“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou
No matter how old we are or what our life circumstances, life altering events happen, sometimes frequently. They are the situations, real or imagined, that drive us to our knees. They may be as clearly defined as the death of a spouse or a painful divorce or as subtle as restlessness in our chosen career.
A life crisis can be brought on by external or internal events, but either way, it gives us an opportunity to grow and to create lives that are far richer than they were before. Every time we face a crisis of any proportion, we have a choice. We can allow it to debilitate us or we can use it to foster and support change and personal growth.
Coming through a crisis requires navigating the treacherous waters of emotional, mental and physical upheaval. We must stare down our demons and step into the fire of change, allowing it to burn away the useless debris that may have put a stranglehold on our lives. When we do this, we come forth, in the end, with a reconstructed self that more perfectly matches the person we were meant to be. We are then able to see and use our trials and tribulations, not as a force of destruction but to forge new strength, develop more clarity, and to define our vision more precisely. We may then more easily resolve to live our dreams with greater intent and purpose. The process informs us. If we dare to listen, it teaches us things we need to know about ourselves. It opens doors to the very things we have yearned to discover to enable us to live more authentic lives.
Transition is a process that contains stages that are very similar to those outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her famous book “On Death and Dying”. Accepting transition as a process helps us understand that while life altering events are painful, they also contain the exact ingredients we need to garner a deeper understanding of ourselves and our lives. We do not need to live “lives of quiet desperation”. We can step into the fire of change and be made new.
Too often we look at our problems as forces beyond our control. We think that our only option is to try to absorb these events and survive, or to fight back with anger and rage. As a result we get stuck in the muck of emotional conflagration and end up going back and forth, back and forth, unable to come through to the other side. When we resist change, it slows the process and prevents our healing and growth.
It is human nature to avoid pain and to seek comfort. Erich Fromm wrote, “Every act of birth requires the courage to let go of something, to let go of the breast, to let go of the lap, to let go of the hand, to let go eventually of all certainties, and to rely only upon one thing: one’s own power to be aware and to respond; that is, one’s own creativity.” This is the essence of transition.
Caring for an aging parent is a life crisis that can stymie us and wear us down or it can lead us into a period of transition that will teach us about ourselves. Midlife frequently gives us more than one opportunity for growth and is very fertile grounds for resolving past issues so that we can step into the future stronger and more grounded than ever before.
The reflections in my book, Caring for Mom, were written during just such a time in my life. While it was a very painful and stressful process, it led me to take steps I would not otherwise have taken. I have learned the value of walking through the fire, allowing it to burn away a lifetime of debris and step out into the light just a little bit smarter and a little bit lighter.
My hope is that as you read these reflections, you will feel less alone when facing your own trials and catch a glimpse of the value inherent in the pain and difficulty of all midlife transitions.