Grief and Adjustment
Navigating the changes involved in moving from one life stage to the next can be a stressful time, as not only do you face new physical and mental hurdles, but you may also experience changes in your role within your family system. While some things in life remain relatively consistent over time, such as personality and preferences, other aspects benefit from remaining fluid in order to adjust smoothly when transitioning from one stage to the next. There are many theories which attempt to address the issues that may arise from not successfully making the adjustment into the next stage in life, however, many of them, such as Freud’s, focus more on the early years of life, limiting the information’s applicability for the older generations.
As baby boomers progress to the retirement stage, many are finding that they are becoming what has been termed “adult orphans.” The adjustment from being a four-generation family, to a three-generation family can be a dramatic change to one’s life. The death of a loved one may bring up feelings of grief, anxiety, and depression when one realizes that they are now the oldest member of their family. These feelings can be joined by distress due to the worry of impending disability and demise, as well as a fear of abandonment, as they realize that they are “next in line.”
Grief is one of the most common reaction to experiencing the loss of a parent. While each person may experience grief in unique ways, there are typically five stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to remember that these stages can happen in any order, at any time. Likewise, some people may not experience such stages at all, as each situation is different, and people react to loss in their own ways. Some ways to deal with grief include talking with friends and family, giving yourself time to experience the loss, and acknowledging that your feelings are valid. Working with a counselor on dealing with the loss of a parent can be helpful in working with the changing roles in one’s life. By finding ways to move on, even with small steps, allows for an ability to let go and move towards the next stages of life.
One common event that can cause anxiety occurs as people grow older is the change that occurs between being a productive member of the workforce, and retirement. Such an adjustment can be challenging, particularly if the retirement is not planned, but instead occurs due to employment circumstances, family issues, or poor health. It is estimated that about one third of retirees have a difficult time coping with the transition into retirement. An additional source of stress during the early times of retirement may stem from spouses having to adjust to being around one another more often. While there may still be plenty of love and appreciation, it may take some time to adjust to seeing a partner more frequently. However, through effective planning and preparation, retirement can be seen as a time to pursue more fulfilling interests or spending more time with the younger members of the family.
Counseling has shown to be beneficial in assisting people before, during, and after the transition into retirement, which is a growing population due to the retiring of the baby boomer generation (Chen, 2011). Some of the more common areas in one’s life which are often affected by entering into retirement include sociocultural, economic, demographic, and micro-societal development issues (Hansson, DeKoekkoek, Neece, & Patterson, 1997).
Developmental Aging Stages
When it comes to successful aging through the different stages, Erik Erikson suggested the theory of psychosocial development, which posits that personality develops in stages, which are influenced by the social environment. During the “old age” developmental stage, individuals look back at the life they have lived, weighing the possible conflict of integrity versus despair, with the outcome upon successful mastery resulting in wisdom (Giblin, 2011).
One additional aspect when it comes to the aging process is known as social aging, which rather than just assessing age based on chronological, biological, or psychological aging aspects, social aging rather assess aging based on an individual’s changing roles and relationship within their family, friends, and other forms of informal supports (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2011). By focusing on these other areas and assessing aging in a holistic style, individuals can obtain a more positive outlook as they proceed through life, even during the “old age” developmental stage.
Chen, C. P. (2011). Life-career re-engagement: A new conceptual framework for counselling people in retirement transition--Part 1. Australian Journal of Career Development,20(2), 25-31.
Giblin, J. C. (2011). Successful aging. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 49(3), 23-26.
Hansson, R. O., Dekoekkoek, P. D., Neece, W. M., & Patterson, D. W. (1997). Successful aging at work: Annual review, 1992–1996: The Ooder worker and transitions to retirement. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 51(2), 202-233. doi:10.1006/jvbe.1997.1605
Hooyman, N. R., & Kiyak, H. A. (2011). Social gerontology: A multidisciplinary perspective. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.