GRIEF: FORCED RETIREMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT IN YOUR 50-60S.

Posted on November 12th, 2012

Losing a job when you are over 60, or being forced to retire before one is ready can cause a great deal of grief, anxiety and even a sense of hopelessness. We must learn to live with this new life circumstance and create a viable, meaningful existence. Not long ago, I spoke to a much younger business woman. We discussed women and aging. Betty White's name came up. We all agreed that Betty White a true example of a woman aging dynamically as well as gracefully. The young woman said, "Betty has kept herself relevant."

How many of us can say the same? I know an elderly woman close to Betty's age who has no hobbies other than picking up pinecones in her front yard. My God, that's seasonal work! This woman doesn't read; watch movies, scrapbook, play crossword or jigsaw puzzles. She has no creative outlet. Doesn't like to cook, sew, write, paint or engage in any crafts. She sits in a chair in front of her television screen or marches around the outside of her house to keep her legs working. She has one volunteer activity a month and plans one, one-week trip with a travel group a year. This lady is vanishing before my eyes. In hospice work, we call it failure to thrive--and it is lethal.

It doesn't happen in our 80s or 90s; failure to thrive begins whenever we decide we are no longer "relevant" in the world. It is up to each of us to find meaning and purpose in our lives. It takes effort. I speak from experience having lost a 3 day a week, secure, well-paid position last January. I have a private practice which I wasn't paying much attention to, but suddenly that was all I had! I expected to work for four more years, instead a company takeover marched me out the door--supervised, mind you so that I didn't steal the store--with just 6 months’ severance. I spent months depressed, facing feelings of hopelessness and even worthlessness. Me, the upbeat, always positive person, the cheerleader for change and transformation--huddled under my bedcovers not wanting to come out.

Finally, I had to take a long hard look at what I did have. For the most part, I have my health, three remarkable children, a loving husband, a great dog, a lovely home, numerous friends, a strong faith in the Divine (though at the time it was wavering). I also had an established grief counseling practice that I could now spend time cultivating, expanding and engaging in the work I've always wanted to do. So, what was keeping the coverlet tucked under my chin for so long? Why the inertia? The answer is the same for all of us CHANGE! No one likes to face change because change means we have to DO something. The familiar is always more comfortable than facing the unknown. My God, there are risks involved! Anything but taking a risk!

What I've learned through the people I serve, my clients, those folks who are so broken they wonder if they will ever be whole again--Change is the only thing we can ever count on. Everything changes. Moment to moment change happens whether it's huge or minuscule. It always causes us discomfort. Yet, as I've watch my grieving clients climb out of their abyss, I only witness growth, deepening awareness of life, expansion of their hearts, minds and souls. Grievers face the most horrifying changes of anyone--the loss of a loved one. They have nothing else to lose and it changes their worldview, their perspective. They no longer want to waste time doing things that don't matter, or being with people they can barely tolerate. No, life takes on a new sense of purpose and meaning. They all seem to want to glean the best life has to offer right here, right now. No more messing around.

This is where I too found my salvation. I needed to create meaning and purpose in life by engagement. We all need to be engaged, to step out, to take a risk. The worst that can happen is someone might say "No," so what? Our next move is always to pick up our marbles and move on to someone or something that wants to play with us, wants to say yes. It's all about growing up, maturing, no matter how old we are. It was time for me, and it can be time for you, to stop playing the victim and become instead the victor! Thank you God!


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