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Nancy K Schlossberg Ed.D.
Nancy K Schlossberg Ed.D.

Life on Hold: Transitions Waiting to Happen

What can you do when your life is on hold?

"I haven't died on schedule" wrote Mark Trautwein in his New York Times opinion piece (Sunday, June 5, 2011, p. 8). After his diagnosis he lived his life waiting to die. Prince Charles has spent a lifetime waiting to be King.

Many are waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right, others are waiting to become pregnant, some are waiting to divorce, many are hoping to retire but still cling to their jobs, the unemployed have spent several years waiting for a job. And a number of women and men, caring for spouses with long-term chronic illnesses, are widows or widowers in waiting.

Transitions waiting to happen include uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss of control. The future is always uncertain and ambiguous and according to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, we are poor predictors of the future. In addition, we imagine different scenarios but cannot control all the variables.

So what do you do when your life is on hold?

Rehearse for the Future: Many years ago, Bernice Neugarten, one of the first psychologists to study adult development and aging, found that women are concerned about widowhood and they engage in what she called "rehearsing for widowhood." Ruth Lee is doing just that. Her husband had major heart surgery and during that period she fell apart. He is well now but she is voraciously reading everything she can on widowhood.

Go to Plan B-Reshape Your Dream: This is the tricky part-knowing when to hold onto hope and knowing when to let go of the dream and go to Plan B. Helen Hooven Santmyer's And Ladies of the Club was finally published when she was living in a nursing home. She never gave up; the book became a best seller. However, many of us need to reconsider our dream that is on hold. At a certain point, as you wait for what you want, going to Plan B might be the wisest course. You grieve for the career or relationship you are not able to pursue but begin to think about alternatives. Often thinking about regrets and what you wish you had done might trigger thinking about what's next.

Acknowledge the life that you have on hold. Molly, whose husband has been ill for almost ten years, wrote: "I felt as if I were reading exactly what I was going through when I read Gail Sheehy's Passages in Caregiving: Turning Choas Into Confidence. Her discussion of "The In-Between Stage" is exactly where widows-in waiting-are. To read her blow by blow description of her experience with her husband, the complicated emotions and decisions she had to make resonated with what I and others are experiencing. A definite must read." Just labeling what you are waiting for can be relieving.

Live Life as fully as possible. As Trautwein wrote, "I haven't died on schedule, and I've been learning not to live life on one either...Life is about living, not cheating death." Widows and widowers in waiting need to make their lives as rich as possible during the wait. There is no schedule for dying. Those waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right need to focus on engaging in the moment. Living a life on hold is not easy. There are no end points in sight, yet it is a transition that many men and women face.

Nancy K. Schlossberg
Author of Overwhelmed: Coping with Life's Ups and Downs and Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose

Copyright 2011

About the Author
Nancy K Schlossberg Ed.D.

Nancy Schlossberg, Ed.D., a Professor Emerita at University of Maryland , where she was a tenured full professor in the counseling psychology area for 28 years .She is the author of ten books, focusing on transitions.

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