Accepting Life Transitions

By Arthur Karp, M.Ed, Certified Counsellor

The question everyone is asking by now is “where did our summer go”? Just as our seasons change so do we witness natural transitions throughout our lives. There are definite beginnings and distinct endings, where a discontinuing or a giving up something of the past takes place. It all starts with an identifiable life change. Some examples may be painful and tragic such as an unexpected major illness, job loss, a disabling accident, a relationship break-up, death of a close family member or friend. In other more joyful instances we may be speaking of tackling a new job, relocating to a new city, determining a suitable direction to take in retirement, our wedding day, birth of a child, setting out on a vacation destination. Some events are planned and anticipated, but can be just as life-altering as the unexpected whether they be positive or negative.

There is a distinct vulnerability and fragility to change which means letting go of the familiar, thus forcing us to adjust to new ways of living, at least temporarily. How will we abandon the warmth of a pleasant late summer breeze along with considerable daylight when we engage joyfully in a flurry of outdoor activity. The changing autumn landscape seen on the trees prior to the leaves being blown to the ground is something to behold. We know there is cooler weather to come with longer and darker days just around the corner.

What does successfully moving through a life transition usually mean?

  • Encounter a range of negative emotions – shock, anger, anxiety, confusion, self- doubt, leaving us quite unprepared as we are thrown into a personal crisis.
  • An acknowledgment of needing to let go of the past and slowly adapting to and eventually accepting the change.
  • Feeling hopeful and an elevated even optimistic view of the future.
  • The process of moving through a transition is not in an order or in predictable stages.

Transitions are a natural and inevitable part of life. Will we adequately adapt to this disruption which is called change? A significant loss makes us fearful and anxious. Our lives are disrupted and we will never be quite the same again. What can be said of the positive element of change? We may take an opportunity to learn more about our strengths and what we truly want from our life. A test for our inner coping resources, whereby, gaining a sense of renewal, along with an entirely new equilibrium as we pause for reflection. “We come to beginnings only at the end.” William Bridges.

As endings are so difficult and sometimes confusing for most of us, we may try to find a new relationship before ending the old one. This may preclude accomplishing the self-examining work of a healthy transition which can lead to a true self-renewal. It may be preferable to spend some time alone, think about what the past relationship meant and what was wrong, thus gaining insight into what you want at this “book marked” stage of life.

Author and expert on managing transitions, William Bridges, faced his own personal crisis when he lost his wife to breast cancer. He was forced to embark on a most difficult transition himself. Following a spiritual pilgrimage through Wales he came away with a new found depth of experience. Bridge claims “change may come at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance.” Naturally it is difficult to imagine a new chapter launching you into personal growth when still battling the early stages of grief.

Some suggested ways of coping include:

  • Take one step at a time in spite of all the confusion and chaos making you uncomfortable. It will pass and in return will come clarity.
  • Allow for enough time to reorient our inner feelings to the new reality being faced. A wonderful life opportunity may only be found upon deep reflection. Write about your own feelings in a journal or talk with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Keep some things consistent while ensuring much of your daily routine.
  • Do something for yourself allowing you find comfortable and pleasure.
  • Include some exercise in your routine and a healthy diet.
  • Be prepared for the truth which emerges as you travel this life journey.