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It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (The retirement blues)

Mourning the death of your working life

Are you getting ready to plan your retirement party? You’ve worked decades of your life to get to this point, and the end of your working days are so close you can practically taste it… along with the cake!

You’re probably feeling joy, excitement, nervousness. But there’s something else there too. Another emotion. It might be a niggling sense in the back of your mind. You might not understand what it is, but that shadow there, that’s grief.

Grief gets a bad rap. When you hear the word, it’s natural to assume something bad happened. Often that a death has happened. Grief is associated with things like: Your mother passed away. You lost your best furry friend. A fire swept your house. Your marriage ended. You were fired from your job.

However, it’s important to understand that not all grief is triggered by something bad. Positive events can, and do, cause grief. Events like retirement.

Amy Florian a Thanatologist and teacher on grief and life transitions explained it.

“Grief occurs whenever an attachment is broken—whenever you must leave behind someone, something, a function, a way of life, or anything else you’ve become attached to and do not want to live without. It occurs whenever on chapter is ending and other begins and encompasses the ‘in-between’ space when you learn to let go of what can no longer be, accommodate your life to that loss, and build a different future. Grief is the hallway between the room one must leave and the room that awaits.”

Types of grief triggered by retirement

Florian identifies six types of loss that trigger grief: material loss, relationship loss, intrapsychic, functional, role, and routines. The last two apply to retirement. You are losing a role. A way you have identified yourself for years, decades even. Think about the last time you met someone new. After exchanging names you probably talked about where you were from, if you were married, had children, and what you did for a living.

Our jobs, our careers are part of our identity. When you retire, it can feel like you’ve lost part of who you are. You’re grieving for what you were—business owner, CEO, top sales person, etc. Somehow, saying “retired” doesn’t feel like it carries the same prestige. Sure, others might be jealous, but that’s different than being proud of your career, the title printed on your business cards.

Retirement also destroys your routine. At first, this might seem like no big deal. Your entire world is filled with weekends. There’s no more work week grind, commute time, or overtime. The world is an adventure and your calendar is permanently open now. It might feel like the best vacation of your life.

But what happens when you run out of things to do? Whether it’s due to budget concerns or an empty bucket list, at some point the adventure screeches to a halt.

When that happens, when you run out of things to do, places to go, or money to do all of the above… That’s when it might hit you. You might feel like you’ve lost friends. Your coffee and water cooler buddies are still slaving away in their day jobs, but you aren’t with them. And when you do get together, what do you talk about? There are no more easy conversations. You don’t know the latest office gossip, or the new big project that’s stressing everyone out. Suddenly it might seem that you are on the outside, looking in. It can feel alienating.

Then there is the loss of mental stimulation. You no longer have a puzzle a day to wrap your mind around. The challenging project that forces you to think outside of the box and get creative. It might feel like a runner, who breaks a leg and suddenly can’t run. It’s amazing how quickly you can feel out of shape and out of practice. And as the days slip into weeks, you might lose track of the date. Monday feels like Saturday, and the line between—that invisible barrier that used to delineate and define your days of the week—is blurred beyond recognition.

That is when grief takes over. You might feel a surge of loss for the routine of your working days, and all the people and places that came with it. You might even find yourself missing your morning commute, the opportunity to complain about your boss, the awful break room coffee, and other things you used to dislike. Absence can and might make the heart grow fonder.

It’s perfectly normal

Just remember, it’s normal to mourn your working years. Once retirement hits, expect to grieve over the loss of something both tangible and intangible. You’re not only losing your paycheck, you’re losing a sense of self. A purpose to your days. The definition of weekend will change from your downtime, to the downtime of your “working friends.” And suddenly you might be wishing for less free time, instead of more of it.

You might not experience the grief at first, parts of it might hit you months or even a year in, but it’s normal. Remember, you aren’t the first or last person to go through this and this too shall pass.

A good financial plan, and an asset manager, can help. Your financial advisor team can be a safe space to talk about your grief—they’ve heard it before after all. They can also help you get a firm grasp on what your budget and spending can handle, so that when you empty your bucket list you can look for the next adventure. Once you are past the transition of retirement and all the emotions that come with it, it really can be a wonderful time of your life.

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