Taboo topics in Retirement : #11 Bereavement.

“You lucky thing, you’ve just retired on a good pension,

what have you got to moan about?” 

It’s a heart-breaking situation that only the under prepared retiree will understand!

However as one door closes another opens, if only one looks for it. Patch Adams once said to me “Reach out and you’ll never be lonely” – The same goes for retirement, it’s a major life transition with new beginnings as well as endings, reach out and you’ll never be bored! Or as my Father in Law says “Since I retired, I’ve never been busier!”

OK you’ve had the leaving party, backs have been slapped, gold watches handed over if you’re lucky and champagne drunk – It’s a celebration after all, isn’t it? You’ve left the workplace as a ‘worker’ for the last time and likely at this point you feel great – FREEDOM!

However this is only just the beginning of the ‘honeymoon’!

It’s a bit more complicated than the dream of sailing off into the sunset! There’s a transition to be dealt with first and how long and how difficult will depend on preparation and forward planning.

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail” Winston Churchill

…and the first thing to deal with after the honeymoon is the real world. No longer TOIL and not yet TOYL (The Time Of Your Life) the tricky bit in between needs navigating first and you may be surprised to hear it can be full of sadness and not the expected (by you that is) joy of lazy days and freedom to do as you please. Who are you now you are not who you defined yourself as in the workplace? This transition is like losing a dear friend, albeit one with foibles and with whom you sometimes had a tricky relationship. However unlike most deaths there is more often than not a happy ending to this story!

Bereavement is that feeling of loss when someone close to you has died. The death of someone you love is one of the greatest sorrows that can occur. However feelings of bereavement can also accompany other losses, such as the loss of health or the end of an important relationship, including loss of work and the identity etc. that went along with it.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Psychiatrist ) Defined five stages of grief in 1969 based on studies with the terminally ill.  Later we have become to realise that this is just as pertinent to many forms of loss.

  1. Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  2. Anger – When the individual recognises that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
  3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  4. Depression During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  5. Acceptance In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.

These typical reactions to the loss of a loved one can also be similar with the loss of a job or career and its accompanying loss of status, identity and sense of purpose. Missing out on the camaraderie, mental stimulus, physical activity and salary can also result in bereavement type reaction.

  1. Denial             “I never really wanted to stop, maybe I should still be working”
  2. Anger              “They made me retire… They wanted me out of there… I was set-up”
  3. Bargaining     “If I promise xxx, then could I go back”
  4. Depression     “Who am I kidding, I’m yesterday’s man/woman”
  5. Acceptance    “At first I was lost and now I’ve found peace and enjoy my new life”

Knowledge is power and planning whether it be death and dying or retirement will ease the progression through these phases. Bereavement or at least the depression part can have major physical and emotional consequences, shock or disbelief, fear, anxiety, or apprehension, anger, irritability, or sadness; guilt, numbness, emptiness, depression, confusion, impaired memory, lack of concentration, wandering thoughts, nightmares, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, weight loss or gain, stomach and/or intestinal problems to name a few, that’s a lot to deal with so give yourself a break – feeling bad is NORMAL! It’s what you have done to prepare and what you do next that counts.

Even when retirement is ‘well planned’ e.g. with an incumbent in place and handing-over successfully completed only half the issues are accounted for, the consequences to the retiree are seldom considered. It’s even worse with unexpected retirement when these symptoms are unanticipated and little or no preparation is possible. We may dream of retiring at 50, but if it happens not out of choice and unexpectedly we are all likely to have difficult feelings – “It wasn’t supposed to be like that, I’m not ready.”

Retirees often feel disenfranchised with their work, professional identity and purpose excised from their life leaving an unfilled void. ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I do now?’ are likely more difficult questions to answer.  Retirement is often considered by those we leave behind to have only positive attributes especially if it’s a choice, the negatives are not considered in the same way as losing a person is, with little or no discussion around fears etc. being entered into in the way that mourning a death is.

There are many resources out there, it’s likely you know retirees who would be more than happy to discuss how they felt, managed and came through – Maybe target the ‘happiest’ ones they are quite possibly the very people with the answers! However it is possible you will need professional help or at least advice from an online expert like Robert Laura at WWW.RetirementProject.org 

“The only mistake you can make is not asking for help” Sandeep Jauhar

…or contact me, if I can’t help I can certainly signpost you to someone or an organisation that can! (Search Facebook too – It’s The Time Of Your Life – lets help each other get there!)

…and remember …

“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love” Hubert H Humphrey

…but if really struggling despite all the help from friends and family please see your doctor there is a lot of help out there and it’s not all medication based!

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