This past summer I found myself immersed in what can only be termed a major life transition. My husband and I moved out of the home in which we had lived for 34 years. This move marked the culmination of a 3-year transitional journey. The months that turned into years of waiting for our big old house to sell, followed by the uncertainty of finding a new home in the midst of a crazy, escalating real estate market were stressful in the extreme. Once we found a new home, we were immersed in the arduous task of sorting, purging and packing the mountains of belongings we’d accumulated over 34 years. Then, there was the move itself which could only be described as grueling. Nevertheless, we survived. As the weeks go by and we gradually become accustomed to our new home, we realize that we seem to be thriving in our current surroundings. We are happily meeting our new neighbors and enjoying the advantages of our new neighborhood. The move has opened us up to novel experiences, brought new people into our lives, given us a fresh perspective.
Our move could be viewed as a life changing event in that it has clearly taken our lives in new directions. These transitional events happen to all of us as we traverse the vicissitudes of life. Whether it’s a move; a marriage or divorce; graduation; birth of a child; a medical crisis; getting or losing a job; death of a loved one or some other meaningful life experience, these events are milestones in the plot of our lives. They are the events that punctuate our storyline such that we later refer to life “before” and “after” these occurrences.
Geriatric researcher, James E. Birren refers to these life changing transitional events as “branching points” . He has this to say about these experiences:
A branching point may feel like an ending and then turns out to be the beginning of something new. This is what a life transition is – the loss of something known, a period of adjustment, and finally a focusing on a new direction.” (James E. Birren, 2001).
Birren has suggested that, when we are writing our life stories, we should focus on these life changing transitions, mine them for what they gave us, what we learned, how we coped, how our lives were changed. He even suggests that we might use these transitional events as markers on the journey of our lives. In this way, they could provide the organizing elements for our life stories.
When you are writing your life stories, consider some of the fortunate transitional events in your life. Examples might include graduating from school, getting a job you wanted, marrying the love of your life, winning a prize or award. As you write, describe each event and how you felt about it at the time. How did it change your life? Even positive change events entail an element of loss. What did you lose and what did you gain from this event? What did you learn about yourself as a result of this event?
Sometimes, it’s the less than happy events in our lives that are most dramatic. We often learn the most and find our strengths during our more difficult times. Therefore, as a part of your life story writing, it is valuable to consider some of the unfortunate transitional events in your life. Examples might include school failure, job loss, divorce, medical crises, death of relatives or friends. As you write, describe each event and how it affected you at the time. How did it change your life? Were there any positive outcomes that resulted from this event? What did you learn about yourself?
Transitions are part of all or our lives. These events often mark the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another. As you write your life stories, don’t forget these important, often emotional, transitional life changing episodes. They will add color and drama to your narrative as well as helping to delineate the forces that made you the unique person you have become.