Transitional Grief and Other Feelings
Change by its very nature is multi-faceted in its effect. It is usual to experience a wide range of feelings before, during and after a change occurs.
I recently had a friend move to another city, and I was surprised by the mix of emotions which came with this. I was pleased that they were moving to a place where there were opportunities for them and their family and where they would be well supported. I was surprised though by how sad I felt, that this change meant I wouldn’t be able to drop by their home for a cuppa or catch up in a familiar cafe with them.
A new job, moving to another city, starting or finishing a course, changing houses, losing a treasured item, downsizing, relationships starting and ending are a few of the changes which are likely to occur in life.
One might experience one or many feelings when change happens, including but not limited to fear, anger, relief, sadness and delight. Some of these feelings might come with an extra dose of shame because they are feelings that are different from what one would expect to feel, or they are in contrast to the feelings experienced by those around you. They might be feelings which because of past experiences are connected to embarrassment or perhaps you feel ashamed of feeling anything at all.
It can often comes as a surprise when one experiences strong feelings about a long desired change. It’s common to think “how is it possible that I feel sad about something which I am also so happy to experience.” The sadness is often about what one has let of go to make room for something new. Change can also bring about the feelings of discomfort of ‘wearing in’ a new setting, which in the immediate future does not feel as comfortable or familiar as whatever came before.
It might be the grief about long held values which you’ve not been living and which only emerges when you re-align yourself. Or the delight which comes when you’ve finally found a way to live in a more integrated way.
What to do with the feelings that come with change?
Change can bring with it a storm of thoughts and emotions which need compassionate attention. It’s important to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings which come with change. To show them acceptance as important messages about your current experience and to process them. After a period of time they are likely to settle if they are not ignored.
So how do you do this? Notice what you feel and welcome it - it is a messenger telling something about your experience. Be kind to it - let the feeling be what it is, and give it the support it needs. This could look like, taking a walk, writing/drawing/dancing/crying to express the feeling, or talking about it with a friend etc. The feelings don’t need to be ‘fixed’. If the feeling is too overwhelming, park it- acknowledge it and decide how you will pay attention to it when you are more able to do so.
I experienced strong feelings of sadness about the changes to the frequency of contact with my friend who moved away. They were strong feelings which wouldn’t just go away. I had the biggest week of my work year coming up and realised that I couldn’t pay attention to this grief while also doing the tasks I needed to accomplish. I acknowledged the sadness by feeling it, naming it and telling someone I trusted that it was something important to me. I told them I knew I needed to pay attention to it, but that other things took priority in the next few days. Later on I came back to the feelings, I took time to recognise my loss and the way this change would affect our friendship. I also took time to acknowledge just how important this friendship is and to think about ways I could let my friend know this and to consider creative ways I could continue to be connected.
Here is a favourite poem from an ancient poet Rumi called the Guest House, which informs my approach to feelings.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently seek your house
empty of it’s furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
The Illuminated Rumi, Coleman Barks, 1997.