Endings & Beginnings: Navigating Transitions

Ending and beginnings. How do we navigate them? What do we do when one thing has ended, but the next has yet to begin?

I went through massive loss in 2017. My mom died, my romantic relationship of 1.5 years ended, and I completed my medical residency. The three primary aspects of my life where I spent the majority of my time and shaped the bulk of my identity were gone. Typically most medical residents are interviewing and setting up a job before residency ends, and instead I was taking care of my mom during a terminal illness. I made the decision not to look for a job because I planned to care for her full time when residency ended. She died unexpectedly a few weeks before my residency ended. I was deeply lost, shaken, burned out, and exhausted without any sense of what to do next. My life seemed to burn down suddenly and I didn’t know where to begin.

I took time off and went on a whole ‘eat, pray, grieve’ journey because I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. I just knew that I needed to rest.

After my travels and official grieving time was over, I came home to my empty apartment with nothing to do. Life felt empty and meaningless. Every day felt like a huge blank canvas I needed to fill, meanwhile the will to get out of bed was difficult. I kept looking at my life, and coming up blank. I had no idea where to even begin. I needed to work and needed connection. I missed the life that I had before, and a big part of me honestly had to desire to move on. I either wanted to go back to how it was before or to somehow will my new life to magically show up right now. My yearning to begin again was so strong. Life staying as it was in that moment felt intolerable. I wanted to work. I wanted to meet a partner. I wanted to stop feeling grief and sadness every single day.

During the time that I was traveling, I spent three weeks at a Buddhist monastery. I met with one of the monks for some spiritual counseling. I wept and told her all of my sad stories—dramatically and utterly convinced this was my rock bottom. My life had been swept clean of everything that provided certainty and identity. The monk was very kind, nodding along as I told her my woeful tale.

When I was finished, she gently and firmly looked me in the eyes and reminded me that this is life. Life is impermanent. Death is within the natural cycle of living. Who am I to say that my mom should have lived one day longer than she did? Who am I to say the breakup shouldn’t have happened? She offered me this nugget:

You are in the waiting.

All you can do is be in the waiting.

Be right where you are.

 Big exhale. My practice became surrendering to being in the waiting. There was nothing I could do to suddenly be on the other side of grief, find a new partner, or have a job. There are action steps I could take, of course, but I couldn’t wish those things into fruition.

I took the course of active waiting. While I couldn’t force my dream job into existence, I could take action every single day to find and create that position. I couldn’t manifest my partner from thin air, but I could spend time with friends, go out in the world, and make meeting someone more likely. Being in the waiting isn’t a passive process. Winter is just as valuable a season as the spring. The flowers can’t grow without the soil having time to rest.

Our lives go through seasons, and hating the waiting is like hating the winter. You can’t wish the summer fruits into existence. All you can do is accept the winter. Tend to your land, figure out where to plant the seeds, take necessary action—and then wait. The spring comes in its own divine timing. It’s impossible to rush.

And of course, spring came for me again. Within a few weeks I started a new job. Within a few months I met my partner. And with time, grief changed, shifted, and evolved and I had more space to love and relax in my life. Sadness didn’t consume my being as deeply or frequently. The spring flowers always come again, but they do so in their own time. Sometimes all you can do is breathe and accept waiting.


{cover art by Loni Thompson}

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