Friday, October 4, 2013

Grace in Transitions

by Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT
Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT

     George looked out the front window of his home, noticing with alarm the funnel cloud moving in slow motion toward his neighborhood.  He heard the tornado sirens go off and quickly ushered his wife, his three small children, and the family dog into the basement just as the winds hit.  In less than 60 seconds the neighborhood that he had lived in for much of his life was decimated.  George and his family and their neighbors were alive, but their formerly stable, secure, kind of “ho-hum” existence was instantly transformed into a nightmare of homelessness and uncertainty.  They would need a great deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Mary could not wait for the big wedding day coming up in a few short weeks.  She and Rick had met in college, courted for a year and a half, saved their money, and excitedly planned for this day to come.  Everything would be perfect; her dress, the music, the food, the presence of her friends and family, and then the honeymoon!  She and Rick were as prepared as they felt they could be.  But transitions always bring some surprises. What would they be?  Going from singleness to a twosome is a transition.  Whether easy or hard, they would need grace in the days ahead.

            Helen went in to work as usual this Friday morning.  She had been working as an administrative assistant in this company for 18 years.  She was hoping to be able to work until she reached the age of 68; this would enhance her retirement portfolio and give her a better feeling of security after the death of her husband two years ago.  On her desk was an envelope.  She opened it to find a pink slip.  What a way to announce the downsizing!  Her world suddenly caved in and she unexpectedly was in the midst of a transition.  She would need a good deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Stability, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the quality or state of being firmly established.  It is predictable, constant, and unchanging; helping us to feel secure and safe.  We all desire stability in our lives and work hard to keep it when we have it.

            Death of a loved one, a diagnosis of cancer, a car accident; these can all be destabilizing events. Transition has to do with the passage or movement from one state, subject or place to another.  Having to go through transition upsets our equilibrium; our security and safety are challenged!

            Every person on the planet goes through one or more transitions at various times in life and sometimes more than one transition at a time!  How we manage the upset of our stability and equilibrium, and how we work to find our way back to some sense of firm ground and “normality” takes time and patience.  What do we need in the moments, hours, days and weeks when something is ending, and something else beginning, whether welcome or not?

            Grace, according to Webster’s, is “a virtue coming from God.”  There is a sense of mercy such that, ”even in this time of turmoil, I will be here to support you.”  Feeling alone in our suffering seems to multiply our pain, our anxiety and our grief.  So one of the first resources we need are supportive people around us to listen to us and to offer practical help.  Many, many people come to counseling during a time of transition, or when the instability becomes overwhelming, and they need a supportive listener on the journey.

            Allowing ourselves to grieve any loss or sense of loss is an important part of transition.  When something devastating happens to us, it is normal to feel sadness and to cry.  Tears have a cleansing effect on our physiology.  Did you know that when you cry, you are actually releasing the stress hormone, cortisol, from your body? Transitions are naturally a more stressful time in life.  Allow yourself to experience, on an emotional level, whatever you need to experience to help you through the transition period.

            We need to give ourselves time to process the transition. Often in the midst of a transition there is a struggle to let go of the former; a struggle to accept what is new and different, and a period of adjustment as we explore what the unknown future or the “new normal” that is going to begin.  Depending on the loss we can be sad or anxious; feel like we are in the dark and/or resistive.  All this re-adjusting takes some time and grace, both with others and with ourselves.

            At some point in the process of our transition we may “get stuck” in the process and not know how to move forward.  This calls for a period of discernment.  Discernment is the ability to listen to our deepest longings as well as the outer events that might point us into a new direction.  It is a time to gather information, consider options, get advice and support, and then wait for answers.  This time of waiting can be difficult and support is helpful!  This is also a time when many people come for counseling, not to get advice necessarily, but to have an interested listener as a sounding board to clarify and validate the discernment process.

            Finally, once a direction becomes clear we will need courage to risk a new action and make a new beginning.  Once we make this decision to move forward into something new we are almost through the transition!  This new beginning has the potential to give us new meaning and contribute in a new way to our identity.  How well it flourishes and bears fruit in our lives is another grace.  And for that we can be thankful.