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Making it Through Life’s Transitions

The idea of transition is a pretty vague term that we throw around all over the place these days. The term transition has been considered a major component of the work we do with PA Link, but at our last meeting we spent some time talking about what it really means. One of our partners thought it was in relation to special needs children, another thought housing, and someone else chimed in telling everyone it’s the Nursing Home Transition program. Technically, they are all right. All of these things and many other parts of life’s journeys are considered transitions from one perspective or another, but it wasn’t until last month that I really began to think about it differently. Like millions of kids each fall, my son moved from a small, private elementary school to a large, public middle school. It was overwhelming for him, and consequently overwhelming for us as parents.

We all know change is part of life, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it is easy or gets any easier as we age. In our case, not only was this transition difficult for my son, it was gut-wrenching for us as parents. Were we doing the right thing? How do we put a smile on our face and send him back out to school day after day knowing how unhappy he is? What is our support system to make this work?

I couldn’t help to think that many adult children feel the same way when they are faced with placing an aging parent into a nursing or personal care home. It’s not easy for that senior who wants to remain independent and live in the place they have called home for many years. And just as my husband and I felt the guilt each morning, adult children feel the same way (sometimes self-imposed and sometimes not).

So how do we make life’s transitions the best they can be? I think there are a few universal steps that can go a long way. Here are some of the things that helped us those first few weeks:

Use the Buddy System: We are thankful our son had a good friend also making the jump. Although they weren’t in any of the same classes, they walked into the school together and found a work around in the lunch room to sit back-to-back and talk. Finding a friend, especially who has just successfully transitioned themselves can go a long way in a nursing home. Instead of a crotchety roommate who has been there for years, work to get your loved one in with someone relatively new too so they remember what it felt like going to the dining room each night and learning a new schedule. In most cases, they can be more empathetic.

Find Your Allies: For us, it was a simple email to the guidance counselor to make his teachers aware of the problem. They were our eyes and ears during the day when we couldn’t be there. As a mom, I know I felt reassured that at least someone was looking out for him and would maybe try to help if he was sitting alone and away from the others. The same can be said for a nursing home. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your loved one and ask for care conferences when you think you need to get the team on the same page. Sometimes your best ally isn’t who you would think. Maybe it’s the weekend dietary person, the maintenance team, or the receptionist who may have an extra minute to chat to make your loved one feel comfortable.

The Power of Positive Thinking: I am a firm believer in the glass is half-full and everyone has a story or reason why they do what they do. I try to preach this to my kids (and my mother for that matter) all the time. This has been especially true with this transition. When I picked my son up, I asked him how his day went. Of course I got a standard negative response and a claim that he hates “everything.” Instead, we try to find one good thing about the day and I remind him of that repeatedly during the evening and next morning. We talk about his day like a ruler and I ask him if it’s an inch better, an inch worse or just the same. The responses keep moving to an inch better, which means we are coming a long way with fewer setbacks. He is a numbers guy and visual so this helps him see things are getting better. Not all at once, but just a little bit at a time. Your loved one might not be able to see all the positives, but you can help them find those little things and remind them often.

Know It Will Get Better: We know it’s going to get better. We know that, but it’s so hard to remember when you are going through it. It can also be hard if you don’t know where to start or you can’t find the support system. This process with my son has certainly help show me and reinforce the idea that you need support. When I think about PA Link, this is one of the best ways we can help seniors and people with disabilities that need us. Our Person Centered Counselors are trained to help consumers figure out where to start, regardless of the life transition they are facing. They can be a reassuring voice and navigate them to the right places and professionals. Consumers know they aren’t alone and will get a follow-up call to make sure everything is okay.

Fingers crossed, things are getting better for us with my son’s transition. It took time and maybe a little longer than we would have hoped, but the transition has led to a new normal we can all live with. I hope whatever life transition you are facing today will feel an inch better tomorrow.

If you need additional help understanding the resources available, please feel free to reach out to the PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Center for a listing of services available in your community. Please call our toll-free Call Center at 1-800-753-8827 or email me at

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