Question from a Reader:  How do you bring back the “drive”? The desire to improve one’s self? The desire to learn something new, or to go with your goal? Since my husband died nearly a year ago, I’ve lost this drive and it seems hard to get it back. I still want to achieve some goals, yet I can’t seem to find the focus, the desire to go for them unlike before. My mind is willing to try again, but my body is tired. One minute I feel like I’m going to accomplish something, the next I feel too tired. My mind and body have not connected back to where I was before this happened. It gets really frustrating because there are things I want to do. Some days are better than others. I think its grief’s way of telling us to slow down, still rest and take it one task at a time. 

My response: As painful as it is to be where you are now, my dear, I can only tell you that it is normal and necessary for you to be there.

In his insightful books about coping with significant loss (Transitions and The Way of Transition), author William Bridges notes that every transition requires spending some time in what he calls the neutral zone – a seemingly unproductive “time-out” when we feel totally disconnected from people and things in the past and emotionally unconnected to the present.

During this time, he says, “We aren’t sure what is happening to us or when it will be over. We don’t know whether we are going crazy or becoming enlightened . . . the old reality looks transparent and nothing feels solid anymore.” Unfortunately, he says, this neutral zone “is the phase of the transition process that the modern world pays least attention to.

Treating ourselves like appliances that can be unplugged and plugged in again at will or cars that stop and start with the twist of a key, we have forgotten the importance of fallow time and winter and rests in music. We have abandoned a whole system of dealing with the neutral zone through ritual, and we have tried to deal with personal change as though it were some kind of readjustment. In so doing, we have lost any way of making sense of the lostness and confusion that we encounter when we have gone through disengagement or disenchantment or disidentification (p. 130).”

In her book, Tough Transitions: Navigating Your Way through Difficult Times, accomplished author and business consultant Elizabeth Harper Neeld writes that when our old assumptive world has been shattered by significant loss, it takes time to build a new one, and we must allow ourselves the time and space we’ll need for reviewing:

“We have to find new purpose and meaning where the old has been destroyed. We have to examine and reflect on what we now believe, what we now know. We have to establish new patterns. Make new habits. Think new thoughts. In this interim between the shattering of an assumptive world and the building of a new one, we often experience deep sorrow, sadness, sometimes even depression. Often we feel we have lost our identity. We may feel consumed with anger or guilt. We may wonder if anything is ever going to be worthwhile again. Or we may just feel devastatingly tired (p. 49).”

What are some helpful strategies for navigating this Neutral Zone? William Bridges recommends the following:

•Find a regular time and place to be alone – “a genuine sort of aloneness in which inner signals can make themselves heard.”

•Begin a log of neutral zone experiences – Pick a day and describe your mood, what happened that day, what you thought about or puzzled over, what decisions you wish you could have made, what dreams you remember having.

•Write an autobiography – Reminiscing helps you make sense of the past and suggests possibilities for the future.

•Discover what you really want – Use this time to think about and identify what you really want out of your life.

•Take a neutral zone retreat – Take some time away to go on your own version of a passage journey. Spend a few days alone, in as simple and quiet a setting as possible, during which you reflect consciously on the transition process in your own life just now.

In a similar vein, Elizabeth Harper Neeld suggests that we use what she calls Reviewing Time to pause and examine: “to take a second look. To reconsider, rethink, and reflect on how this tough transition is affecting our lives. To ask, ‘What do I need to see? What reassessment can I make? What might I do differently?’” She encourages the use of creative activities such as the expressive arts, writing, prayer, meditation, listening to music; and imagining possibility: exploring, making lists, learning just to be (mindfulness), and practicing active waiting (paying attention).

Elizabeth’s helpful and informative Web site,, contains a number of readings and practical suggestions, including things that help when life gets tough and things that have brought her joy.

© 2011 by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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Marty Tousley

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at or through her Web sites, at,, and

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