November is a month of transition in Wisconsin. Mother Nature is deciding if she is ready to let go of fall and welcome in winter. One day the thermometer reads sixty-five degrees and the next day it’s thirty degrees colder. (or more!) The trees are bare. The crops are harvested. The horizon seems to look gray many days and the weathermen start teasing us about impending drizzle and snow flurries. Even our wardrobes must go through transition as we dig out warmer sweaters, coats, hats and gloves from dark dusty closets.
This month of weather transition causes me to think about other more monumental transitions as well.
For example, recently I heard a portion of a news broadcast segment that stated some human development “experts” are trying to redefine the third decade of our lives as the one that really transitions a person into adulthood. It seems some such experts believe the brain is not yet fully developed during our twenties and therefore we are not yet fully mature during that decade. They want to relabel the twenties as another stage in human development, much like toddlerhood or adolescence.
I wish I had heard the whole story because I found it pretty interesting, especially since I have two children in their twenties and one almost there. The skeptic in me says, wait a minute; this is just another excuse for people to blame bad behavior of the twenties on not being grown up yet. Or on the other end of the spectrum, give us “older people” a false sense of being younger somehow. After all, we’ve been grownups a whole decade less if this idea holds any water!
Regardless, life is one series of transitions. Puberty, graduation, entering the work force, marriage, parenthood, divorce and retirement are just a few major life transitions experienced by many. Some transitions bring joy and happiness, but some are devastatingly difficult and cause considerable upheaval, confusion and even trauma. Two of the hardest transitions for me have been losing my mother and my breast cancer diagnosis.
November takes me back to three years ago when my mother was really ill. Her health was declining rapidly before my eyes and I felt helpless. She was transitioning between life and death and we all knew it. During those months I felt as if I was standing on a bridge between two time periods of my life just waiting to be pushed off.
Even though I had a few months to prepare, I still wasn’t ready when the end came. Some people would say I was lucky to have had those final months to prepare, say goodbye and well, transition. I guess I was. If you lose a loved one instantly in a tragic accident, you aren’t given those final moments to say goodbye or just be together.
When my mother died in 2008, I had no idea how to be a daughter without a mother. On the day she died, it seemed as if I unwillingly entered the second phase of my life, the years I would be motherless. I think a woman’s life can be divided up into two parts, the years she has a mother and the years she does not. How many years one gets to have on either side of this “great divide” seems to be randomly and unfairly determined, but regardless of how much time you are allotted for the first part, it’s not long enough and you enter part two unprepared.
I wonder why this is sometimes. Why we are so unprepared for death and why isn’t it talked about much in our society? Why do people struggle figuring out what to say or do for others when a death is involved? Why do they sometimes even avoid the person who has experienced loss because it’s just too hard to face them? Do other cultures do a better job dealing with these issues? Do other cultures embrace aging or incorporate death more into everyday life, thus making it easier to at least talk about and therefore prepare for somewhat better? I think perhaps they do.
I realize loss of parents is in the natural order of things and in no way compares to the loss of a child. I have several loyal readers who have experienced this nearly unbearable tragedy and I have witnessed it in my own family as well. Nothing compares with this excruciating loss. But still, when you lose your parent(s), you are transformed or at least I was. The void left is immense. In addition, you are forced to step forward in life’s line so to speak. You are forced to face your own mortality a bit more seriously.
You are transitioning.
Do you agree that the twenties should be relabeled as another stage in human development? What was one of your most difficult times of transition? Or what was one that brought you great joy?