Coping Skills: Dealing with Life Changes –
After nearly 5 years of increasing pain and loss of interest in his life due to cancer, my husband, Bob, died on January 23, 2016.
We had walked the path together, facing everything that needed to be faced: the type of memorial service he wanted, the personal items he wanted to share with family members, and where he intended to be put to rest for eternity.
When he died, it was my intention to allow myself to sit in our home, to rest and contemplate my naval, after such an intense, people-filled and sad time. This is the way I intended to handle this life change, giving myself time to review, recuperate and relax.
Alas, it was not to be.
In the year 2001, I had accomplished a step-parent adoption with Bob’s youngest daughter, who, at the age of 12, lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. Always an amazing person, she was just ending more than 7 years overseeing Jungle Mama, a program operated by non-profit Pachamama, which was bringing maternal health information and support to indigenous communities in Ecuador’s jungle. Neither Bob nor I had visited Ecuador in her support. Now she was planning to return to San Francisco for a graduate degree. Two months after Bob’s death, I traveled to Ecuador.
Upon returning, my son pointed out some realities to me about my finances. I was 74. I intended to live for many years still. Our big, three-bedroom home was siphoning off money like an open spigot. A tree fell on the new deck, property taxes were rising, the roof needed to be replaced. Next question: stay and watch the money disappear, or sell and do something on a smaller scale?
One of the wonderful tools I had discovered during my 45-year career as a privately-practicing psychotherapist in California was that of Facing Fact. It involves looking squarely at one’s situation, rather than listening to others, or ignoring or sugar-coating what is happening. When I Faced Fact, I realized I needed to sell my home, invest the proceeds, and live on a much smaller scale. Home prices were really good—the time to do this was now.
So, I didn’t do much naval contemplation in that first year. Instead, I totally transformed my life. Among the things I did were:
- Completed details of Bob’s estate.
- Cleaned out, sold, or recycled all possessions.
- Re-roofed the house.
- Sold the house.
- Closed down my psychotherapy office and said good-bye to my clients.
- Closed down my internet radio program.
- Sold my car.
- Moved temporarily to live with my son.
- Received a diagnosis of breast cancer (small, and slow growing).
- Purchased a 24-foot Recreational Vehicle.
- Made plans to live full-time in the RV, and left!
People started telling me I was “brave,” they were “proud of me,” and that I was actually doing what most people only talk about.
While I appreciated their good energy, making this transformation, for me, did not involve bravery and did not require appreciation to accomplish. Why not?
Years before, I had learned about accomplishing Transition and Transformation. Here are the nine areas it entailed for me:
- Facing Fact:
Looking directly at what was best for me and the circumstances.
- Making a Clear Decision:
A clear decision trumps procrastination, second-guessing and loss of momentum.
- Loving Myself:
This involves valuing what I believe is important to me, doing things in ways that are right for me, setting limits, and taking time to breathe between tasks and events!
- Making a Plan:
Overall plans may need to be modified, too.
- Asking for and Accepting Help.
This has been an evolving issue for me, the “do-it-yourself-er”! Do I deserve the help? Is it okay to spend money on help? Can I accept help without feeling I need to pay others back… especially immediately?
- Paying Attention to What I Want to Become, Not Overcome:
Most people feed energy to the obstacles. When you focus on what you want to Become, the obstacles often atrophy and fall away.
- Staying Emotionally Balanced:
Looking at the “worst possible thing” that could occur, and realizing I can handle that, is one of the best ways I’ve found to stay balanced. Especially since I also experienced grief for my loss, it was vital to take time to allow myself to feel fully whatever emotions arose in me, as close to the time they arose as possible.
- Being Grateful:
This is all about focusing on what is happening instead of on the past, on an imagined future, or on what could go awry. Gratitude focuses us on the present, on the movement we are making, and on the journey at hand.
This is about being grateful to myself, taking the time to enjoy the journey, the things I’m able to do, the synchronicities, the people who are assisting me, the things I am learning. Savoring also keeps me more in the present and allows me to have a good time!
Research has shown that human beings experience powerful and negative stress when making major life changes.
In that year, I experienced the death of my spouse, change of home, end of my lifetime career (as I knew it), a powerful medical diagnosis, loss of cherished possessions, new living situations, a major purchase (RV) and change of financial status, to mention only the major changes. I should have been massively stressed. Yet, because I faced facts, made clear and personal decisions, continued to process the emotions I felt, took charge of the changes, and asked for and received help, my stress was minimal. (For more about this emotional work, I invite you to visit me on my website.)
At the time I am writing this, I’ve been living full-time in the RV for more than a year, lost 37 pounds as I worked to heal the cancer, I’m cancer-free, and I am having a great time making new friends throughout the US and Canada!
All of life is about Change. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned about embracing change willingly and fully.
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.