Life has many seasons, with its rise and fall, ups and downs, sunshine, and storms. Each season has its unique qualities, experiences, its imparted growth. Each one stretches and shapes you, some more than others.
When I think about the seasons of life, I tend to divide them into the following categories:
The Young Years
The Elementary Years
The Middle School Years
The Single Years
Young(er)/Newly Married Years
The Family Years
The Empty Nest Years
The “Golden” Years (although a patient said to me this week: “Whoever called them the golden years obviously didn’t live them. There’s nothing “golden” about getting old.” 🙂 )
Of course, your divisions may take on a slightly different, more individualized form, but my thought in dividing them this way was focusing on the major growth periods caused by extreme change in life. These fit that definition.
If you’re like me, even reading the caption that categorizes the specific time period brings images, thoughts, and emotions to the surface. Each of these major stages of our lives bring large amounts of growth, varying degrees of change, and usually major social, economical, and emotional adjustment.
While talking with my mom the other day, she shared how challenging it has been to transition into the empty nesting years. After twenty-five plus years devoted to raising her daughters, she finds herself suddenly in a completely different stage.
As we continued to talk, I found myself identifying with some of her feelings even as I have been navigating a different life transition recently from the Single Years to the Young Married years. This change in my personal life season has resulted in job changes, a move across country, learning to live with someone 24/7, and acquiring many new communication skills. As all these changes during a transition between life seasons occur, the resulting emotional turmoil can seem to emulate the seasons of grief.
Grief can be such a “dirty” word to some — a word reserved only for a tragic death or devastating diagnosis. But I would argue that grief in and of itself is actually vital, when processed appropriately, in its ability to help us move from one season to another in life.
Although typically thought of as a cycle for relatives left behind after a loved one’s death, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ theory of the “Five Stages of Grief” can be applicable to other circumstances in life as well. Her ideas contain the following: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
To preface, I think that each season of life transition may not go through each grief stage exactly, but what I do see is varying shades of each emotion as people transition from one to the other.
For example, your transition from high school to college may have been easy breezy as you settled right into campus life; however, for others, they may have fallen into a cycle of grieving which could look like depression (late night crying sessions, coping with food = freshman fifteen) or denial (going home every weekend to keep up high school routines with friends still there) as the adjustment to a whole new way of life overwhelms them.
Or for the young married, it may be expressed as anger toward their new spouse as they attempt to process their emotions, or perhaps denial comes into play as selfishness attempts to convince the new spouses that none of their “while single” habits need adjusting and that no compromising is required.
How about the older years? People tend to compensate mostly in denial – attempting to do things such as climb ladders to put up Christmas lights, continue doing home maintenance, or postponing doctor’s visits — all in the attempt to delay the inevitable: getting old. Perhaps you will see anger, depression, or bargaining surface as independence is slowly whittled away.
As life changes, we change. Growing, stretching, falling down, getting back up. Tragedies strike, businesses fail, career paths suddenly curve a different direction. These transitions aren’t easy, and if we deny our natural reaction to grieve the loss of dreams, ideas, expectations, goals, and hopes just as much as we would broken friendships, destroyed marriages, prodigal children, losses of loved ones, and the seemingly finality of death, we do ourselves such a disservice.
I believe investing in our own unique grief process during the seasons of life and cultivating our ability to allow ourselves to truly feel the hurt, the pain, the disappointment, the confusion, the sadness – is absolutely essential to shaping us into the person we are meant to become.
So Cry Loudly.
Acknowledge your Disappointment.
And one day: Accept Fully.
Accept the loss, the sting, the hurt, the pain, the turmoil and let it mold you, make you into the person you are becoming — the one who is not destroyed by the changing of seasons or by twists and turns in life, but the one who persevered through them, the one who now stands taller, wiser, and more willing to share their own story with others — imparting freely that when the leaves change and winter comes, the promise of spring and summer will forever remain, just as greater purposes and plans lie ahead as you navigate the seasons of grief in life.
What do you think? Have you experienced grief symptoms with life transitions?