Thursday, September 19, 2019

Senior Independent Living...7 stages of retirement "grief"!

I wrote this article back in 2014. My husband and I had been retired for 18 or so years. We had emerged from all of the angst and were enjoying ourselves no end...we still are. But, we did go through the stages of grief (in a positive way if that is possible). Now we love our time to travel, enjoy grandchildren and great grandchild. We now own two homes, one in Oregon and one in Arizona. Yes it is true that your financial life gets better as you age but that is another story.

Sapa, Viet Nam

Hanoi after dark
Grandchildren! I now have 13 and these are three youngest.
The oldest is 26ish. :)

Are there seven stages to recovery from the shock of retirement? Do we feel loss, pain, anger, depression and loneliness after which we turn upward, reconstruct our lives and then begin to live again? It very well could be.

I do know that when I talk to newly retired people there seems to be a pattern of behavior that each person feels is uniquely theirs. During the years of living in an RV Resort in the winter I rubble elbows with retirees for almost 12 years. Their stories are their own but the patterns they follow are similar. Here is what I saw and heard from those people:
  1. Euphoria:  I remember saying that I was never getting up in the dark again. The euphoria of knowing my retirement benefits would support us for the rest of our lives and we need not fear unemployment left me walking on airI think most people that retire feel this same emotion.
  2. Denial:  Most of the people will say they are going to travel/read/take up a hobby when they retire.  Even though they have never done any of these things before, it just sounds right to them. I have always thought the "denial/escape" should be substituted for the word "travel/read/hobby" because that is what we are wanting to do. The idea of no responsibility is so appealing but we know we do not want to sit down to die. My husband and I have traveled around in the world since our retirement. It did not take us long to realize that the new was wearing off and money had to be taken into consideration. There was no escaping the fact that we were going to have to face a life spent in our home, day in and day out. Travel was not going to fill the void left when we quit working.
  3. Pain of Uncertainty:  Now that the senior has figured out that there is no escaping their life the uncertainty settles in. Should they move to a smaller house, maybe near the children?  (We did that.) Or should they follow their dream and go to a foreign country or another part of the country to live? Could they find a way to own two homes so they can escape to warmer weather in the winter? All of the freedom leaves them with a nagging feeling that they could be doing better if only they moved...or something! 
  4. Anger :  This part of the retirees response to retirement is a bit like a dog biting his leg off.  Spouses may turn on each other. Husband will move the furniture and tell the wife how to cook. The wife will watch her husbands every move, tell him what to wear or leave long lists of "honey do's".  Living near the children can cause tension between the spouses and between the parents and their children. Television station selection can even be a bone of contention. I can't crawl in another person's skin but I do know what I hear and this part can happen early on or after a honeymoon period of the retirement. They will feel angry and frustrated. Boundaries will need to be set in order for everyone to live together in peace.
  5. Upheaval:  Many spouses have led separate lives but occupied the same space. Other have spent a lot of time together during their leisure time. This part of their lives can be a huge adjustment. In the first group, the amount of time they are together is almost overwhelming.  In the second case the expectation that retirement will provide more together time can be a problem. In both cases the man or woman's obsession with golfing, quilting, shopping etc. or the total lack of interest in anything can be a problem. In one case he/she never goes away. In the other he/she uses the hobby as a "job" replacement and even gathers up friends as though they are coworkers. The spouse left behind can be resentful. In my opinion some counseling may be necessary. Both men and women can have unrealistic expectations of their partners.  
  6. Role Adjustment: Retirement really does change our married life in every way. Couple usually arrive at an unspoken agreement and their life goes on. We eventually spread the work of life out between us. My husband took over the household finances and began cooking more.  When he cooks, I clean up. I suppose that in the end we just learned to work out what needed to be done. It is so automatic now I never think about it.  
  7. Acceptance and Realization:  After months or even years most retirees have worked it all out.  A routine is established and their life can be a very happy one. The day you realize that you would not have time to work even if you wanted is the best day of all. You have managed to fill your life with "life"! Congratulations.
Retirement is not easy. It is much like a rebirth of sorts.  But, on the other hand, it can be the best part of your life...after all you have worked hard, raised families and now it is your turn to decide.  I am having more fun all the time. Hopefully, you can come into this part of your life prepared both financial and will be so much easier that way.



  1. Going at it alone is never recommended when caring for an Alzheimer patient. Alzheimer’s patients change dramatically from the person they once were and there are many things about the disease that can be scary. There are organizations and support groups around the country that a caregiver can join. There they will find others who are dealing with many of the same things that they are and it will help them to stop feeling like giving up. Knowing there is someone else going through what you are is always good to keep spirits up.

  2. Thanks for the information. I really hope that more and more of those that are planing to retire are able to. With how this economy is and everything else, it really makes it hard to make all of that possible. Lets hope this isnt the case forever.

    1. The economy has changed our world, and while I see this is an older post, we still need to embrace the change of our lifestyle to accommodate what we want, what we can have, and what we strive for!

  3. You must sacrifice your lifestyle expenditures in your working years if you wish to retire early.

  4. It is also important to look for a retirement community that can offer recreational activities to its residents.

  5. When looking for a retirement residence, it is a good idea to talk to the people near the area and get their perception about the place.

  6. I struggle on which stage I embrace, which stage I run from, which stage I need to focus more on. I thought I was ready for retirement, but find many days that retirement was just an illusion versus the reality of finding your way in this 3rd stage of life! I chose to embrace it, no matter the difficulties.

    1. It is all about how we see it. Thank you for your comment.

  7. Your post gave me the idea to write a post on the seven stages of retirement happiness. I see no grief or down side with retirement. Aging, yes, lots of downsides but retirement is sheer joy.

  8. I love this post! My husband retired before I did and waited for me to retire 10 years later and in that time, we went through those stages as well as going through them again when I retired. I am happy to say we made it to stage 7 and have found that we are in a place where we are comfortable and happy. It may not be the picture of retirement that all the retirement book authors say we should be in but I see retirement as an individual concept. What works for one does not necessarily work for another. Keep writing, love it.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I think this may be one of the most important post I have written. It lets retirees know that they are not alone.


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