What a title! Way to bring readers down!
No, I’m not trying to depress you, dear reader, or bring you down. I’m trying to give you some tools to handle FORESEEABLE, painful losses during retirement years. You may and likely WILL suffer losses–many of them.
They’re part of living and growing old. Sad, but true.
Isn’t it better to be prepared than to be surprised?
You don’t have to forge ahead blindly into the many losses that come with aging. This post will tell you about the types of losses you will suffer, the likely responses you may have, and the types of coping mechanisms you can use to survive the losses.
So let’s get on with it. Here’s how to handle painful losses during retirement.
Types of losses you will suffer
Your losses will involve people and pets, roles, objects, physical aspects of your body, and states of being.
People and Pets
Your most difficult losses will be the serious injuries, terminal illnesses, divorces, and deaths of yourself and those you love – both human and nonhuman. I include pets in this category because many adults love their pets as though the pets were children or companions.
I’m sorry to remind you about the upcoming losses of people and pets, but it’s true; they will happen. Here are some statistics from the Social Security Administration on senior citizen losses of a spouse or partner by death or divorce:
- 12% of people 65 and over are already divorced
- 5% of people 65 and over have never married
- 25% of people 65 and over are widowed
- 58% of people 65 and over are married or living with a partner.
By age 65, 37% of people have ALREADY lost a spouse or partner. The rest — 58% — will lose their spouse or partner in the years after age 65.
In 2010, the life expectancy for people aged 65 was 17.7 years for men and 20.3 years for women. This means if you were 65 in 2010, you’re going to live an average of either 17.7 more years or 20.3 more years, depending on your gender.
So if you are part of the 58% of Americans who are over 65 and married or living with a partner, you can expect to lose that partner within 17 to 20 years, on average. Some will die sooner and some will die later, but everybody is going to die. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p23-212.pdf
Every one of those 2.5 million deaths was a loss to a family and to friends. Most of the deaths were people 65 and over, but a substantial number (700,000) were to people under 65. Those deaths were of people who were someone’s daughter, son, grandson, granddaughter, sister, or brother. That’s another kind of loss that you may suffer.
But pets age quickly and die. Cats can live from 12 to 15 years very often, as can small dogs. Large dogs usually live to age 9 or 10, and medium-sized dogs to age 12 or 13. Of course there are exceptions; some live longer, some shorter. Some adults have horses, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, or cattle that they keep as pets or companions in a barn on a farm or in a rural area that allows large animals.
When we retire from career or work or both, we automatically lose our important roles as members of a profession or occupation, and our roles as employees, bosses, or teammates at a place of business. Along with the role loss goes loss of the respect and admiration that came from other people who learned of our chosen career or job.
Similar losses occur to roles when you move house. In your former house/condo/apartment, you lived in a community of people who knew you as the owner or renter of that home. You had specific duties as a member of that community. You moved in a system of relationships among your neighbors, your local government, your local stores, your local medical facilities and schools, and so on.
During our lives, most of us become fond of certain pieces of furniture such as a favorite chair. We may hoard special dishes or wine glasses or mugs, collect shells or glass horses or model cars and so on.
These objects are part of our familiar, comfortable spaces in our home place. But when we are faced with giving them up, we suffer another set of painful losses during retirement — letting go of our stuff.
If you have ever visited someone in a nursing home, then you know that the amount of space each resident has is very small compared to the home that he or she gave up.
Sometimes a resident can have a piece of furniture like a china cabinet or a shelf in her or his room, with some favorite collectibles or mementos displayed there. That helps the resident to retain some familiar items from the earlier stages of life. But everything else from the former home is gone: given away, sold, or placed in storage. The process of moving into a nursing home is one of the painful losses in retirement that each of us may have to face. There is so much to give up – so many objects to lose.
Physical aspects of your body
Growing physically old is also a process of coming to terms with painful losses in retirement. We are faced with losing our mobility, our physical abilities, our strength, our endurance, our body image, our sexual activity, our hair, our teeth, our sight, our hearing, our sense of smell, our sense of taste, and eventually our lives through death.
States of Being
For example, when a retired person (or any person) loses a spouse or life partner, along with the loss of that person come other potential losses: financial stability, self-determination, security, happiness, shared experiences, partnership, togetherness.
For another example, I’ll share the losses that have left me with a different state of being. All my life I’ve depended on my body to walk, bend, lift, reach, sit, stand, climb stairs, and so on. But now, when standing or walking, I become dizzy without warning at times. I can’t climb stairs without developing intense pain in my knees.
I can’t kneel or squat down to pick something up, or get down on the floor to do yoga or other exercises without experiencing severe knee pain. Then if I do get down on the floor, I’m unable to get back up without help. Getting out of a low chair or soft sofa is almost impossible without using something to lean on to propel myself up. My legs no longer work as they did for the first 65 years of living. I’ve lost confidence in my body.
