The 5 Stages of Dealing with Unexpected Life Events After 60
This is a crazy time of life – with so many friends and family members with health issues. In my small community of 4,300, we lost 50 friends and neighbours last year. We also said goodbye to our 15-year-old dog. This is a time of continuous loss.
We begin to feel dreams slipping away as the sands of time run out. Our dreams included a lot of travel. We bought a new RV camper for just that purpose. It has turned into an expensive lawn ornament as it has barely been used.
We love to visit new places, but we’ve scarcely travelled at all over the past five years. I’m worried we might never leave home again – apart from doctor appointments. My husband has had a medical issue for the past year that keeps us close to home.
My emotions are all over the place. Our 7-year age difference is showing. He’s been retired for more than a decade. Although I’ve left my full-time job, I don’t feel ready to retire to a rocking chair on the porch.
It’s difficult when you’re healthy and your partner is not. When your partner is restricted by medical issues – often so are you. Tony says I should make plans on my own. This provokes feelings of guilt and regret. I’ve yet to make plans for a solo trip.
Stress sets in when you’re forced to say goodbye to the life that was, and you become a caretaker to your spouse. It’s happening to several of my friends. I’m sure it’s common worldwide.
Grief doesn’t fit into neat and tidy boxes. It’s messy. Feelings of frustration, sorrow, and despair can leak out and drown you if you’re not careful.
It has reminded me of the five primary responses to loss as described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. They are not a linear progression, I’ve found. They can appear in any order – and can repeat unexpectedly.
Denial – This Can’t Be Happening
We try to deny reality as long as possible. Five years ago, we spent the winter under the California sun. We loved our time there and were committed to doing this every year. We haven’t been back since. Yet every fall I’ve clung to the hope that we’d return.
Anger – Why Is This Happening to Me?
I became irritated at the fact that we were not going anywhere. I was angry with myself for not travelling more when younger. It seemed so unfair that we now had both time and freedom to go – but were unable to do it.
I’d like to revisit the backpacking trips of my youth – with a little more comfort – but this now seems impossible.
I know anger is a necessary part of the healing process. It’s healthy to vent our emotions through writing, painting, other arts, or talking with a friend. Underneath the anger, is the pain of lost dreams.
Bargaining – I Will Do Anything to Change This
Bargaining is the “what if” thinking stage. What if we had travelled sooner? What if we head out on the road and hope you heal along the way? Sometimes, we’ll try to make a bargain with God. “Give us just three years to travel – then we’ll stay home and do your will.”
Depression – What’s the Point of Going on Now?
It’s common to withdraw from life and to experience an emotional detachment from friends and family while wondering if you can go on.
This is a time of intense sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty as reality begins to set in that this may be your new normal.
It feels much like a dress rehearsal for the future.
Acceptance – It’s Going to Be OK
Eventually, we accept the reality of our situation and learn how to live with it. We learn how to enjoy life in a different way than before. We think about pursuing new activities and friends.
Tony is feeling better now. We may be on the road next month. I also have a back-up plan. I’ve researched art schools where I can study for a week or more at a time.
I love creativity and want to explore more of mine. It’s a different kind of travel. It is travel inward, and it’s what keeps me grounded.
I’m grateful to live in a community I love, with lots of my favourite things around me – art, nature, and music. I know I’m lucky to have good friends close by. Some of them are experiencing a similar roller-coaster ride of emotions.
But, as much as I love my home, I think I’d love it even more if I got a chance to leave it once in a while.
How has life interfered while you’ve been making other plans? What cheers you up on your down days? Please share with our community and let’s have a conversation.