Endings and Beginnings

by | Jan 15, 2024

One of the great paradoxes of life is that beginnings start with endings.  The land in between is a transition of uncharted territory that challenges us to adapt – emotionally, psychologically and sometimes even physically.  The loss of someone we loved is a terribly difficult transition to navigate. There is no going back.  Everyone experiences loss and grief differently and grief has its own timeline and agenda.  I’ve come to see grief as something that doesn’t really go away; we just learn to carry it and adapt.  It’s a transition from what was to a new reality.  Sometimes I think of it as a wound that heals, but the scar always remains.

Transition will be a different journey for each of us, but there are patterns to it.  In his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges describes the time between the ending of something and the beginning of a new way of being as the “neutral zone.”   We know what we’ve lost or what has changed, but we can’t yet see what lies ahead.  We’re in a kind of limbo.

“People go through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. It is when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings take place. It is the very core of the transition process. This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress. The neutral zone is the seedbed for new beginnings.”  – William Bridges

This is true of any transition, whether grief, a change of jobs or retirement, the empty nest after children leave, or other kinds of significant change.  It can be a time of feeling untethered; of being in the dark and not knowing where you’re headed.  But, as novelist E.L. Doctorow once said, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I loathe the darkness of winter.  Come December, I start a countdown to the solstice, longing for the days that will gradually bring more light.  Transition is much the same.  We long for a time when light will return to our life and new things will take root and grow.  It’s good to remember that even when we can’t see it, new life is happening in the midst of darkness.  Seeds germinate in the darkness of the earth.  Babies grow in the dark of the womb.  Baby bears are born in the dark of their winter den.

Just as in the depths of winter, light gives us hope for the sunny days of summer, so it is with transition. We will go through a neutral zone of darkness, but it won’t last forever.  The light will come again.