How baby boomers can find each other again after life-changing events
Do you feel like you need to rediscover yourself? Baby boomers can go through many major life changes that alter their sense of identity. Retirement, caregiving, empty nest syndrome, divorce, or the loss of a loved one can change your life forever.
After my mother’s death, I received a letter from the hospice bereavement coordinator who helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They recognized that family members who have spent most of their time caring for their loved one for months or perhaps years often wonder after her death, “Where do I go?” or “What do I do?”
That’s exactly how I felt after my mom died. I was the primary caregiver for my mom who had Lewy body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that left her both physically and mentally helpless. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had, by far. When she passed away, I figured that while I would cry for my mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my job was done and my life could return to normal.
Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed, and yes, lost after his death. My life, my thoughts and my feelings had revolved around caring for my mother. I’ve found that when your roles drastically change, you lose your sense of who you are. Your self-image is shaded.
This uncomfortable feeling can occur any time you go through a major change in your life. Maybe you recently retired or became an empty nester. After dreaming of all the things you would do when you had more time after raising kids and working 9-5, you feel lost.
Remember, even if you are no longer a full-time caregiver, partner, employee or parent, you are still 100 percent yourself. You just need to find that person again.
LET YOURSELF CRY
If you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of sweeping them under a rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have also lost your lifestyle and identity. It’s okay to die that loss.
However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You will need a support network. Healing can mean a lot of sincere prayer, discussing your feelings with a supportive loved one, and/or focusing your energy on a healthy activity that you enjoy.
LET IT GO
Avoid getting bogged down in all the “should have…” or “wish…” feelings that often come with grief but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t let sadness, stress, resentment, or bitterness become a way of life. Get all that negative self-talk out of your head like “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact is that your life is not over; it’s just a new beginning for you.
The goal is not to wallow in negative feelings forever, but to move on, to be there for the people who need you, to have a meaningful and productive life, and to enjoy life once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from their experiences and prepare for the next exciting chapter of your life.
It’s easy to get lost in caring for family and children or elderly parents or nurturing a career. You may have given up many things you used to enjoy. Take some time to get to know yourself again.
“To move your life forward, you need to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, MD in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Take this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this time in your life as an adventure to explore your true self.”
You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you focus on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and abilities and how you can best use them. What is it that really makes you happy? What is it that really matters to you? What do you think is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, married couple, or parent? What will excite you when you get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals.
Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun and joy as a way to rebuild yourself and your life.
My life changed overnight and that can be disconcerting. In my case, we had recently moved into a new house that we had built to be closer to my mom (who sadly passed away a week before she finished). My husband and I went from an empty nest to a house full of adult children and grandchildren. Also, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and start working again. It was a tumultuous year in other respects as well. My mother-in-law lost her fight against ovarian cancer and my son started going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.
Let’s face it, between all these events and changes in my life, I was in shock. I felt fragile and battled depression for the first time in my life.
It’s been a journey, but I’m starting to recover and heal. In the process, I am learning to accept all the new changes in my life. My new job, writing magazine articles, requires me to meet tight deadlines, but the topics are fun and it’s exciting work. We are a multigenerational family living together, but I have come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through a lot of the same emotions that I am as he finds his way after the divorce and we have connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.
So don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a bit.
ACCEPT YOUR NEW ROLE
You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, there comes a time when you make a choice. You can move on and discover the possibilities that a life change presents to you or get stuck in negative emotions.
Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can keep going, you will eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know from experience.
Over time, you’ll reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, go back to school or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. He will view the changes in his life in a positive light, feel more confident and in control, and become more productive and optimistic about his future.
The time will come when you will find yourself again, you will embrace your new role in life and you will feel that your new shoes fit you well. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually you won’t have to fight as hard to “make your life work” again. It just will.