Processing Change

If you have been reading anything on this blog for the past two years, you might have noticed that I am going through a period of grief. You might say I have become obsessed with the idea of it. Lest you misunderstand, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, “let me ‘splain”.

A podcast interviewee recently stated that every major change in life presents an opportunity for grief. The speaker went on to say that, indeed, one must grieve change in order to move forward because, according to him, every change involves some sort of loss (even the good changes). But how realistic is this idea, really? I mean, I change my socks every day. Sometimes I change the route I take to work, or the time I get up in the morning, and my meal choice changes three times a day. It seems to me that human beings are in a constant state of flux – to grieve over every change would be impractical on a monumental scale. (Never mind that your cells are constantly dying, while new ones emerge and grow, so that every eight years there’s a whole new you!)

Then what constitutes a change drastic enough to warrant grief? According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale some changes cause more stress than others, and I would assume, stress = the need to grieve.

Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Beginning or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Major Holiday 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score <150: Only have a slight risk of illness.

The handy little chart above uses a number scale to predict how life’s changes might affect one’s health. I first ran into it sometime in my thirties, and over the years found that most of my adult life, my stress score was running above 300, constantly. If change = loss, then this is how I would translate a few of my more significant and stressful life experiences as an adult:

1987 Marriage =

Change of: status, activities, schedule, responsibilities, lifestyle

Loss of: freedom

1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2015 (x 2) Major moves =

Change of: home, job, activities

Loss of: friends, church associations, familiarity with the area

1993, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2015 Career Shift =

Change of: income, location (see above)

Loss of: security

1989, 1991, 1999 New Baby =

Change of: schedule, activities, responsibilities

Loss of: freedom

Considering that I followed my husband through three different graduate schools in three different states and four different internships in three different denominations (1 in a foreign country), through twenty-seven moves in twenty-eight years (yes, you read that right: 27), birthed three children (who I home schooled some of the time for a total of 15 years), lived through my husband’s five major job losses and was forced by the one in 2009 to reenter the workforce after fifteen years out of it – good Lord, no wonder all of the clothes in my closet used to be black!

If I am supposed to grieve every major change in my life, I should have spent a good 25 years in mourning.

Although the changes were difficult (I did my share of crying over lost relationships, locations, and situations), I do not believe I ever really experienced grief until my sister passed. I think there is one major reason for this. While the changes I have gone through were hard, they were not permanent – final, the way death is; and yes, relationships died, but there were other, new ones where we settled next (and there’s always the telephone for the ones far away that you keep); yes, finances were difficult, but we have always been taken care of; yes, learning my way around new places was challenging, but I got to see the wide world in the process. In other words, all of the changes were not only stressful. A few of them were good changes that relieved stress (like my exit from the marriage this past summer).

I understand what the speaker meant when he said we need to grieve change (even the good ones), but I’m thinking we need a new word in place of ‘grieve’. Grieving has always been a heavy word, something that ought to be reserved for a loss that is final, one that cuts deeper than some of life’s more challenging changes, one that it’s hard to find anything good in. About the only good people ever manage to find in the loss of a loved one is the end of pain/suffering for the one we lost. To me, the loss of a loved one is different, and our language should reflect that. Using the word grieve for life changes cheapens the impact of the word. Kind of like what we’ve done to ‘love’. You know, we love our spouse, we love hot dogs, we love our favorite football team, we love our kids, etc. If love when applied to my Harley is the same as when applied to my child, there’s a problem! Jus’ sayin’.

So while I will continue to actually grieve the loss of my sister, I will not use that word for the changes in my life anymore. There is definitely something to be said for learning to say goodbye to the things we leave behind when major change comes, but, for me, a huge part of that is taking something meaningful away from every experience. Maybe that’s what my grieving process with my sister has been about too. Losing someone changes how you look at the relationships you still have. Major loss teaches us to appreciate what we’ve got and cherish it while we’ve got it (or, in my case, be willing to dump the one that was sucking the life outta me). The death of a loved one is a bull-horn reminder that our lives are short and impermanent, as are many of life’s situations/circumstances (i.e., we grow, children are born, jobs are lost, and marriages dissolve).

If there is one thing that change has taught me, it is gratitude. When I look back on all that my life’s journey has taken me through, I have so much to be grateful for. Come to think of it, that’s how I feel about all of the family I have and have lost – grateful for every second we have/had together. More and more I begin to think that the real way to grieve is to be grateful now, to thank people and God or what- whoever it is you believe in – for the loved ones, friends, and moments of our lives that have made such an impact on who we are and where we are heading. I know one thing for sure, without gratitude, there is only bitterness at the end of every loss. Unless I am committed to being thankful for what I have/had, my only response to change will be pain, anger, and more change – looking for whatever is around the next bend that will make me happy.

Maybe what change has really taught me is that “wherever you go, there you are”. We have to make our own happiness (find it inside ourselves) in whatever circumstance(s) we are in. Certainly there are times that getting out of a situation is the only way to finally find happiness (like in cases of domestic abuse), but learning to be joyful in the hard times is certainly a key to change, loss, and even grief. Without joy, the griefs of life would crush us beyond repair and beyond our ability to face more change and loss – two things certain to come to us … right along with death and taxes.

So what about you? How do you handle change? Do you agree with the speaker I heard, that change should be grieved as loss? How do you handle loss (death of a loved one)? Is there anything special you have learned about yourself through the major changes/losses in your life? How has gratitude helped or not helped you move forward through the hard times, through loss or through change? Penny for your thoughts!