I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Last year I had to put my dad in a nursing home. The process was difficult but my father has transitioned well. My sister-in-law just lost her mother-in-law and she and her husband had to move her father-in-law to a skilled living facility. The process is not going as well and is filled with grief and sorrow. My other sister-in-law is fighting stage 4 breast cancer, which has moved into her lung. We are all pitching in, especially my mother-in-law, yet the process is difficult for us all. Life is a process of beginnings and endings. I think the Buddhist say the only constant is change. In both life and nature, there are times when things move slowly and don’t seem to change very much. Then, suddenly, things change quickly. Moving from August to September, the weather changes gradually at first, and then it seems that suddenly summer is over. It is the same in our lives; transitions are as natural as the changing seasons. But often, these changes are not easy to navigate.
Life transitions are challenging because they force us to let go of the familiar and face the future with a feeling of vulnerability. Most life transitions begin with a string of losses:
• The loss of a role
• The loss of a person
• The loss of a place
• The loss of your sense of where you fit in the world
Any significant loss makes most people feel fearful and anxious. Since your future may now be filled with questions, it is normal to feel afraid. We live in a culture that has taught us to be very uncomfortable with uncertainty, so we are anxious when our lives are disrupted. On the positive side, these transitions give us a chance to learn about our strengths and to explore what we really want out of life. This time of reflection can result in a sense of renewal, stability, and a new equilibrium.
A life transition can be positive or negative, planned or unexpected. Some transitions happen without warning, and they may be quite dramatic, as in cases of accidents, death, divorce, job loss, or serious illness. Other life transitions come from positive experiences such as getting married, going away to college, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or giving birth to a child. Even though events like these are usually planned and anticipated, they can be just as life-altering as the unexpected events. Whether positive or negative, life transitions cause us to leave behind the familiar and force us to adjust to new ways of living, at least temporarily. They can leave us feeling completely unprepared and we may be thrown into a personal crisis, feeling shocked, angry, sad, and withdrawn.
Psychotherapist and Relationship Specialist