Besides being merely the accumulation of candles on the birthday cake, aging can be a time of discovery, inner expansion and the enrichment of life.
More than just an inevitable part of life, Jungians regard aging as a “developmental stage”; a stage that can be lived with awareness of emotional, psychological and spiritual significances. What makes this time of life so ripe with opportunity?
Although losses occur throughout life, the time from mid-life onward presents an increase of unavoidable transitions and changes. Common losses include retirement, downsizing households, offspring moving away, deaths and declining or changing health.
Psychoanalyst David Peretz noted, “Loss is an integral part of human existence, a fact which has profound consequences from birth to death.” Even subtle losses (e.g., breaking a family heirloom) can throw us off balance in painful, disorienting ways. Because, with loss comes grief, a process which many people are uncomfortable experiencing. We may feel out of sorts, confused, restless or fearful of the future and all its unknowns.
However, grieving is a healing process, often bringing “profound consequences.” Grieving the loss of what was and reinvesting in what will be can eventually bring about growth, renewal and transformation.
First, we need to identify what was really lost. We lose more than the person (or the job title or the home) with the loss. We lose other aspects such as routines, a sense of safety, joy, social connection and future hopes. We also lose parts of ourselves (e.g., leadership, supporter) that had interacted in the relationship (or job or neighbourhood).
This collection of associated losses creates a void. The key factor is how we choose to address the void.
One way is by filling the void with distractions, with medication, shopping, drinking or other emotionally numbing or avoiding activities, as well as with trying to return to our former ‘normal’ way of life. Another way is by being still, turning inward and consciously discerning what activities, relationships and way of living we now want to live by. We must honour our post-loss questioning of what really matters now.
Grievers often feel the loss of appeal in former interests and relationships. Long-held values, even their religious and spiritual beliefs, come up for review, often to be discarded or changed. There will be the letting go of roles and traits no longer needed or needed as much.
Jung believed that Nature did not give us decades beyond mid-life for no purpose. He concluded that we are meant to do things in the last half of life, for ourselves, for society, and for the sake of our souls. Loss brings a chance to tweak our ways into more meaningful ones.