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Retirement planning – The psychological realities (III)

Today, we will take up the last of the DABDA and non-DABDA stages of grief that we commenced last week. Bargaining – ‘Bargaining’ is one…

Today, we will take up the last of the DABDA and non-DABDA stages of grief that we commenced last week.

Bargaining – ‘Bargaining’ is one of the processes a person suffering a loss or potential loss may attempt. It is a defensive move against feelings of helplessness and a struggle against accepting some undesired reality or apparent loss of control. In attempting to cope, a grieving person may try to ‘bargain’ with a higher power, some individual or themselves. They can, for instance, ask God to “please heal my parent in return for being a better son to the parent” or ‘begin to do’ something incumbent but of which the person has been hitherto negligent. The essence of bargaining is to create some hope in pursuit of a return to what a grieving person may consider normalcy.

A retiring person can, where possible, seek to have their compulsory retirement reversed by involving those that they believe may help. For the person mandatorily retired, they can, again where possible, seek to be retained on contract by their existing employer. The point is that a retiring person can bargain to retain or regain what they consider normal or something close to that.

Depression – When all previous attempts fail to yield the desired results, a person in grief may lose hope and fall progressively into despair and depression. Depression is a state a person falls into after denial, avoidance, and bargaining have not delivered sought-after results and hope is ‘lost’. Depressive thoughts and symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, numb, sleeping or staying in bed all day, etc. It brings a feeling of emptiness and the impression that nobody can understand what the grieving person is going through, leading to feelings of withdrawal from life and even suicidal thoughts.

Unlike the sudden loss of loved ones or the discovery of a major health concern, most retirement pathways are reasonably clear. This means those who retire voluntarily should have lower risks of falling into depression unless things don’t go quite as planned. On the other hand, those on mandatory retirement pathways are generally pre-aware that they will retire at a known point in time. This ought to give them a heads-up. I would say it is those who are compulsorily retired that may face the highest risk of falling into depression unless they are able to process and adjust well.

Acceptance – This is a stage in which emotions begin to stabilize not because everything is suddenly ‘all right’ but because a person is coming to terms with the loss or loss-causing event. It is an important ‘turnaround’ stage at which a person begins the reconnections necessary for the ultimate return to normalcy and any move ‘forward’. At this stage, there are continuous adjustments, readjustments and even self-doubts. Sadness and regrets may still be present, but emotional survival tactics are being gradually replaced by the acceptance of a new reality which is necessary for creating a new normal, evolution and growth. There is no more resistance and no struggle to make a loss what it is not.

Those who retire voluntarily may have only a little challenge processing their reality. It is only if things don’t go as planned that untoward issues might arise. Those who retire or are to retire on a mandatory basis have their notice period for requisite preparations, and the earlier an employee accepts the issues and begins to plan for their retirement, the less will be the risk of falling into grief, and if they do, the less may be the intensity and duration.

Finding Meaning – Finding meaning in a loss situation is a very personal process. Two children who lose a beloved mother could find different meanings in the loss over different timeframes. Finding meaning does not mean a loss has not occurred. Rather, it means a person has decided to unstuck and move forward without necessarily diminishing the loss. In the DABDA study context, examples of what finding meaning can look like after the death of a loved one can be about finding gratitude for the time one had with the loved one or creating positive change in one’s life.

Regardless of the pathway to retirement, we can look back and be grateful for the service opportunities and privileges we had; the relationships we have built, etc. Beyond that, we can continue into retirement with a renewed purpose and clear vision.

Re-Normalisation – Succeeding at any stage in life takes several things from us. Even the ‘negative’ emotional states we go through may have some benefits as mentioned. However, we must strive to get ourselves out of them as quickly as is practical and safe. During acceptance and finding meaning, we begin to take ourselves out of the valley of grief. But it is in re-normalisation that we can begin to get ourselves firmly in control through clear thoughts and determined action. Re-normalisation is the final stage at which we only look back to appreciate where we may be coming from and confidently look ahead in a desired direction. In re-normalisation, we are reasonably self-assured even if not completely clear-headed and we are biased for action.

With this, we have briefly covered the emotional stages that may generally be passed through whilst in a difficult situation. Next week, we will take up the likely triggers of those emotions in retirement.

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