Change is a part of life, we all know that. It can be good, bringing us pleasant surprises, new members of our family, different employment or a new place to live. Changes can improve our lives, but there are also changes which bring us stress and even some that produce fear. The part of change that is unknown or that we can’t control often creates the most fear.
As we age, we face many changes that fall into the categories of unknown or beyond our control. We go through the process of children leaving the home; making the adjustment to the “empty nest”. Other people look at winding down their careers or have involuntarily been down sized by their employer. Facing these changes well often depends on where we have placed our personal identity. If we have solid internal identity, these types of changes are often seen as challenges or positive transitions. It can be a very exciting time of adjustment. However, if a person has developed an external identity, finding it in a specific role or in the opinions of others, this change can be very difficult. This time of change is usually centered on a large loss of purpose, or when the purpose for which we have lived over many years is reduced significantly. Deep down, this stage of life can trigger in to the fears of rejection or abandonment, producing a sense of being lost until a person can adjust. Motivation comes from purpose and significantly enhances our emotional health. Because of this, when facing transitions, it is most important to maintain a focus toward true purpose that doesn’t fluctuate with the roles we fill as we go through life.
When individuals change careers or retire, not only does their role in life change, but often their relationships don’t go with them. This can add to the stress of the transition if it is not understood that some relationships truly only exist because of the structure that surrounds them. When we leave organizations, most of the relationships that have been built within those environments are not strong enough to exist outside of them if we have not done something to strengthen them outside the forming structure. Anticipating these changes, we can seek to move those relationships that are important to us into a different level so they follow us after the change goes into effect. This alone can help make a transition more comforting. Additionally, planning for a meaningful purpose after retirement can add quality and significantly lengthen a person’s life.
For individuals who have aging parents requiring care and assistance, these changes can be very difficult and stress producing on both sides of the issue. It is never easy to lose a parent and being a part of their dying process can be extremely difficult. They struggle with loss of independence, not being able to fulfill their roles and again, loss of purpose which can bring on negativity and depression.
No matter who we are, death changes us when we come close to it. It causes us to recognize our own mortality, assess our lives and question even fundamental spiritual beliefs. Knowing or not feeling confident in what happens next can be a source of fear. Losing a parent who we have not been close to ends the possibility of ever repairing that relationship.
Although death and dying are a part of life, they are parts that we are never well prepared for; bringing with them the loss of friends, health and independence. The grief process is unfamiliar and can take us by surprise as a result. It is not only a feeling, but it can carry with it physical pain and an adjustment process. People don’t like to talk about death and our close experiences with it are commonly limited to the loss of parents and grandparents. The loss of a child is something that we are never prepared for and it can be extremely traumatizing. We often think we know what it will be like because after all, we’ve seen it over and over on TV. However, once it becomes a reality, it is clear that Hollywood is not a good source of information.
Although difficult, questioning our mortality, evaluating the quality of the relationships left in our lives and clarifying our spiritual beliefs are all normal and good responses when death and dying enter center stage in our lives. Helpful things we can do for ourselves around the process include creating a strong support group, as well as attending group and or individual counseling. Families can be a place of strength if the internal relationships are of good quality. Personally, a strong spiritual faith is often a viable source of comfort in difficult times. Outside the family, Hospice can provide invaluable support for both the person going through the process and those accompanying them. In preparation for the loss, it is good advice to have a clear understanding of what a person’s wishes are with regard to their dying process. For the person entrusted with carrying out those wishes, it is a strong place of comfort to have that knowledge as guidance.
In closing, as we face losing those closest to us in life, the goal is really not to get back to normal because that isn’t possible. Instead we accept a new normal, which can be a comforting goal. If we can come out on the other side of this process with no regrets about decisions that were made, it aids in going through the personal grief process. Keeping in the forefront of our minds that this process is not about us, but about helping our loved ones to finish well, it helps us focus on what is truly important and we can grow into better people as a result.
Written by Kriss Mitchell ND, M.Ed | www.livingwellcc.com