My Thoughts About Celebrations and Transitions
Definitions of “celebrate”:
- Show that a day or an event is important by doing something special, a social gathering or enjoyable activity [Oxford]
- Commemorate, observe, notice, or honor a day, occasion, or deed [Merriam-Webster]
- Do something special or enjoyable for an important event [Britannica.com/celebrate]
Realizing our Discussion Group is scheduled halfway between the Christmas Holiday and the beginning of the new year, I couldn’t escape the temptation to share my thoughts about celebrations and transitions, the role they play in our lives and their importance as concepts that can help animal caregivers frame their thoughts in a positive light as they deal with the reality of their animals' lives reaching an end.
According to Britannica, to celebrate means to do something special or enjoyable for an important event. It means to observe, notice, commemorate, or honor a day, occasion, a deed, or a person according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Regardless of the season, we are having in life - one of abundance or one of lament - celebration can be an act of connecting with and expressing one’s emotion and of considering current events in the “bigger picture” of a lifetime, cycle of life, and even historical past and future.
Celebrating is an opportunity for an activity, a conversation, laughter, and excitement.
Celebrations stimulate human brains to release oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins, natural chemicals that increase our sense of well-being.
To celebrate anything we first need awareness and recognition of the special significance of what is happening in the life of an individual, family, or community. Such recognition can be internal - experienced as a gush of emotion such as joy or excitement, but also as sadness or intense emoting that is neither positive nor negative in valence. Of course, recognition can also be external, dictated by culture, in which case it may or may not coincide with an internal sense of special significance. Externally driven celebrations can also be a source of emotional dissonance or stress, which is why so many people welcome “January 2nd” with a sense of relief.
A common cause for celebration is milestone moments and events in the life of an individual or a family: the birth or adoption of a new family member, transition from childhood to adolescence, beginning or completion of an educational program or work assignment, commitment to a long-term intimate relationship, and the death or loss of a loved person or animal.
At each of these milestone moments, an individual or family experiences a life transition.
Life transitions are life-changing events. They involve significant changes in roles, responsibilities, and routines. They involve changes in personal identity and require coping, adaptation, and acceptance of new life circumstances. Life transitions can be perceived as either positive or negative. However, most are a mixture of both significant gains and losses. Marriage and parenthood are perfect examples of life transitions generally considered “positive,” that in reality involve significant challenges and sacrifice. Death of a loved one is perceived in our society and experienced primarily as a loss; but can bring with it significant gains, as we’ll see in just a little bit. Another good example is birthday celebrations. Children experience birthdays as markers of growth and development. Adults often think of their birthdays as a reminder they’re getting older - markers of the incremental loss of our youth. Personally, I celebrate my birthday every year as a marker of the accomplishment of having survived another complete spin around the sun! I celebrate the experience and wisdom gained. I acknowledge pain, mistakes, and losses, and acknowledge the reality of new challenges I’ll need to cope with, adapt to, and ultimately accept in the future.
When going through life transitions, especially the ones associated with a strong sense of loss, the goal is acceptance and finding new meanings. That often feels like an overwhelming challenge, so it can be very helpful to know where to start. I’m going to suggest a few tools that can help to make progress as one goes through a life transition. [More info at: https://www.choosingtherapy.com/life-transitions/]
I suggest starting with
These ideas are extremely applicable to supporting pet parents anticipating and experiencing the loss of a beloved animal companion. Most of them intuitively recognize that they are facing a life transition; some may also recognize that they will benefit from additional support as they face the transition. Most likely, however, they don’t have the words to articulate what they’re going through. Not having the information and tools they will need results in uncertainty, anxiety, distress, and even panic; in turn, potentially leading to poor judgment and decision-making. We can provide information and coach them in using tools like the ones I just listed plus understanding what life transitions are, understanding that they are an integral and unavoidable part of all life. Offering helpful tips are available can reduce some uncertainty and angst, and boost the courage and self-confidence that pet parents need to find acceptance and new meanings after their loss.
As we wish each other a “Happy New Year,” we express hope that the near future - the next spin around the sun - will bring us more joy, success, and happiness than what we experienced during the year that has just ended. Many of us are aware, however, that “Hope is NOT a Plan!” So, we make plans to help us realize our hopes - plans called “New Year Resolutions.” As we know, these plans don’t always become reality. The tools listed above can help us not only cope and adapt to life transitions but can also help us make our “New Year resolutions” become a reality.
To everyone in our growing AHG community - I wish you a year of personal growth, inner peace, and realizing whatever your goals are!!!