Men react similarly. Muscle tone is lost. Facial skin sags along with neck skin. Spines may develop humps. Shoulders droop. Former athletes can no longer perform the skills of running, throwing, swimming, jumping, shooting, or skiing. Living in an old body is a new state of being. Familiar activities have to be abandoned or extensive accommodations made.
People who have suffered financial losses, for whatever reason, and people who never earned much money, may find themselves living on a tight budget in retirement. They have a hard time paying for their basic living expenses of food, shelter, medicine, clothing, and doctor bills. This is a new state of being – the feeling of being poor, not having enough, being deprived, being afraid of the future.
Types of Coping Mechanisms
Well. If you’ve read this far, you probably have seen your own situations, or those of loved ones, depicted in the two preceding sections.
You’ve recognized that you’re going to experience losses. Maybe you already have.
So now let’s take a look at what you can do about it.
The most important principle of coping is a recognition that you have to take care of YOURSELF. No one else is going to do it for you. It’s up to you to find out what you need and take steps to get it. Others can help, but they can’t do the hard work of accepting change for you.
There are MANY coping mechanisms that can help you deal with the painful losses in retirement. You and I have probably tried some of them before. Feel free to use as many as you want to! There’s no limit on the ways that you can ask for help or help yourself!
One coping mechanism that helps me is to schedule a treat for myself every day. It might be as simple as saying, “Well, at 3:00PM I’m going to fix a nice cup of tea and sit on my balcony for a few minutes to listen to the birds.”
Here is a list of coping methods that can help you get through a loss:
- Talk therapy, with a trained psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist
- Self-help books, tapes, and CDs
- Support groups filled with people like yourself experiencing what you’re experiencing
- Writing – in a diary, journal, or blog – about what you’re going through
- Volunteer work, where you reach out to help others and find that your activities also help yourself recover from losses
- Yoga, exercise, walking – alone or in a class or group
- Travel, domestic or international, provides a change of scene and a change of subject, leading you to forget your own troubles
- Rituals and ceremonies that honor what you lost
- Gathering mementos and keeping them in a box readily available to you but out of sight
- Focusing on the good times and the best memories of your loved one or pet
- Cooking, canning, preserving, or drying food
- Listening to beautiful, uplifting music
- Sewing, knitting, crocheting, working with wood or leather, beading
- Drawing, painting, or coloring
- Spending time with good people
- Spending time outside in the sun each day
- Going out for coffee or a meal
- Going to a movie or concert. Many free ones can be found!
- Visiting new places in your local area
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Signing up for a class
- Trying a new hobby
- Practicing mindfulness
- Painting the walls of your home or room in a light color
- Taking stock of your goals. What do you want out of life?
- Learning your limits
- Making a plan for the next day, week, month, year, or longer
- Finding a part-time job
- Joining a book club, card club, biking group, etc. that meets regularly
- Thinking about your daily schedule
- Enjoying each new day with gratitude
- Letting time go by
These coping methods will help you go through the stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages may last for months or years. There’s no fixed way of going through them. Each person handles grief differently. But knowing that there is a process togo through can help you survive it and heal.
Other coping methods are NOT good and should be avoided. These include
- Drinking or eating too much
- Using illegal drugs or prescription drugs to excess
- Lashing out at others
- Isolating yourself longer than a few days
- Joining a cult that promises to solve your problems
- Spending too much money
If you find yourself doing any of those seven things, then get some help. You don’t have to go through your grief alone. People will help you. You just have to ask.
How to handle painful losses in retirement
We’ve now seen the many losses that older people face in retirement. Sometimes it seems like the losses really pile on. I talked with a friend recently who told me of her cousin who had just lost his wife, and returned from the funeral to find his home on fire. It burned to the ground and he lost all his possessions. Shortly after, his dog was hit by a car and died. What a string of losses. The man turned to his friends and his married son for help in handling so much difficulty.
If we’re lucky, we will be able to face just one loss at a time. One of the women in my bridge club last year was turning 104. We asked her if there were anyone she’d like us to invite to a little birthday celebration. She answered, “Thanks, but no. Everyone I knew is dead.” She had recently attended the funeral of her only daughter.
In times when we feel really sad and overwhelmed, it’s helpful to cry. Everyone needs to cry now and then to release stress. Crying helps to let out bottled-up feelings. After a few moments, we feel better. We take some deep breaths, and go on with living.
A radio preacher I used to listen to would start each Sunday service by saying, “Thanks, Lord, for giving me another day of living. I woke up this morning clothed and in my right mind, for which I am grateful.”
Sometimes we have to focus on small things and being grateful for them: a beautiful sunrise, a hot cup of coffee, the purring of a cat in your lap, a bird singing near your window. This is the best way to cope with losses: taking one day at a time and living with an attitude of gratitude.
The list of coping mechanisms that I offered to you in the previous section is a good place to start when handling a loss. You CAN survive whatever happens to you. I know you can.
If this post has helped you with a loss, please let me know. I care!