We were meeting friends at the movies in an anonymous Tampa mall. I didn’t know which sprawling side contained the theaters and it was making me anxious, something that wouldn’t have flipped me out before, as in, before widowhood. JoEllen has been my patient companion on this long journey since the dorm gods placed our rooms adjacent at Eckerd College some decades ago. So she ignored the angst when I began ranting about this stupid mall and not knowing where to go and then, “Oh thank GOD, there’s a sign!”

I turned to her with wonder, verbalizing an uncomfortable rush of truth: “How ridiculous! I will obey damn near any sign or rule. If a person tells me to do something, I rebel. If a sign tells me, well, absolutely!”

JoEllen laughed to agree and said she thought she was the opposite: she’ll do what a person says before she’ll follow some arbitrary decree. Mocking the redundant instructions leading into the lobby, I felt my tensions ebb. Inside, we asked the teenager behind the ticket counter if we could get food inside. He cocked an eyebrow and said carefully, “Depends on what you call,” dramatic pause, “‘food.'” Everything was suddenly hilarious.

Indecisive, trying to track down others in our group, we decided to get tickets and dare the concessions. At least there was a bar. No one was in either ticket line, neither the short VIP nor the coiled plebeian one. Without thought, I turned to walk the entire twists; JoEllen took three steps down the VIP aisle to land at the same destination, the ticket counter. She smirked and shook her head. I’d done it again: following rules on signs when there was absolutely no need to do so.

But some rules are meant to be honored. Between late 2000 and early 2002, my family of origin had what we called our annus horribilis, complete with my oldest brother fighting, and then dying, from melanoma and my father fighting, and then dying, from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Somewhere along the way, a kind soul sent one of us a document entitled “Rules for Transitions.” And contained in their brief lines is mighty wisdom for anyone enduring any kind of life change.

I have shared many times since and for the past sixteen months re-read almost daily. Helps to print out and leave copies around where you can’t miss; helps to take the advice to heart and follow them all . . . especially #10.

Rules for Transitional Periods

1. There are no rules.

2. Always make a daily “to do” list. Keep it short, essential, and feel free to amend it but always make these changes in writing.

3. Make no commitments. Promise nothing to anyone, even yourself. If “maybe” isn’t good enough for them, say “no.”

4. Sleep a lot and eat whatever you want to.

5. Allow 2 hours a day, at minimum, to do nothing. These will be your most productive times, although you may not realize it.

6. Accept respectfully and with interest ALL information from yourself, including (but not limited to): boredom, fatigue, headaches, restlessness, cravings for unusual foods, forgetting to do things you thought you wanted to do, etc.

7. Assume you know what is best for yourself, even if you cannot explain why. DO NOT under any circumstances ignore hunches and intuitions, even if you cannot begin to justify them. As far as possible, appease moods also.

8. Do not seek or even permit the company of individuals with whom you feel strong desire to be appealing, impressive, charming, or several thousand miles away.

9. Decide what responsibilities currently held are necessary for survival and for a minimum of complaints from people who impact on your daily life (e.g., employers, employees, housemates, spouses, creditors). Do those things adequately – not extremely well. Do not alter this set of duties until the transition is completed (except where such alteration is in the nature of the transition, as in job changes).

10. Regard everything you do as an experiment. Regard all consequences and outcomes of your actions as feedback, as information for future use. Remember that in light of Rule 1, no valid judgments of self or others can be made at this time.

Amend these rules as needed, except #10