Grieving in the Neutral Zone

Original Pastel Painting of Walking through Light and Dark or grieving in the neutral zone
Light and Dark at Discovery Park in Seattle

Years ago I discovered William Bridges’ work on transitions and used his three part model in work I did with organizational change.  I returned to it recently and found the three parts of “ending, neutral zone, and beginning”  to help me think about my grieving process, although not quite as linearly.  Grieving in the neutral zone is more of a pendulum swing process, from dark to light, from past toward unknown future.  Back and forth repeatedly.

Bridges wrote a more personal book called The Way of Transition; Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments.  He applied all his theories to his own grieving process after the death of his wife.

The ending is obvious in the case of a death, such as his wife, such as my husband, Larry.  What Bridges urges is to look not only at the loss of your spouse, your identity as caregiver (in my case), but also at what else you have to let go of.  I have to let go of the future we’d hoped for, as well as the suffering of the past few years.  I have to let go of yearning for things to be other than they are.

In the neutral zone, I have to endure the chaos of the unknown. I walk daily  in between the past life as I knew it which is now gone and the future life I will build still to come.   I live walking from darkness into light, and back through darkness, and back into light.

Bridges describes the neutral zone as exhausting, anxiety provoking, and full of vulnerability.  Oh, yeah!!!  On the other hand he offers some benefits if we can stay in the neutral zone and not move on too fast.

He describes the creative possibilities:  a time to challenge the status quo (what your life has always been) and being hospitable to new ideas (new directions your life could take).  He suggests thinking of it as a time of “active waiting.”

For me what also stands out is the word itself:  Neutral.  Neither good nor bad.

Feeling the intensity of grief  I felt the other day isn’t bad.  Feeling the glimmer of new possibilities isn’t good.  They are just feelings.  Temporary, at that.  Maybe if I sit quietly I can find the peace that sits under both, the presence in today.  In “active waiting.”

I went to a meditation class last night and felt that underlying peace momentarily.  Felt the existence of both grief and ease to be two parts of the same whole.  Two parts of grieving in the neutral zone.

I have this instinct that that pendulum swinging back and forth is important progress.  That movement from dark to light and back to dark and back to light is movement – it isn’t standing still.  And movement will give me new perspectives.




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