“Knew this day was coming; just not today” — The soft and hard realities of transitions

This past week, our family said goodbye to a dear member, Nikkou, our 14-year-old dog. He was, of course, the perfect dog, a true gentleman every day of his life and the source of many happy times. As my husband said, we “knew this day was coming, just not today.” Indeed. Now we are faced with adjusting to a new normal — the fact that there is nobody camped out at the top of the stairs, no more walks to take, no more vocal demands to play after dinner, no more over-the-top barks of joy and butt wiggles when I walk in the door each night. Even the 7-month-old kitten, its addition to the house being a completely different story, has to adjust to the fact that “Jaws” isn’t there on the porch with her or wanting to “play” or guard his turf. It’s a transition for all of us.

There is a movie currently in theaters where one character is struggling mightily with his retirement. It’s impacting his relationship with his wife in a very meaningful way. She’s excited that they will get to spend more time together. He has no idea what to do next, is lost, and veers off in another direction. He, too, undoubtedly “knew this day was coming …”

Many Exit Stage Right blog posts discuss the transition of a business, but the reality is that we all face major transitions in our lives, business owner or not. Changing jobs, retirement, sending kids off to college, selling a business, or losing a treasured family member are all predictable events that will happen. The crux of the matter (and of the Exit Stage Right blog) is how we prepare for such transitions. You know it’s coming. You simply do not know when or how. That’s the harsh reality.

The softer reality revolves around the emotions that these transitions conjure up. Sadness will certainly be a part of it. The very definition of transition states that you are moving from one position to another. Giving up the first position entails sacrificing the good, bad, and ugly aspects that came with it, so it is bound to have elements of loss. What has been normal in our lives is disrupted, leaving holes and voids.

We face key questions as we sit in the middle of our grief and emotional mud puddles. What comes next? How will I move forward? What will I do to fill the void? What have I done in advance and can build on to help me take my first, second, and third steps out of the puddle?

At home, of course we need our time to grieve, but we also need to build new routines in our lives to replace our dog-related habits and satisfy the needs that Nikkou filled. Instead of playing with Nikkou after dinner, my husband and I will take walks together at a pace that is more our speed than that of a slow-moving, ancient dog. We can now travel or go out and about for longer periods of time without worrying about who will be home in time to walk him. And the cat will be learning to sing my praises and do the butt wiggle when I get home.

In retirement, the answers aren’t so obvious. The voids, relationships, and emotions are more complex and much larger. More preparation is needed for self-examination, formation of replacement activities, redefining relationships, and so on. The character in the movie hadn’t done his homework to prepare for retirement even though he knew it was certainly coming. He just let it happen and so his mud puddle was more of a sinkhole. This lack of preparation and grief turned to fear. His fear put him into an emotional paralysis. It doesn't have to be that way.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the stories of how many prominent business owners have succeeded in these preparations well in advance. They also “knew this day was coming” and took the steps to navigate their transitions and grief with grace and optimism. In the meantime, I’m going to gaze at a picture of my pup and be thankful that I got to be a part of his life. That, too, is one of the gifts that come with transitions.

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