Illumination IV: Living in Limbo

Someone recently  asked me how I was doing and I had trouble coming up with an answer. And so, as I often do,  I started writing to help me uncover what was going on inside. 

And yes it finally hit me…the usual epiphany for my tough times:  Oh!  That’s it!  I am/we are in the middle of a transition.”

Not just a single change from an old way, or “our old normal,” but many changes at once. We’ve lost family members to the virus, we’ve lost confidence in our government, our personal lives are affected by lockdown, our financial lives have become uncertain, many are trying to work with children at home, and friends, neighbors and family members have lost jobs. The routines of the past have gone by the wayside, to be at least temporarily replaced.  

Brainstorm with yourself and make your  own list of what has been disrupted for you, both outside of you and inside of you.  And allow each of these disruptions to have their own compounding elements of confusion and disorientation.    Feel them, deeply, and try to move on.

I am grateful to Elizabeth Kubler Ross and William Bridges who early and often talked about the normal stages of transition.  For me, over the years, this information  has always been reassuring, both to myself and to my clients.  When I wake up to what’s going on, it’s always the same epiphany.  “Oh!  Its a thing I’m going through.  And it’s normal. The first stage is LOSS and I‘m dealing with it.”

While there is plenty of room for positivity and courage,  there also needs to be room for deep feelings of grief, confusion, tears, anger, despair.  I say again, it’s normal.  And necessary.  That acknowledgment, when I remember it,  always gives me some peace.  As do my tears.

Yes, we move on. Or, we try to.

Bridges invites us to recognize that we don’t quickly move into a new normal, or even a knowing what is next.  We  move into a second stage called LIMBO. It’s where we don’t yet have a plan for the new, nor should we push to create one.  It’s about taking time to let go of the old, making space for the new, without having to know what’s next.   And by this time, Americans are aware that we may be living in the corona virus LIMBO for quite a few months more.   Perhaps we need to master LIVING IN LIMBO and take the time to polish the silver, clean out the garage, in my case, write a version of a memoir for the grandchildren.  Perhaps we create and adopt some simple routines that get us through the day like taking walks, playing with the grandchildren, meditating, and cooking the dishes we never had time for.

According to Bridges, the third stage, the NEW, will come in its own time.  Be patient!  You can nudge it along by asking questions of yourself.  Who am I really?  What do I feel called to be or do?   How can I bring more of what I love into my life?  What are the essential values and virtues on which I want to base this life of mine? 

From Maya Angelou: “Courage is the most important virtue.  Without courage you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.”  And yes, these unsettling times require courage from all of us.


For a quick summary of the stages:

Illumination III: Deep Grief

Once again…interesting times this pandemic.  At this age and stage of life I didn’t expect to be changing my routine in small but significant ways.  I didn’t expect that using this “gift of time” to clean out my files and possessions would leave me in touch with my impermance and wondering how my life mattered.  I didn’t expect that creating archives for the business I founded and ran for 20 years, now successfully in the hands of my step children, would put me in touch with both the joys of the accomplishments and the loss of those incredible joys.

I have been unashamedly grieving each day, allowing the tears to flow, and giving them permission to last as long as they need to.  I don’t like the fact that I seem to be getting in touch more and more viscerally with the fact that I am going to die. But that’s the truth. I want to put things in order.  I’m letting those tears flow.  And it is a relief. This is a major emotional transition.

I don’t know if others give themselves that same permission to just grieve deeply.  Fr.  Richard Rohr has provided some essential wisdom to me and I want to quote a paragraph from his daily meditations:  Reality Initiating Us…Life is Hard.

“I’m afraid that many of us with privilege have been able to become very naive about pain and suffering in the United States and the Western world. We simply don’t have time for it.  However, by trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious; we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us–in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life.  Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences.”

We don’t know and can’t judge how others feel their losses.  Those that seem small to us, are large to others.  Certainly the loss of certainty is stressful to all, as is feeling  out of control.  Some have an easier time discerning what they can control, and just start with that.  “Today I made my bed, and made a healthy breakfast and helped my son with his schooling.”  It’s what I call the “three successes a day”  approach.

For me, letting tears flow through what I don’t even know what, is my way to clarity and relief. I learned how to “feel, cry, be angry” during several years of participation in a wonderful program available locally, ReEvaluation Counseling. (RC), a kind of peer counseling.   I feel badly for those who block their tears, for fear of being seen as really a mess.  My RC approach is always:  “Crying is not necessarily a signal of mental illness or depression.  It is a signal that you need to cry.”  It always seems to be therapeutic.

And so, while I’ve been surprised at the amount and level of deep grief I’m experiencing.  I’m not afraid of it.  I am looking forward to what this grief and this suffering will teach me and what kind of space my “letting go” will reveal for my remaining years.  I find myself surrendering to the normal cycles of life change.

Perhaps my words can help you relax into your own grief–especially if you can’t exactly name it.  These times are hard in so many, many, ways.

The first
great lesson of life to learn
is that winter will always come…
the human winters of despair and loneliness,
or disappointment, or tragedy…
The major challenge
confronting those surrounded by winter
is to not let it affect the arrival of spring
and our ability to recognize
that arrival.

~ Jim Rohn  

Illumination II – Choices

Daily life consists of choices. It always has. 

Now that I live under the new rules of a pandemic, my awareness of the choices I am currently making are sharper, clearer, and more conscious. 

  • After rejecting a mask, I am now choosing to wear one. 
  • In the wake of the YMCA pool closing, I am finally choosing to build an exercise regime at home.
  • After allowing many tedious tasks to languish on the back burner for years, I am now choosing to tackle them and feel good about it.  
  • As a solo ager, no spouse, no children, nowhere to go and “nothing” I have to do, I am choosing to live in flow each day and enjoying every minute of it.  (It helps if you are an introvert.)

While I am not a wealthy woman, in the last few weeks I find myself acknowledging my privilege.  As the daughter of a very thrifty mother who put herself through college during the depression, I pay all my bills each month.  I am safe in my senior residence and I am food secure. My awareness of privilege becomes more stark as the pandemic illumines the long term injustices and inequalities in other elements of our society.  Ones which I have never had to suffer.

And now, I’m receiving $1,200 from the government.

Somehow this did not seem OK…for me… right now.  I am haunted by the pictures of those standing for hours in lines around the block at food pantries.  Therefore, I am choosing to put this unexpected gift to work at the Providence Ministries Food Bank in Holyoke.  I feel better.  Who knows what other choices lie around the corner?

Another friend feels good about repurposing her “going out to eat at a restaurant” funds to a local Rescue Mission.

Another friend made a similar choice when her senior check arrived . “I don’t need it.  How can this money be more useful?” she asked herself. After some inquiries she located a Tibetan acquaintance in NYC whose daughter had an old broken down computer which didn’t give her access to her new online school arrangement. My friend’s donation solved that problem, served one child, and made the donor very happy.  

Our choices matter.

It is said, “We’re all in this together.”  Yes we are.  And everyone has some way to lend a hand. For ourselves, our children, our families, our neighbors and for our communities.

In my case, taking care of myself and honoring my own gut intuition, was strongly linked to giving something to others. 

You have more choices than you think.