I think one of the most difficult things to deal with as we get older is losing close friends and family members. When I was much younger, many of my social get togethers revolved around weddings and new families. All my friends and acquaintances marked these major milestones with parties and showers. Now the news of a good friend diagnosed with a terminal illness, or the sudden unexpected passing of a friend with whom I recently visited seem to occur too frequently. And with it a new grieving cycle begins.
There are many wonderful books and articles written on grief. And as a Stephen Minister, I not only learned about the grieving process, I have come beside others who have encountered this inevitable life event. What I have learned is that while the stages of grief are the same for everyone, the way each stage is met and absorbed varies. This is one journey each of us customizes in our own unique way. I believe that each loss affects us and our view of getting older and our place in the world.
I recall my mother who was a middle child sandwiched between two older sisters and a younger sister and brother. She survived all four of her siblings and confided sadly after her remaining sibling died, how she was the last one. My heart breaks even now with that memory. Similarly, my mother-in-law grieved the passing of many of her friends which affected more than the composition of her bridge group. I noticed how her outlook toward the future changed. The woman who was unafraid to try anything, including hang-gliding, transformed into someone who became very cautious. As I look forward to a shorter future than past, I too notice the increased frequency of my prayers for others to find comfort and peace.
I remember how both my mother and mother-in-law conveyed such sadness with the passing of those they loved and the diminishing circle of friends and family. I consider how they may have felt increasingly lonely as they got older. Their experiences are shared by many at this stage and such loneliness impacts the quality of our life as well as our longevity. In fact, according to a study conducted in Singapore by Futurity people aged 60, who perceive themselves to be sometimes lonely or mostly lonely, can expect to live three to five years less, on average, compared to peers who perceive themselves as never lonely. Similarly, at ages 70 and 80, lonely older people can, on average, expect to live three to four and two to three years less, respectively, compared to non-lonely peers.(1)
Are you amongst those who are feeling lonely, especially as you enter into your retirement? If so, consider taking the following steps to address your loneliness:
Allow yourself to fondly remember your dear friends who have passed on before you. For example, my friend Casey who suddenly died of a heart attack embraced each day of his life with joy and love of music. Now as I enjoy local musicians, I remember how Casey expressed pure joy upon when he listened to talented local musicians.
Journaling is a wonderful exercise. The method I use is simply to begin writing without thinking too much about what to write. Allow the emotions and the random thoughts flow on paper. I have discovered that releasing my thoughts on paper provides comfort and a sense of relief.
Volunteer for a cause that you believe in. Volunteering will broaden your social circle, provide new experiences while simultaneously create purpose and meaning.
Exercising is known to provide multiple health benefits, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Consider joining an exercise class or taking a walk in your neighborhood and meet others who are doing the same.
Join a class or club involved with an activity that you are interested in pursuing. Attending a class or club will stimulate your creativity and curiosity as well as give you something to look forward to.
If you are able, adopt a pet. Pets provide many benefits such as companionship and tend to be a people magnet.
Practice self-care such as eating a healthy diet with fruit and vegetables, get plenty of sleep and exercise
If you are feeling lonely in addition to experiencing any combination of the following signs of depression, please seek out professional help:
Lost interest in activities you previously enjoyed
Increased fatigue or sleeplessness
Irritability or risky behaviors (especially in men)
Changes in appetite
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Many people experience depression, especially as they age. And there is no shame in requesting professional help if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. There are many resources available to you. If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health condition, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
ReLaunch Your Life
Detours inevitably occur when we least expect them and as we navigate them, we will discover new abilities, strengths, and perspectives. Intentionally embracing new possibilities will create engagement with others and improve your outlook toward the future. If you are finding it difficult to move past this detour, find the strength to request help.
Perhaps you simply need someone to walk beside you and be a strong listener. You will find such individuals in your place of worship, support groups or counseling services. If you are transitioning into retirement or retired, you may benefit from a retirement coach who can partner with you on your own unique retirement strategies.
You can learn more about retirement coaching by visiting my website at www.successfulshifts.com.
(1) “Lonely Older Adults Live Fewer Years and Not as Well” July 7, 2021; Posted by Federico Graciano-Nus; first published in Journal of American Geriatrics Society
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