Coping with Loss as We Age

One inevitable feature of life as we age is loss. Some losses are minor; some are massive. We lose physical characteristics, abilities, and loved ones—our hair, our bone density, our eyesight, our hearing, our best friend, our spouse. These losses can lead to grief, loneliness, and despair. We may wake up in the morning with an overwhelming sadness that starts before our conscious mind is even alert, and we’re reminded of what happened, that it wasn’t just a bad dream.

Viewing Loss with Realistic Positivity

Realistic positivity means seeing and accepting what is now—both in our inner and outer worlds—and then putting our focus on what we would love. Seeing life through the lens of realistic positivity can have a massive effect on our enthusiasm for life and interest in moving forward after loss. When we accept the truth that “the only constant is change,” and that change often entails loss, we become more resilient in the face of loss. We are open to life filling the void without our intervention, and we can proactively fill it when it doesn’t.

For example, a woman I know had fantastic hearing one day, and the next day experienced the sudden and complete loss of sound in her left ear. No doctor could bring it back. She grieved her loss—an essential part of realistic positivity is accepting “what is”—and then came to appreciate how incredible the neuroplasticity of the human brain is: Her brain “rerouted” sounds to her right ear. Losing her hearing in one ear made her realize how little she appreciated it while she had it, and it taught her not to take anything seemingly so basic for granted again.

Other times, though, we must proactively replace losses when they occur.

Replacing the loss of someone we loved requires allowing ourselves to fully grieve and letting go of the expectation that we will find someone who will fill our loved one’s shoes in precisely the same way.

Replacing the Loss of a Career

Whether we were laid off, forced to retire, or chose to retire, the loss of a job or career can feel devastating. In the U.S., we treat our careers as almost inseparable from who we are. “What do you do for a living?” is often the first question we’re asked by new acquaintances right after “What is your name?”

I find it helpful to think of the void a loss has left as merely a space for something new and gratifying to enter our life. If we approach the loss of our career with realistic positivity, we can both accept the reality of what is—our career as we once knew it is has ended—and turn our focus to what we want and need—a drive to accomplish or experience something new, a purpose. The loss of our career leaves a space we can now fill with new ventures. We can write a book, travel to India, learn a new instrument or a new language, volunteer, or start an entirely new career—one not focused on income potential, but on passion.

Replacing the Loss of a Loved One

When we lose someone we love, we have the opportunity to deepen our connections with those still with us or forge new ones. We gain resilience by being proactive in replacing our losses. When a loved one dies, we may lose several things at once: the person, our relationship with them, our way of being with them, their help, our plans with them, and so on. We must replace the loss not because we didn’t truly love them or don’t miss them, but because our own life is still worth being the best it can be, and to live a good life, we need good people in it.

Replacing the loss of someone we loved requires allowing ourselves to fully grieve and letting go of the expectation that we will find someone who will fill our loved one’s shoes in precisely the same way. We must examine and acknowledge our needs and be willing to reach out to others. We must also have patience and compassion for ourselves as we find our way into the future.

Seeing the Gift of Loss

Loss is a gift? It is if through it we learn to value life in the present, to live and love fully, with the knowledge that we may not get another chance. Loss can help us if we recognize the lesson it teaches us—that every moment counts, material things don’t matter in the end, and we’re not defined by what we do or don’t have. Loss can be an impetus to meet new people, have fresh experiences, and explore additional ways to achieve the affirmation and love that we need. Experiencing loss also can make us more thoughtful, loving, and compassionate. By showing us what is essential, and what isn’t, loss helps us to let go of what is false and not serving us and guides us to our truest, best selves.

If you’re struggling with loss, consider seeing a therapist.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sue

    December 5th, 2018 at 4:00 PM

    I value your thoughts and knowledge

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