My family recently returned from the first trip to visit relatives since my dad passed away. Before we left for the trip, I started thinking about how it would be different this time: not picking him up from his retirement apartment, not helping him shuffle along into the restaurant where he would proclaim his entree was “way too much for an old guy like him to eat,” not secretly rejoicing when we found a conversational topic or beloved memory that caught his attention and maybe even prompted him to laugh a little. I thought about what it takes to adjust to the change of him not being there and, in fact, how often life asks us to make adjustments as the years go by.
Certainly, this is one of the most difficult adjustments we are asked to make: the loss of a relationship or loved one. These losses are life-changing and often we did not choose or expect this change in our lives. As we feel the difficult emotions and understand that they are a necessary part of our experience, we also realize that we will not be the same person we were before the loss. Losing a loved one or relationship and going through the grieving process changes us. We remember happy times, accept that we miss the person, and try to adjust to a new normal. We felt my dad’s absence on our family trip and acknowledged that there are still lots of happy moments, but we are all a little different than we were before.
Caring for young children, whether as a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc., requires what feels like constant adjustment. In my mind, my daughter and sons are still little ones running around the playground and struggling to pedal their bikes around the block. In reality, the youngest will start high school and the older two will move into off-campus apartments when college resumes. These types of changes mean one day I bravely organize trips to purchase pots and pans and used furniture, and the next I do little more than stare longingly at the mom pushing her toddlers on the park swings. It is okay to feel those tough emotions and it is better to expect some challenging times on our way to making the adjustments the passing years require us to make. It can feel a lot like Spring in the Midwest: one day is beautifully sunny and warm, the next features cold rain and howling winds. We have to brave our way through the harder days and know that with time, we can clearly see the very important roles we play, even when the children in our lives become adults.
Not all adjustments are found in the bigger moments of life. Everyday life presents us with plenty of times when the willingness to adjust with a positive outlook benefits us greatly. We might find out our flight is delayed for several hours, our cook-out is threatened by rain, or our date cancels at the last minute. We have a certain idea of how our days will play out, but sometimes we encounter changes that leave us scurrying to adapt to something different. Coming back from that recent trip to visit family, we somehow missed an important interstate exit and suddenly faced a longer drive that included miles of one lane roads under construction. Even this unexpected detour required adjustment. The more we allowed ourselves a little time to express frustration (five minutes seems to be enough in a closed-up minivan), focused on the positive (getting home safely was what mattered), and remembered what we could control (finding the best alternate route home), the better we adapted. The same is true in the bigger moments of life. When we work through the process of adjustment, we just might find something amazing awaits us in the next chapter of life.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.