The topic of transitions and how we approach change came up in a recent discussion while visiting independent living facilities. In working with seniors, and with becoming seniors ourselves, how I view change in my life and how we manage our transitions made an big impression. As I meet and interact with the residents, their frame of reference needs to have first priority.
The Grief Recovery Method holds that grief is the conflicting feelings caused by an end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. Our well-being in later life is impacted by these changes. How often and when these changes occur can affect our health and our longevity.
Grief and Beefs!
In terms of grief, these transitions can bring much to the surface. Our “griefs and beefs” are seldom spoken of, let alone shared. As we advance in years, the accumulation of these transitions may show up in our attitude and behaviors which then may challenge our health and make us feel older. We get determined, set in our ways, and without recognizing it, our world view gets smaller and more restrictive. We also hold these feelings too close to our hearts and rarely express them until they show up as ulcers, cancer, or other physical diseases.
Take for example, the decision to leave the home where we have lived and raised our family. A transition like this can have both immediate and long term grief associated with it. Let me emphasize here that the grief may not appear as a problem. Recognize that these changes can create conflicting feelings. Knowing that a change is necessary yet, feeling remorse to letting go of a home that was filled with memories.
These memories can be positive and negative at the same time.
For example, remembering how hard you worked to make the mortgage payment may be offset by the many birthday celebrations that filled the place with laughter and joy. Another memory may be recollecting the joy of watching the onset of evening versus the chore of knowing the lawn needs mowing, again. These are examples of trade offs in our conflicting feelings. When we reach the tipping point that the familiar patterns of our life no longer serves us, it is time to let go. Our heart may feel the weight of our realization and in those moments we experience grief. This is one of life’s small griefs, not a death or a divorce, but over time small griefs can accumulate and wear us down.
Loss of health and change in familiar behavior patterns are two more senior concerns. It can be the simplest of tasks that go by unrecognized or unacknowledged as a transition. Seemingly simple activities, such as attempting to open a stubborn jar or needing to put your glasses to read the ingredients in a recipe, causes us to lament our capabilities, our physical limitations and may even change the way we see our day unfolding. When walking and being ambulatory challenges us, our world dwindles and we opt again to reduce areas where we were once active. These transitions have profound impact on our happiness and can be sensed by those around us. Those people may even state to others, “keep away from him, he’s having a bad day.”
Our work to change the conversation around grief.
This takes on a new dimension when we consider the ramifications of the challenges faced by seniors. Small daily griefs accumulate quickly and can spiral uncontrolled if they are not recognized. The work of taking on these daily life challenges and putting them into a context that reframes our limits can be healthy. Reducing the grief conflict is the purpose of many of the activities provided for seniors in independent living facilities. Learning new ways of addressing change can help reduce anxiety and depression. We have not yet learned to reverse the aging process so we must work on ways of acceptance and grace in the openness by which we see ourselves. Our strength individually and collectively is in recognizing our humanness, as seen in the smile of recognition and understanding that each of us must learn over again each day, what it means to live in our light.
This month we will be starting a new program to let the stories be told. I will be inviting the seniors to share their story and record their good news. In addition, I am scheduling small group meetings to begin the process. The program takes eight weeks to complete. Groups range from 4 to 14 participants and there are assignments that need to be completed outside of the sessions. I will also work one on one with anyone who needs additional help through the process. If you are interested in taking this next step or know someone who may be interested, please call for a personal conversation and sign-up so healing can begin.
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist