Surviving April: Navigating Transitions and Change
Spring has always been my favorite. I anticipate its return, almost like Christmas morning. I love watching color slowly creep back up the mountains, like some great artist is slow-motion sweeping her giant paints across the land and color rises up all around us. I love the smell of lilac that meets me on the deck and wisteria as I walk through town. I love how the light turns golden in the late afternoon, birds twittering, trees soft pinks, whites and yellows. Love it. Spring gives me this feeling that all is right with the world. I think this love was passed down to me from my father, who, though he spent most of his days in an office, was a farmer at heart- happiest when working outside, growing his great big garden, tending to the farm I grew up on. But two springs ago on the last Friday in April, on a wet chilly morning, my father died suddenly and without warning at my house.
So now spring is something new to me. When the earth starts to look and feel it as it did on that morning, all of the freshness of losing him comes back to me. I can feel again the unsteadiness and desperation I felt at his disappearance. My ability to sooth myself weakens and my sadness overwhelms me again. I feel the loss of the life I had before, the person I was before and I feel the roughness of this new life.
Change--whether shocking and unwelcome or long-awaited and thrilling, whether it creeps up incrementally or sweeps us away-- can be uncomfortable when confronted. We can feel like a stranger in our own life and touching our emotions can jolt us onto a runaway roller coaster ride.
For the last two years my enjoyment of spring- and the upswelling of wellness it brings me- was gone. I’ve just been trying to get through it. This year, perhaps because winter lingered so long, I feel that old familiar anticipation of spring’s arrival. I watch the peony stems push up the earth and feel protective of their tenderness again. I tuck pea seeds into the newly turned garden with satisfaction. And as I move through these familiar springtime activities that used to ground me and make me feel so happily alive, I now also feel such painful sadness over my father’s loss and longing for time that has passed. I feel waves of the trauma of that first morning and in touch with that part of my heart that will now always be broken.
It is strange to be ok and not ok at the same time. To feel happiness and pain so tightly bound together. Death is a particularly intense transition to adjust to -- a doozy I’d not wish on anyone (though I’m not sure any of us make it through untouched). I also see that surviving most of life’s changes and transitions require us to hold together powerful opposing emotions: my overpowering adoration for my newborn and my stunning depression at losing my freedom; my joy at marrying my love, my fear that I would fuck it up; my excitement at a new work opportunity and my anxiety that I will fail and be criticized.
Lots of the time it is easy to pretend that things aren’t changing; we aren’t changing; our life isn’t moving by; everything is steady and ok. But sometimes our world shifts undeniably, unearthing its inherent impermanence. A beloved dies or we break up with our partner, we lose or leave a job or have a baby. We move or a dream we nurtured must be surrendered. One day we notice with undeniable clarity that our life isn’t looking the way we imagined.
Sometimes change/newness is standing right in front of us and it’s so big there’s just no place else to look but right into its face. I mean, we can look away but that thing is just going to climb onto our back and press us into the ground with its weight. And at some point we’ll hardly be able to breathe under its burden. We have a choice: to step toward our discomfort at the newness upon us, to welcome in the barrage of emotions that come with that, or to freeze and push away, to tamp down any feelings of not being ok.
Sometimes it feels like life is a constant process of realizing, “Oh, this is hard. I’m extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable.” And even though it’s frightening, I’m inclined to seize that instant of awareness of my discomfort as an opening. That moment of realization can be a moment of opportunity. There is a space there to harden up, put your head down and pretend you’re fine. Or you can hold your ground. You can breathe, you feel your feelings. And you can reach out for support and tools to find your ground. You can blaze a path of caring for yourself and honesty and messing up and forgiving.
Something has happened to me this April as I’ve tried to put this into practice day by day, moment by moment. I feel deepening gratitude. I feel such an awake love for this life. Don’t get me wrong- I also feel furious and afraid and lost. I’m not doing it perfectly by any means. But perfection is not a standard based on real life and I’m tired of trying to live up to it.
I’ll leave you with a snippet of an Audrey Lourde poem that’s been ringing in my ears this April:
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard nor welcomed
but when we are silent we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
Navigating transitions- big and small- can be incredibly challenging. They are also full of potential- and a super ripe opportunity for holistic life coaching! I work with clients who are facing unexpected transitions and with those who are ready for a transition, to begin something new, and looking for support in making change happen.