitting and fidgeting in class, listening attentively, but just hoping to get to the part while you get some candy and prizes. Since Karimun was like a brother to us, he was always a little helper. He was as michevious as they come, and overcame a lot in his lifetime.

My Mom wrote about Karimun in her blog post here, and she included a lot more memories of him as well as what  he ended up doing as an adult.

As far as we know, Karimun was not a believer. He heard the gospel numerous times, but never made a public profession of faith (as far as we know).

Please pray for us all in this time. Please pray for beautiful Maimouna  (center of the picture below) as she grieves the loss of her son in a culture that gives a specific mourning period and then expects you to completely move on.

Pray for the entire family, that they would be comforted. Pray for them that they would be able to understand the saving knowledge of Christ through this time of mourning. Pray for my Mom, who is there but is unable to travel to be with the family due to security reasons.



  1. Nancy says:

    Even though I still live in Niger, I had to go through all of our Tera pictures last night, just searching for pictures and memories of Karimun. And HOW could I forget his epic temper tantrums. He could throw one like no one else. I hope you don’t mind if I share this from SIM Niger’s facebook page.

  2. Bonnie Catlin says:

    Hi! I too grew up speaking Songhai. I lived in Mali – Tombouctou, Dire, Gao. Where did you grow up in Niger? I went to boarding school in Niamey in the ’60s.

    • [email protected] says:

      Hi Bonnie!
      Thanks for stopping by! I grew up in Tera, Niger, which is right on the border of Niger and Burkina. My parents still live and work in Niamey.
      I also went to boarding school at Sahel Academy in Niamey. I was there from 6th grade until my high school graduation (with furloughs in between, of course). I graduated from Sahel in 2009. Such a small world! It’s a pleasure to “meet” you!!!

  3. Nancy says:

    Suzanne, I did the same thing! I sat down and looked through all our pictures from Tera, searching for photos of Karimun. I had forgotten about his epic temper tantrums. 🙂

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