No matter what your situation is — becoming an empty nester, retiring, getting a divorce, experiencing the death of a loved one, or becoming a caretaker for your parent — one of the big things you can guarantee in your life is change.
"The only constant in life is change." — Occulus
Today, I’m going to focus on one important part of change that gets overlooked, then I'll leave you with three things that you can do while you're in the middle of a midlife transition. These three things will help you get perspective, whether you're going through a change now or when that inevitable change shows up on your doorstep later.
Life transitions can be planned or unplanned. Planned transitions are when you become an empty nester or when you retire. These are poignant, bittersweet, lovely moments in your life that you knew were coming. You planned for that moment when your last youngster left the nest. You planned for the day that you were going to retire. It's exciting, but it still requires you to make changes in your life.
Then there are other transitions that aren't planned. Dealing with the loss of a spouse through death or divorce. Becoming the caretaker for a parent who can't live alone anymore.
When I was younger, I loved change. I loved new things. I loved variety. I loved everything being different. So I did a lot of job hopping and moving from apartment-to-apartment in my twenties. These were good changes. These were self-inflicted changes that I was excited about.
Because I made so many changes, I noticed a pattern in my behavior. Before each change, I would cry a lot. For days and days. I didn't know why I was crying. I just knew that I had to get it out. I needed to release my tears so I would feel better.
Crying wasn't a bad thing, but it was a necessary thing. It was important to acknowledge that I was leaving this part of my life behind and moving to the new part that I was being called to, whether it was the new job, the new relationship or the new home.
My "aha" moment came when I realized that I was experiencing grief. I was grieving the life that I was leaving behind.
After a while, this grieving just became an expected part of any change that I made. It even became a ritual for me because without it, I don't think I would feel ready to go. I certainly wouldn’t be ready to release that part of my life and move forward.
When I was done crying, I would dry my tears, dust myself off, stand up and get excited about my upcoming change.
A big part of change is grief.
There's a grieving process associated with change, and that's something we don't talk about. I don't recall ever hearing about this part of the process, but it is so important to acknowledge this grief.
Midlife transitions are inevitable, so acknowledging your grief can take some of the sting out of it. Once you acknowledge that you’re grieving, you won’t be as confused or concerned about your emotions. You can just accept them and stop second-guessing yourself about the change.
Now that you know how change and grief are related, here are three little things that can help you if you're in the midst of a midlife transition. (Hint: You may want to bookmark this post to revisit it later when a midlife change happens to you.)
It doesn't matter what your life transition is, whether:
Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that you're sad that things are changing. Acknowledge that you're disappointed or upset or frustrated or angry that you have to go through this midlife transition.
Simply acknowledging and accepting your need to grieve the loss helps diffuse the power of that grief. It starts quietly breaking it down so it's not going to overwhelm you as much as it potentially could.
When you accept that you're grieving, you'll start seeing things differently and begin treating yourself differently as well.
This was the best advice I received after my mother died. The person who told me this knew that I wanted to get back to my life as soon as possible, and I wouldn't take the time to grieve. So those words were exactly what I needed to hear because they made me stop, take a step back, and then start treating myself like a loved one would treat me during the grieving process.
Being gentle with yourself during midlife changes is one of the nicest, most beautiful things you can do for yourself when you're in the middle of a transition.
Yeah, I know. Easier said than done, right? But it’s possible and necessary to get through the grief. Find those little moments during the day that can — literally — take your breath away.
When I was caring for my father and then, a number of years later, my mother, I found great beauty in those little moments. These moments weren't anything big or grandiose or incredible but because I was actively looking for them, these little things took my breath away.
Like watching my father have a burst of energy when he saw his hibiscus plant blooming. I said, “Wow, look at this gorgeous bloom. What kind of flower is this?” He started chattering away about how much he had done to save this plant and how much care this little guy needed. And he went on and on and on. He was so excited that he saw this beautiful bloom.
Another moment was watching my mother suddenly sit up in her bed and start talking in a clear, strong voice after days of sleeping and not moving very much.
If you're a caretaker for a parent, I want to take a moment to encourage you. Caring for a parent is one of the hardest yet one of the most humbling privileges I’ve ever had in my life. I was blessed to find the good in the time that I got to have with them. This was time that no one else got, except me.
Their friends didn't get that time with them. Even my brother didn't get that. I was the only one who got that time. I was the only one who got those “moments” and to this day, I cherish them beyond words.
So hang in there and look for the good. I know it’s hard to find it but if you take a moment to stop and look for it, you’re going to be amazed at some of the gems that you find.
Change is inevitable, and it’s the one thing we can guarantee in our lives. Grieving the loss of what was is a very natural part of going through life transitions. Acknowledging your grief will give you a new perspective, help you be nicer to yourself and help you find the little moments of the experience that can take your breath away.