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How to Cope When Life Turns To Grief

Under perfect circumstances, retirement can still be a very difficult transition. Even if you’re lucky enough to be retiring when you want and how you want, leaving behind your career and adjusting to a new routine is not easy. Many retirees experience a profound loss of identity and purpose as well as feelings of isolation. Others find that retirement puts an irreconcilable strain on their marriages.

Unfortunately, for many folks, the events of 2020 have made the retirement transition even tougher. Covid-19 and social unrest have created a sense of worry and sadness that we’re all sharing together and processing privately. Those big picture concerns have filtered down to retirees in countless ways: forced early retirements, delayed retirements, health care concerns, cancelled vacations, separation from friends and family, and the loss of loved ones.

As we try to make sense of these extraordinary circumstances, it’s not unusual to feel perfectly fine one moment and overcome with grief the next. In fact, there’s a growing body of discussion among mental health experts about that very phenomenon, dubbed a Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief (STUG).

If you’re struggling with grief right now, you’re not alone. These coping strategies could help you find some peace and get back to enjoying the positives in your life.

1. Let your feelings in.

It’s important to remember that grief isn’t just a reaction to death. It’s a reaction to any significant change or loss. Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that what we’re feeling is grief for just that reason. We don’t think our situation “deserves” grief, especially at a moment when so many people in our country are so much worse off. We feel embarrassed by our grief, or even ashamed of it.

That can also be a reason why folks who are nearing retirement sometimes struggle to open up about how they really feel about retiring. It’s easy to say, “I’m looking forward to moving to Florida.” It might feel wrong to admit, “I’m really going to miss my work friends. I don’t know what I’m going to do all day now that I don’t have a team to manage. And I’m mad that I have to retire ahead of schedule because Covid-19 caused a major reorganization of the company.”

Anger, sadness, nostalgia, fear – grief can stir up some complex and unique jumbles of emotions. However you’re experiencing a loss in your life right now, just know those feelings are OK. You are allowed to feel this way, and hopefully, soon, you’re allowed to feel better as well.

2. Express yourself.

Of course, as I mentioned above, your feelings about retirement and many other aspects of your life are shaded by the broader problems in our country. A sudden rush of grief might feel so overwhelming that you have trouble pinpointing what, exactly, it is you’re feeling down about.

None of us can take on all the problems in the world right now. Opening up to your spouse or another trusted confidante can help you bring your grief down to size. By talking through your feelings you’ll get a better handle on what’s really triggering your sudden grief. And once you know what, specifically, you’re grieving, you can find ways to lessen that burden.

3. Stick to your routine.

At its most extreme, grief can become so burdensome that it’s almost paralyzing. When just getting out of bed is a chore and you find yourself spending most of the day exhausted on the couch, you run a real risk of letting your grief grow into depression.

Your daily routine can provide some structure that keeps you from sliding down that slope. Your morning bike ride or yoga session can clear your head and provide some much-needed release. Sticking to your volunteer schedule can be a reminder that there are people out there who need your help, your expertise, and your compassion. Keeping up with your online classwork can keep your mind occupied. Cooking dinner with your spouse can improve your feelings of connection to other people. Getting a good night sleep can help you recover from the physical and emotional toll major grief can cause.

In fact, a lack of routine is often a major reason why otherwise healthy and happy seniors start feeling overwhelmed by grief in the first place. Just having that schedule is a reminder that whatever you’re coping with, your life goes on. And as you check off the items on your daily to-do list, you’ll feel empowered to keep moving forward.

4. Prepare now so you won’t have to repair later.

Having conversations that touch on grief is never easy. At Keen Wealth we’ve helped clients work through sudden unemployment, home loss from tornadoes and flooding, divorce, debilitating medical conditions, and the death of loved ones. And I can tell you from experience that the only thing worse than having to cope with this kind of grief is not having a plan in place that helps to mitigate the aftermath.

It’s also remarkable how establishing those plans can bring folks some real peace of mind. Dealing with a potentially terminal diagnosis is heartbreaking. But taking steps to firm up an estate plan alleviates some of that worry and helps folks focus their mental energy on their health and comfort. Having to change your retirement plan when you’re so near the finish line can be a major disappointment. But because you have a plan in the first place, you have tools available to make proactive adjustments.

You may not have considered how working with a fiduciary advisor can help during times of grief. But I’m always proud of how my team at Keen Wealth is at their best when our clients need us the most. If you’re working through a particularly difficult life transition right now, please get in touch.

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

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