Loss as Part of the Aging Process

Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ~ Dylan Thomas

Loss is a part of life.

Generally, loss is spread throughout one’s life. As youngsters we may have lost a pet, a grandparent, aunt or uncle or perhaps someone closer like a parent or a sibling.

Beginning around retirement, however, loss seems to pile on. We experience loss of our livelihood when we stop working. Along with that cessation comes the end to many fun and fulfilling friendships with co-workers. Most of us have already dealt with ending what are considered our most productive years. How we dealt with that change emotionally impacts how we view our lives today. If we feel purposeless or of less value to society because we’re no longer working, we may have shrunk out of the limelight or become more reclusive.

Small and Large

Some losses associated with getting older are relatively small: eyesight, hearing loss, moving slower, and checking where we’re going before we step down, all of which can be adapted to with focused care. And, of course, there are the losses associated visually with youth, like losing smooth lustrous skin and shiny hair in vibrant colors. Granted, not everyone considers these issues/losses as ‘small’ or without significant impact. Compared to the larger losses, however, they are.

Larger, more catastrophic losses include a life-threatening illness that significantly alters your way of being in the world, the loss of a partner or other family member and, a beloved pet or friend. These losses can be insurmountable.

Remember the catch phrase associated with this blog:  These just might be some of the best years of our lives.? Why do I feel this way in spite of all the uncomfortable aspects of aging and loss? Because I truly believe that only in this time in our lives are we sincerely able to let go:  to give up caring how others judge us and to really focus on how we’re living our lives today. Others’ opinions of us, even if we disagree, don’t need to be dealt with by us; we can aim to overlook their notions, and this includes the judgments of family, caregivers, bystanders, and listeners who have minimal information. It doesn’t matter if the glasses I’m wearing aren’t the most modern or that how I like to wear my hair ages me. I’m happy to lose my status as a hip elder if I can trade any moniker for comfort and time to focus on more important things. Current fashions and fads that swirl around the periphery of our everyday lives, including silly games and sayings and dances and more stuff to own than you’ll ever use, can all be sidelined without the overwhelming sensation of loss. After all, at this point in our lives, who cares, right? At no other time in my life has the idiom “Don’t sweat the small stuff” been more meaningful.

Dealing with Loss

Small losses can be dealt with – they must be dealt with or our lives will be in shambles trying to ward off or cover up every event. My philosophy about things like hearing, eyesight, gray hair (or hair loss) is to do what I can and then let go. None of these smaller losses change the core of who I am and the kind of friend, relative, volunteer, writer, or teacher I am. Remember, letting go includes not fixating on the problem and not talking about it with everyone all the time.

The larger losses – or perhaps just the fear of the larger losses – are tricky. Each of us must cope the best way we can, and  there is no set methodology or pattern for the behavior around any experience of loss. Something I do recommend is having conversations with those close to you about losses, big and small. If you know someone dealing with a significant loss, it’s important to listen and empathize with them, ask questions about what they might need, and be patient.

No matter our age or infirmity, we can learn a lot about loss that’ll help us going forward.