I feel like everything in my life right now is marked with an asterisk – you know, that little * above the “8” on your keyboard. When you see it in a book, article or even memo, you automatically look at the bottom of the page to see what’s in the fine print. If often denotes an exception to whatever the key point in the article surfaces. My dad is in hospice care, so whatever I’m doing right now feels like there’s an asterisk attached. Every meeting I schedule – every appointment I make – includes a little asterisk to denote that, if something happens with my dad, I will need to cancel that or reschedule this. I never take phone calls or even look at my phone when I’m in a session with a client or colleague. Until this happened. Now I worry about not getting the call or missing something that I feel I need to do or be aware of.
It can be an exhausting way to work and to live. After Easter dinner, one family member commented, “Your dad is all you guys talk about.” It was not meant as a criticism, merely an observation. But a very true one that reflected how my and my siblings’ lives are oriented right now.
With my clients, I often work with them on managing personal change. There are a lot of great resources and books out there that are helpful, but living in it always feels different than what the books say. “Personal change” is typically an event you experience or a signal you receive telling you that life is changing, and the “old way” that you were living yesterday will need to morph into a “new way” tomorrow.
The time between getting the signal that something is ending and the “new” that hasn’t started yet is called “living in limbo” or the “in-between times.” This period can feel like you are standing on shifting sand. Everything feels like it needs an asterisk.
But there are things you can do to successfully navigate this time. Here are a few things that are working for me.
• Surrounding yourself with family and friends who both understand and who help you find a break from the uncertainty is truly a gift. I recently attended a birthday celebration for a friend. Mary, one of the other guests, asked how my dad was doing. When I responded, “It’s not going so well,” she said, “Let’s just put that on the back burner tonight and have fun.” And she helped me do just that.
• Commit to doing some things consistently – as much as you can. Find a rhythm to support you. I’ve been meeting with a group of women every Friday morning to work on my writing. As much as possible I’ve kept that commitment. Not perfectly, not always. But it has given me something to look forward to that I love to do every week.
• Ask for help. This is the hardest for me to do and it is really important. People want to help you and be supportive. I recently had to reschedule a client retreat, and all I had to do was make one phone call asking for help, and everything was taken care of, leaving me to focus on family. It was a huge task made easier because Jan simply said, “I’ll take care of it.”
• Center on your core purpose and values. When all else is changing around you, knowing your purpose (what you are on this earth to do in this season of your life) and your values (what is important to you that guides your choices) can bring you back to focusing on the right things for you – things that you know are true for you. My values of Faith, Family, Potential in Others, and my purpose of helping others “Make choices to live like it matters,” keep me grounded and help me gain clarity on what to do each day.
• Most of all, be present in the experience – I don’t want to sleepwalk through this time. I may not know how long it will be but I do know that there is a lot for me to learn about what’s happening right now. I’m learning about my siblings, friends and myself, and the awe-inspiring resilience of the spirit.