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Loss and Transitions

Mark found himself beginning to fully embrace the character of Pinkerton in Butterfly. It was a role he knew would become part of his repertoire at some point during his career. However, the opportunity to sing this role at New York City Opera was going to move him into a whole different category as far as upcoming work was concerned. He knew he was ready for the challenge and had spent a lot of his time energy and money preparing all aspects of the role before rehearsals started. Working with this caliber of colleagues, conductor, stage director, etc. had always been Marks dream. Compliments were coming from everyone including management on down to his dresser. Mark felt himself rise to their level of professionalism and instinctively knew he was on his way to having his career take off. It was during a break in an afternoon rehearsal onstage that he received the call. It was his mother telling him that his dad had had a massive heart attack and died immediately. He hadn't suffered. He had just finished mowing the lawn. Mark knew the routine his father kept with taking care of the yard and garden because he used to be part of it when he was growing up. His mind started trying to comprehend what his mother was saying. She seemed so calm. Did she just say his dad had died? How could that be? What was he going to do now. His first thought was to leave immediately, catch the next flight and go home. His next thought was that dress rehearsal was just 2 days away and his dream, his NYC debut was 4 days away. What should he do? It never occurred to Mark that he would have to deal with the death of a loved one and a personal career triumph all at the same time. He hoped he could find someone to talk to about dealing with all of this, and it better be soon.

“Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts.”
~ Author Unknown

Just getting out of bed and making herself go to her job was getting harder and harder for Sara each morning. The job was ok, it did pay the bills but it didn't give her the time and flexibility to pursue her singing career the way she wanted. She felt as a result she was further behind in her career than most singers her age. Being depressed concerned her because it didn't seem to be just about her singing career anymore. What was her purpose in life anyway? There was not much support from home either. Sara's folks, like most people she knew, lived from paycheck to paycheck. They thought she had a beautiful voice and a lot of natural talent, but didn't understand anything about having a career as a singer and the sacrifices that it entailed. They encouraged her, but could give no advice on any aspect of making her dream happen. Having been the "star" at her University, the one who won all the competitions and got to do all the leading roles, left her in a dark hole when reality set in. Sara fully expected after graduation from college to find a manager and start working as a well paid singer right away. When she did make the realization that she was once again a "freshman" on the career ladder, Sara didn't know if she had the inner resources to start over again at ground zero. But she decided she would give herself 1 year and re-evaluate her position then. The years had gone by fast. Her 1 year anniversary was long gone; anniversary number 4 was coming up soon and Sara started to really question if having a singing career was even close to being the dream she had imagined. The big questions that came up for her were - how long do I want to keep living this sparse lifestyle? If I ever want to be married and have kids, I need to change things in my life now. I know I am a good singer and performer, but am I really good enough to compete and have a career? Am I up for living out of a suitcase, spending lots of time traveling and being alone? How much more time, money and energy do I want to give to pursuing my dream?

“Don't be afraid your life will end; be afraid it that it never will begin. ”
~ Anonymous

These two examples of loss are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. However, many of us have experienced loss at some level. It could be the breakup of a serious relationship which means losing the intimacy of having a significant partner or loved one to share your life with, or perhaps having to put a beloved pet down, to simply not performing up to you own expectations during an important audition.; one you knew you should have aced but didn't because you let your mind, or as I like to call it, "the brat" take over at the last minute. It could be the loss of a vocation, a home, children leaving home (empty nest), or even the ending of a friendship. It could be the end of a dream you realize cannot be made into reality.

Death/loss is universal; we are all affected by it. Grief is universal and an intensely personal, normal and inevitable step in our journey through life. Grief is the pain of not having that person, dream or object physically available to us anymore. We have all experienced the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior. This kind of loss can also challenge our beliefs about the way things should be.
There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. The finality of this kind of loss brings a tremendous amount of emotional pain.

Grieving is difficult because it can involve many intense feelings - love, sadness, guilt, fear, anger, depression, relief, compassion, hate, or happiness to name a few. Not everyone experiences all of these feelings. On the other hand, some of us may experience several of these feelings all at the same time. The feelings are intense, disorganizing and can be long lasting.

Although the stages of grief are generally a predictable part of the mourning process, grief doesn't always move in a straight line. The stages tend to flow together and fluctuate, so it's not always possible to tell which stage people are in. Emotions see-saw, and overwhelming feelings pass and then return. Moods wash in and out like the tide. Just when people think they are "over" it, a sound, smell, or image can send them back into emotional turmoil. This back and forth movement may occur over a period of months, or even years
.Phil Rich, EdD, MSW, DCSW, author of the eight books in The Healing Journey series of self help journaling books says, "When people talk of recovery, they really refer to overcoming grief and adapting to life after the death. This is an important distinction to draw, because the purpose of grief work is not to "get over" loss, but to adjust to its consequences, and restore balance."

