Transitions Can Surprise Us

In the last few months, people I love have been experiencing all kinds of transitions, and I can’t help but be affected. These transitions began around the time of Mom’s memorial service, which was held on May 26. She died on January 2 and was cremated. With her kids and grandkids living in Indiana, Michigan, Texas, New York, Alaska, and Tennessee, we figured it would be good to hold her memorial in late spring in the hope of better travel weather. We chose May 26, which was also significant because it marked 52 years since our dad’s death. Everyone was planning on coming. Having not been together in nearly ten years, we all looked forward to the reunion.

You’ve perhaps heard that saying that when we make plans, God laughs? Well, prepare yourself for some sharp and unexpected turns to those plans. Between January and May, job loss, a surprise job commitment, and a new baby prevented some family members from being able to come. One who did come had been recently diagnosed with a life-changing illness and went home to begin a long course of treatment we pray will work. Another who had mostly removed herself from the family over the last eight years came, and all seemed to be well once again. The one who had looked after Mom since her stroke in 2010 and had planned the service (doing a remarkable job with all of it) is now free and adjusting to that new reality.

And, of course, the big transition we have all been adjusting to over the last few months is the loss of our mom and grandma. The family dynamics have shifted, and we are all gently working to find our place again.

It’s not that I had never experienced change and transition before studying them. But prior to that, they were just events and experiences that happened to people. Before, I didn’t realize there was a difference between change (the event itself) and transition (our emotional and psychological reaction to the event). I had no idea that all transitions in our lives follow the same three stages: something ends, which causes us to enter a time of feeling in-between, followed eventually by a new beginning. And I had no idea that a particular process of writing through transition could be so helpful.

I have been writing about these events and my feelings about them. Most of the transitions are not specifically mine, but they touch me as well because they involve people I love. I wish they would write too, but they’re not inclined to do so. Which is fine. They will deal with their transitions in their own ways—one way or another,we will all get to where we need to go. I’ll be here to support or cheer them on when they need it.

1. Think of an event or experience that changed your life, for better or worse. If you can give it a name, what would it be? Write a letter to it, expressing your feelings about it as honestly as you can.

2. Make a list of five new beginnings over the course of your life. Then for each one, briefly write about what had to end to open up space for the new beginning.

3. Recall a major change in your life, then write for at least 10 minutes on the emotional and psychological transition you had to navigate to finally accept it and enter your new beginning.

6 replies
  1. Margaret Rode
    Margaret Rode says:

    Barbara, thank you so much for this. I love the journal prompts and am “working” them 🙂

  2. Barbara Stahura
    Barbara Stahura says:

    It certainly does, Joy. And an interesting way to write about difficult experiences is to write in third person — “she did” instead of “I did.” It offers a little emotional distance and can make it easier to write about painful times.

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