“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ― Heraclitus

With great change, the likes of which the world is and has been experiencing, comes great nostalgia for what was. It can be a sense of loss enough to trigger the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The grief is evident on a social scale. We see it in the rise of nationalism, isolationism and authoritarianism across countries, in the resistance to immigration and integration.

It’s too bad that change has come so quickly that many haven’t had the chance to catch their breath, to build the necessary resilience. I am more than hopeful that the change occurring is making us better. Younger generations sense this. Older generations want what was, and cannot fathom a world, that they seem also resistant to accept, they helped create.

To those who work with change, this is all standard protocol. Those who work in change management consistently struggle to bestow leaders with the understanding that bringing people along matters, and in this our national leadership, across the board, has failed. Yet, in the observation that the change has happened on a scale and at a speed never before encountered, how can anyone be to blame?

No. We must all take up our share of the responsibility for making the transition, or at least stay out of the way of those prepared to do so.

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I have started facilitating sessions with folks in job clubs on the subject of Building Trust in Transition.  In preparation, I shared my drafts with a couple of colleagues, and one colleague, Steve Gawron, suggested addressing Grief In Transition as a precursor.  So I have, recognizing that along the lines of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, some folks may just not be in a place to think about, let alone address, actioning trust in their lives.

I also attended a professional development network meeting where Lee Hecht Harrison introduced us to a method they offer to help companies through change.  As we discussed the process that employees traverse as they deal with change, it occurred to me that the issues we face with regard to change are fundamentally involved with the grief process.  Bottom line, change is about the loss of what has been, moving toward what is to be.  Evidence exists that the grief process, although most evident with the loss of a loved one, is also observed with the loss of employment and other stressors.  So, although we may not negotiate grief to the depths we do in these more stressful situations, it must be our human nature to do so to some degree, though at different paces depending on personality, with regard to all loss; hence, with all change.

Change has been dubbed “The New Normal”, and rightly so, though it occurs to me that the quote “the only constant is change” has been around, well, since well before our “New Normal”.  I find that simply bringing awareness of the grief process to folks in transition makes it all the more bearable, transition that is.  There comes a sense of camaraderie in learning it is simply part of our human nature, that it is a process, that it is a process we can witness once aware of the steps, and a process with which we can eventually become comfortable with practice. 

And so it can be with the grief of change.  Let’s say change is the ocean, vast and looming.  As it hits shore, it crashes in waves, large waves down to small waves.  Each time I visit the beach, I always take my first encounter to just watch.  I stand, or sit, and watch the waves come in.  I look beyond the waves to the seeming calm.  Next, I reacquaint myself with the water, ankle-deep first, then inch myself in deeper until I must hop over the smaller waves.  At waist deep, I must jump up and over to keep my head above water.  Eventually, I become used to the rhythm of the waves, they become familiar.  I actually start to enjoy them passing as if through me.  Then, I take on the larger waves.  I dive straight into them, confident.  Then it is time to swim on through them to the other side where my feet no longer touch bottom, where I tread water and float in calmness and familiarity and trust in my ability to swim.

No doubt you, the reader, may approach the ocean in a different fashion for all kinds of reasons.  Perhaps you are completely unfamiliar with the ocean.  Perhaps unfamiliar, mostly, with how to manage an encounter with the ocean.  Perhaps fearful of this unknown entity.  We are like that with change, aren’t we?  Each approaching change in our unique way, each encountering the grief process as individuals at different paces.  And what if each of us was aware of the commonality among us to traverse grief as a process?  And what if we each was gifted with the realization that it is normal, part of being human?  And what if we all knew with certainty that the last stage of grief is acceptance, light at then end of the “grief tunnel”?

Awareness of the grief associated with change could very well be our saving grace toward success in a changing world.  Let’s appreciate grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – in each other, and support one another through it by sharing our grief experiences and its process.  Let’s all get to treading change, calmly and confidently, to succeed in this “new normal” world.

Hugs out to ya…

~ Jacqueline