I’ve been reading quite a bit on Transitional Grief these days. The term itself is a comfort. To know that what we all, at some point or another, may feel the grief that comes with transition. Any change in our lives can bring with it mixed feelings and sometimes can be confusing when one feels both deep sadness and great joy, at the same time.
When do we experience transitional grief? Ultimately any form of change or adjusting to a new normal can bring about transitional grief. Events like: having a baby, divorce, moving, breakups, marriage, leaving a job, retiring, graduating, children leaving home; all of these and more bring about this sense of being in transition. Leaving what was and adjusting to a new normal.
I remember when I first read about transitional grief, I felt a wave of warmth come over me. Mostly because I haven’t really been able to put language to my experience internally lately. It has been hard to pin-point. There is deep loneliness and yet I am surrounded by some of the most beautiful people, in this new city. There is disorientation, a sense of not really feeling “at home” anywhere. There is longing, for the people I have left and yet longing for the start of the new adventure school will bring. There are mid-afternoon meltdowns, and evening solace in the comforts of my new apartment. There is anxiety, and there is deep peace. And to top it off, you may also feel shame. Because some of these choices and decisions to change something in your life are ultimately GOOD, so why are you feeling so blue? But shame too, is normal. It’s terrible, but it’s normal. Just because you’ve chosen something good and healthy for you, does not mean you won’t experience the more painful emotions that appear on the other side of the coin.
I was talking to my dear friend, Justin, the other day. He is someone who has also gone through a similar transition, and he said it well,
“It’s an unusual grief because you’re still tethered and attached to something you love, something that is very much alive, but also something you can’t have or touch or hold. Nothing is dead or dying other than the form or shape of something in your life.”
I knew this move would be daunting and bring about its own challenges, but no one can really prepare you for what’s on the other side. Just as I would imagine those friends of mine who prepared to give birth to their babies. You really can only prepare so much for that moment. You just have to go through it, and experience it as it comes.
I have found voicing my emotions to be of great help. Even if they are a blubbering mess to the people on the other end — thank you by the way. I have found meditation and centering prayer to be what grounds me. I have found exploring the “new” around me to cultivate a sense of play and adventure within me. I have found reading novels again to be companions for the journey when it’s lonely. Cooking new meals and getting good sleep. Connecting to my body (even if it’s limited right now) by swimming, biking or just a small physio routine to remind me of the present moment.
There really is no right way to grieve. No right way at all. So, be gentle with yourself. And if you are a close friend to someone who is going through a transition, or in some form of grief, be gentle and patient with them too. They most likely wish they didn’t feel all that they feel. Be present with them, and remind them they can do it. Remind them that this will take time. Remind them that you believe in them and that they have what they need within them to venture into this new territory.
In the words of Mary Oliver
“Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
before he became St. Augustine.”