Living With Change and Transition (and Dealing with Loss and Grief)
Every person’s life contains change and transition. From our earliest months we experience (whether we are conscious of it or not) massive changes – physically, emotionally and mentally. Sometimes there is resistance to change and it is often expressed through crying. Any who have witnessed a small child being put to bed against their will understands this very well!
As we grow older we often feel the same emotions when faced with changes and transitions, but we have learned what is ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ behaviour in our society at such times. However, we do still respond, despite what our public face shows.
Very often we don’t recognise the changes as being a cause of grief in our lives. We perhaps, although incorrectly, think that humans only grieve when a death occurs. Of course it is true that we do grieve when bereaved. However, there are many other changes and transitions that can arouse similar emotional and other responses.
Some common changes and transitions are:
- Finishing school
- Leaving home
- Breakdown in a relationship
- Lost dreams/hopes
- Loss of friendship
- Ill health
- Loss of accommodation
- Loss of financial security
- Changes in role and sense of identity.
One of the realities of life is that we are all individuals with our own unique way of feeling and expressing ourselves. While responding to change and transition is a universal experience the way in which we respond is almost inevitably different to anyone else. Even when a similar change is experienced the responses may differ enormously.
So what are the various factors that help to create these different responses within us?
- Our age and previous experience in dealing with change and transition
- Our gender – with all the social pressures to conform to ‘male’ or ‘female’ ways of showing emotion.
- Our cultural background
- Our ethnicity
- Our belief system (religious and spiritual values)
- Our sense of personal identity
- Our current health situation
- Our current financial situation
- Our support systems
- Access to information that can assist us
- Our relationship with the person or thing that has been lost to us.
So how do we express our response to change and transition?
It is helpful to recognise the impact on our lives in all aspects of our experience, ie in the physical, emotional, sexual, economic, social, psychological and spiritual spheres. And so we may respond with tears, or we may not. We may experience physical aches and pains, headaches, digestive problems. We may withdraw socially or become hyperactive in our activities. We may feel abandoned by God, or may seek out spiritual support. We may seek casual and anonymous sexual encounters or we may long for a committed relationship. We may experience poverty for the first time and be ashamed or embarrassed to admit our needs.
Some strategies for coping with change and transition:
- Do not carry the burden alone. Find a trustworthy person with whom you can share your feelings.
- Seek out information to assist you with your specific needs. For example, financial counseling, spiritual guidance, medical attention. Whatever it is that will offer ease to anxiety and uncertainty.
- Recognise that whatever you are feeling is normal, that responding in these ways does not mean you are ‘going mad’ (which is how many people describe themselves as feeling when under stress). Your responses show you are in touch with the reality of the pain of the change.
- Utilise the phone book, the Internet and other resources to put you in touch with organisations, counselors, or other forms of support in the community. They are there to be utilised and their very existence is evidence that you are not the first to feel in need of their expertise.
Those around us grieve too.
When we are experiencing change and transition that brings with it loss and grief, then it is sometimes easy to forget that those who know us can also be feeling the impact of the changes we are experiencing. None of us lives without others in our lives. We may (or may not) have families; many have neighbours, friends, social groups, colleagues at work (ie in paid or voluntary work places), professionals who offer support and care. Any person with whom we share some sort of relationship will affect us by their attitudes and feelings just as we affect them with ours.
Experiencing grief can create feelings of isolation because we look around and see others who are behaving, acting, speaking differently to us even if they share a similar situation. But no two people are the same, and no two people’s circumstances are exactly the same.
It can be tempting to judge ourselves against others and think that we are not coping if, for instance, we shed tears and others do not. ‘Coping’ can mean that we feel angry, or cry, or feel sad, or happy. Coping is acting on our feelings. We are not coping when we hide our feelings – especially when we try to hide them from ourselves!
If you feel that you would like to access support as you work with the feelings arising from any changes and transitions in your life then contact a Social Worker/Counselor at your local HIV/AIDS service, your General Practitioner or a grief counselor.
Accredited grief counselors can be contacted through the National Association for Loss & Grief (Vic.) www.nalagvic.org.au on
(03) 9329 4003 or Country Vic. Freecall 1800 100 023. email: email@example.com