When things are coming to an end, do you rush to get past the awkward feelings or drag it out- hoping that maybe it won’t really be over? Think about when you are on the phone with a good friend or out to dinner with people you love being with—what happens inside of you when things are coming to a close? Do you start to get uncomfortable? Do you wait for the other person to initiate the ending? Do you look at your watch and abruptly say it is time to go? Do you conjure up an excuse to end the evening quickly? Do you ignore the hints by others that it is time to say goodbye? How you deal with these small events may give clues to how you handle big changes in your life!
Making a transition in your life—even the good transitions—require releasing and letting go of the old. The “old” may mean comfortable rituals, habits, ways of perceiving yourself, ways of thinking about a relationship, a role you held, your image of yourself, or how you think you have been perceived by others etc. If you had a respected, high status position at work and then were laid off—who are you now? If you have been a wife for 25 years and the marriage is over—how do you think of yourself ? If you have been a career person and now are home raising children- the mirror reflecting your accomplishments may be gone. If you have been a carefree student and traveler and now you are married with a mortgage, school debt, and a respectable job—how do you see yourself? If you make a desired move to another city , there may be wonderful adventures to anticipate—yet you leave friends, your favorite hairdresser, your tennis partner, the grocery clerk you always chatted with, your beloved bakery, and your women’s group of 10 years.
I have known and worked with individuals whose “glory days” were their childhood, or college years, or their military service and sadly they never really moved on emotionally in their lives–always looking back over their shoulder longing for the the old “memories” that probably weren’t even as wonderful as they remembered.
We don’t have many rituals in our western culture for “endings”. We tend to expect ourselves and others to “just deal with it and move on”. William Bridges writes in “Transitions-Making Sense of Life Changes” about the difference between “change” and “transition”. Change refers to the external events, or behaviors—getting fired, getting married, physically moving, having a baby, “breaking up”. These changes can happen in a moment. The “transition” however is the internal process that often takes months or longer. The internal process involves releasing, letting go, disengaging, grieving, and seeing what part of the “old way” was more in our head than in reality. Dashing and Dragging- are both ways of avoiding “endings”. Dashing is rushing through it so I won’t feel it, and dragging is slowing it down hoping it won’t happen.
What other choice is there? A third choice is to accept that there is a loss, a kind of death, an ending to something that won’t return in the same way again. This requires you to slow down, take careful note of all that is being left, honor the gifts you have received, acknowledge the regrets, and forgive what needs to be forgiven in yourself and others. It is helpful for some of this to happen in words with others, some in notes or letters to people you need closure with, and some of this can take place in a personal journal. The people and places and rituals are relatively easy to identify.
The harder endings to get in touch with- are the dreams that won’t happen—a child that you won’t have , a partner you won’t spend the rest of your life with, a career that is no longer an option. It may be that the ways you have thought of yourself don’t fit anymore- you have outgrown an identity or a role, or maybe what you used to value no longer has any meaning. This is important stuff!! “Mine the riches” of this challenging time. If you don’t take the time to let these threads unwind, you won’t have meaningful direction for the next phase of your life. Dashing or dragging will just keep you spinning in circles.