One of the most challenging aspects of life in retirement is the dealing with the death of friends we consider contemporaries. Coping with loss is never easy, but during retirement, such losses can be especially trying because they reinforce the reality that we have entered a new phase of life, and they force us to come to terms with our own mortality.
Learning how to deal with a friend’s death during retirement is an important part of being happily retired.
Steps for Coping with a Friend’s Death
No matter your background (religious or otherwise), it’s important to allow yourself to go through the process of grieving, which looks slightly different for everyone.
- Accept that grieving takes time. Too often, our culture equates “strength” with emotional emptiness or stoicism in the face of tragedy. In order to properly move through the grieving process and to heal from your loss, though, you’ll have to allow yourself time to feel your natural emotions. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and there is no set amount of time that you will take to heal; the important thing to remember is to give yourself time to experience your loss and the emotions that accompany it.
- Acknowledge the seriousness of your loss. It’s tempting to diminish the importance of your loss by comparing yourself to those who have less (e.g. people living in the third world, people who have lost more loved ones in natural disasters, etc.), but this is not ultimately helpful to the grieving process. You can do the most good for the world when you are fully recovered from your wounds, so allow yourself to feel deeply hurt by a friend’s death. Only by acknowledging your pain will you be able to recover from it.
- Engage in activities you enjoy. Don’t feel as if you need to go through a period of deep mourning that excludes activities you love. Spend time doing things that make you happy, even if they remind you of your friend. Joy is an acceptable (and even desirable) emotion in the healing process.
- Reach out to others who are grieving. In all likelihood, you aren’t the only one hurt by your friend’s death. Talk with those who are feeling similar pain and allow yourselves to remember and honor your friend’s life.
- Accept support from friends and family. The strength of those who did not know or were not close to your friend can do wonders. Allow others to offer their support, even if it seems as if it will not help. Interaction with loved ones is one of the most powerful medicines available.
- Channel your emotions. Try writing your thoughts in a journal, poem, or song; planting a garden or tree in your friend’s honor; painting or drawing to illustrate your pain; or otherwise “doing something” with the pain you’re feeling. Art is a potent healer.
Some of my clients cite the death of loved ones as the “spark” that led them to undertake a new project or even start a new career in retirement. However you cope with your loss, please remember that you are not alone, and you will heal eventually.