The goal of grief work is not to find ways to avoid or bypass the emotional turmoil and upsets brought by loss. Instead, its goals involve working through the tasks and emotions of each stage of grief. No matter what kind or level of loss you have experienced it leaves a permanent mark on you life in the sense that things can't be restored back to the way they were before. The empty feeling you might be experiencing leaves room for and gives rise to self-reflection, recharging, and reorienting yourself. Don't rush this process. When you once again gain the strength to re-engage in the world around you, your work is to start the rebuilding process. You can start living in the present again, rather than the past, re-establishing who you are in the world, and plan a future. This period of grief is actually necessary to make these transitions in your life possible. If you feel you cannot cope with your loss alone, it's time to seek professional help.

“Yesterday is gone, tomorrow had not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. ”
~ Mother Teresa

Transitioning from experiencing loss and grieving is difficult work but transitions can be a time for growth as they always conclude with a new beginning. Here are the basic steps involved in the process of moving through grief.

  1. First, accept the reality of your loss.
  2. Fully experience the pain of your loss.
  3. Be prepared to and capable of adjusting to the new environment without having that person, dream or object physically available to you anymore.
  4. Be ready, willing and able to invest in your new reality by being present and accepting the change, the transition that has occurred in your life.

The following are some suggestion to help in navigating the journey through grief. I will also give you a tool to be able to step outside the emotional impact of your loss when it is necessary to perform or when you have to deal with important issues that require your full attention.

“Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Take your time. Remember your grief is individual to you. Not everyone's grief is identical to yours. You will share some similarities with others, but grieving is a very personal and very individual process. Don't let others rush you into "getting over" your feelings. Now is not the time to try to do everything by yourself. Change and transition are emotionally draining. They can affect us mentally, physically, spiritually and financially. Don't rush the process. There is no time line. It will take as long as it takes. Know that there will be good days and bad days
  • Recognize why and how you are uncomfortable. Change/transition can produce anxiety, anger and doubt. You may even feel guilty. If your loss involves changing the direction of your career, you may feel like you're letting people down, including yourself. You may feel like a "failure." Let yourself feel these powerful feelings. Study them. Know where and how they are affecting your physical body. Where in your body do you hold the tension? Is it in your lower abdomen or in your shoulders? Can you release it? Then every time you feel that tension, hold it for a minute and release. This is a great tool to use any time you are dealing with emotion issues in your life.
  • Don't act for the sake of action. Doing nothing about your situation may be so uncomfortable that you become tempted to do something, actually anything to escape it. While you are grieving your ability to make major decisions may be impaired because this can be a time of instability. Taking action for the sake of escape just prolongs or delays the process you have to go through to find a new beginning. Recognize it for what it is and sit in it for a while. Be present and start observing your body and mind.
  • Indulge yourself. Don't try to make it on your own. Make sure you have a good support team while making this transition. Ask for what you need from others. Accept what help they offer. Allow yourself time to heal. Take really good care of yourself while you are in this limbo. Try to keep your personal routine going. Eat healthy, exercise and be with good company. Try to stay balanced. This will give you some stability. Cry. Tears are the healthiest expression of grief.
  • Don't try to hold back crying for the sake of others.
  • Find a good listener. Do you have a friend or family member who will listen and not give advice unless you ask for it? You need a chance to spill everything that's on your mind without feedback in a safe environment. This will give you a better opportunity to find what you are looking for yourself. Or if it is more comfortable, you may want to consider talking with a professional counselor.

“The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man without trials.”
~ Confucius

Here is a tool to use if you need to be in the present moment to be able to fully focus on what is at hand.

Stand in the center of the space you are in. Become fully immersed in your feelings. Take the time necessary to feel the full impact of your emotions. When that is accomplished, simply take two really big steps backward leaving your emotions over there where you were just standing. Notice that you are disassociated from the emotional impact you were just experiencing. This allows you to notice each item for exactly what it is. Don't name anything. If you are looking at sorrow, notice only its form, density, size, color and weight. Do the same for each item you have left over there. Make sure as you work with this tool that you don't allow the emotions to start seeping over to where you are now standing. If this happens take another step back and leave them over there or watch the emotions get sucked back to where you left them over there. This is something you will need to practice each and every time you start feeling too emotionally attached to a situation. I can guarantee that it does work. I use it all the time. It allows me to stop wasting precious time and focus on what needs to be done right now.

“When we learn to manage our emotions long enough to stop and shift our attention to the quieter message of the heart, we can gain a wider perspective on any situation, often saving ourselves from hurt, frustration and pain.”
~ Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution

The biggest part of life is making changes and transitions. Losing a loved one and the death of a dream are two of the biggest emotional challenges you will encounter. Change is inevitable even down to the trivial; think about the fashion industry, hair styles, cars, and micro chips. If you look or think back to couple of years ago, you will notice that there might have been many instances where change followed by growth took place. Think about beginning new relationships and the ending of others whether it was someone you loved who had passed away or you chose to leave because the relationship wasn't working anymore. What have you learned about yourself since you left home, graduated from college, found an apartment, a roommate, and a job? An ending is always the way in which change and transition begin. It is the time to consider what new opportunities out there might interest you. It is time for letting go of old obligations and priorities to make way for new experiences. It is always a chance for growth.

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