When I was a very small girl at my first school, I remember being in a class called Transition. It was never fully explained why this class was so named, nor did I have any idea of what I was in transit from, or indeed to. I think the class was probably a bridge from nursery to junior school.
But it occurs to me now, that much of adult life is spent in transition of one kind or another.
For instance, when you become a parent, you must adapt and adjust to a completely new way of life. Probably excited, anxious and sleep deprived in equal measure, you are expected to slot into an entirely new way of living with the additional responsibility for a small, demanding human being whom is entirely dependent upon you for all his or her needs. Casting my mind back, I remember the sense of panic I felt during the early weeks and months of transition from being a wife to becoming a mother, too. There was no time to analyse my feelings then, it was a case of having to get on with it. Suddenly, I had to be a fully paid up member of the adult community, and it was not the smoothest of transitions. The transition to maturity is a long, slow process.
The loss of a child instantly throws you into a new, unwanted transition that co-exists with a sense of suspended animation.
James died in July 2005.
I was thinking about the early days of loss recently and revisited what I wrote then in Into the Mourning Light …
“In the early days, weeks and months following loss, time took on a strange quality.
The days – and nights – dragged that summer, yet suddenly we were in late September and I had no real sense of how time had passed.
One Saturday, Shaun and I went to the RHS gardens at Wisley. This has long been a favourite place that we visit through the seasons. I had last been there shortly before James’s death.
We followed our usual route, which took in the main avenue of summer borders – twin, large borders either side of a grassy pathway, which are always splendid in summer.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed, dismayed. “How did that happen? All the flowers have gone over.”
I was so upset to see that the buds, which I had seen shortly before James’s death, were now gone, spent and brown, dried and desiccated on their stems with the onset of early autumn. I felt cheated, deprived of my customary sense of the progression of the seasons.
“Is this how it is going to be, then?” I demanded of Shaun, “Not noticing what is around us because of what has happened to us personally? It is awful, dreadful, unbearable…”
I remember this as one of the lowest moments I experienced and it emphasised how different life would be for us now”.
Being in a state of transition can be negative, but it was also protective for me at that time. The profound shock of the early grief state necessitates the donning of armour against the outside world. My oblivion to the changing seasons was hardly surprising. Every day events did not impinge on my consciousness because my mind was entirely taken up with coping with grief.
If change is a wall to get over, then transition can be seen as a gate in that wall.
In grief terms, you might think to yourself, “What will it take for me to get over this?” but it is not a case of getting over; rather it is a case of passing through the gate, to the path of transition. In tandem with this is recognition that it is time to let go of what is holding you back. It takes a while to learn that letting go of the past does not negate its existence, rather that doing so can help you along on your transitory journey.
In my case, it took me a long time to understand that constantly asking the question “Why?” brought me no nearer to the answers to my losses. Leaving behind the question, whilst it always remains unanswered, gradually brings a measure of peace.
You may think you are going through a transitory state alone, but you will be guided, supported and helped by whatever you reach out to, whether it is spiritual, emotional or physical. Much can happen to you that is inexplicable or seemingly random, but you may learn to accept rather than question change, as you move in transition from one stage to the next.
In particular, the sorrow of grief is unique. It forces transition when you cannot bear to stand in that darkest of dark places any longer. You need to move forward in hope of finding an easier, lighter place to be.
Fortunately, transition is more often than not a constructive state. Transition is not exactly transformation or metamorphosis. It’s not the caterpillar or the butterfly; it is the chrysalis, experiencing a lengthy and lonely transit time to attain its wings.
Transition is progression rather than regression, advancement rather than impediment. Transition is a reorientation to the self that you already know and an orientation to the added dimensions of the self you are becoming.
Successfully completing transition means accepting a need for change, and acting upon it.
But transition’s progress can be impeded by the side swipes in life that catch you out, such as sudden loss and fast-altering circumstances.
The past year has seen great adjustment for me in my personal and professional life. I have nominally retired from work; that is to say, I am no longer in paid employment, but I do not feel ready to say I have fully retired.
Shaun and I moved from Surrey to Devon at the end of June last year and we feel we are still undergoing a process of transition. This is undoubtedly positive, reflecting as it does our acclimatisation to a less hectic pace of life in more scenic surroundings. The differences in our new life are significant. Everything is novel and altered; and settling into our new location is a transition that is gradually becoming more established.
The desired end result from transition arrives on that happy day when you can look back and say that you have moved comfortably into your new state and place.
That day may be a while coming.