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Helping you navigate through the second half of life with clarity, vision and purpose

Grief and Loss in the Second Half of Life

© 2011 Brenda Dineen | Reprinting permission with credit to author

Go into your grief, for there your soul will grow.
– Carl Jung

……I have now lost four friends, all to cancer.  Nothing could have prepared me for any of these deaths.  These friends were all healthy, active, aware people, not prone to illness.  We shared all aspects of our lives, over more than 20 years.  A friend occupies a certain place in your life. When they are gone, there is a hole where they once were. How do you deal with a hole in your life? You really can’t fill the particular place they once took.

When I was young, youth seemed eternal, and illness and death would not touch me. I remember hearing “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Of course, 30 seemed an eternity away, until I turned 30 myself. Old age seemed so far away, it didn’t seem real.  Many of us, and our friends, were fortunate to have had a few decades of very good health and well-being until the midlife years.

My father died when I was 36 and that was a big shock. However it hasn’t been until my midlife years that I began to lose my friends.

As we go through the second half of life, we encounter illness ourselves and with our friends. We also encounter death.  By this point, we are experiencing multiple losses, as I have with several friends dying.  As well, each death brings up losses from the past. Almost everyone going through the second half of life is shouldering multiple losses, including deaths and other significant losses in life.

A man I worked with (I’ll call him Tom), told me one day about a friend of his who had recently died. Tom was taken aback when he was at the memorial service for his friend. He found he was suddenly grieving the death of his own father , who had died 20 years previously.  Tom said, “I was so shocked. I was crying tears for my father, that I had not cried before.”  This is a common experience, when a current death can unexpectedly bring up a loss from the past. Our heart opens to those tender places and a wave of grief floods over us.

It is important to notice your feelings of grief and honour them. It is tempting to mask  feelings of grief with reaching to overeating, drinking, distractions, shopping and other methods we use to numb our feelings. There is an incredible flood of feelings when you lose someone close to you: deep sadness, loneliness, abandonment, anger and guilt. These feelings ride like ocean waves through us and can feel uncontrollable.

When going through a period of grief you might experience some of these symptoms:

  • feeling drained and exhausted
  • lacking appetite, or overeating
  • insomnia
  • forgetfulness
  • anger
  • difficulty with daily tasks or concentrating
  • helplessness

You can help yourself through a time of grief by honouring exactly how you are feeling, without judging yourself. It is important for your well-being to heed your feelings of grief and loss and bring them to conscious awareness. As well, put your self-care needs as a top priority in your daily life.  This means eating healthy meals, getting sleep and rest, walking or doing other exercise,  and finding emotional support for yourself. Turn to the support system you have in your life. Talking to someone close to you can be very comforting.

Above all, be kind and gentle with yourself.

Contemplation:

Contemplate a time when you lost someone who was precious to you. Write in your journal or reflect upon what that loss was and something you learned that helped you have a more meaningful life. How did that person impact your life in a significant way? How do you hold them in your heart today?