My 93-year-old Dad was looking at photos of our family this week. “We’ve been through a hell of a lot, haven’t we?” he asked.
He’s right. My mother was in a car accident in 1979 that put her in a persistent vegetative state. She died five years later.
In 2001, my nephew died of a malignant brain tumor at age 14 and his mother, my sister, died six months later of cancer. My brother died in 2010 of a post-operative blood clot. My stepmother died this past spring.
It seems like a lot of loss, but is it? Every family member will eventually die, including my father and me. But why do we hide from that eventuality? Learning that loss is part of life is an essential lesson, one that our culture does not particularly embrace. We act as though death is the enemy rather part of the cycle of human experience.
But coming to terms with death is really about coming to terms with life. So many of us assume that there will be a tomorrow for us to tell someone that we love them or boldly step in the direction of a lifelong dream. Yesterday’s terror attack in New York reminds us that today is a gift and tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
So what do we do with this knowledge? Use it to courageously move forward with our lives. Retirement is filled with many losses that throw us for a loop – especially the loss of our career identity. But it is also a time of birth and rebirth. If we have the inclination, in retirement we have the time to discover and embrace ourselves and our lives wholeheartedly. We can plumb the depths of our souls, ask the big questions, and come up with answers that heal us and make us whole.
Believe me, this is not a task for the faint of heart. Many will never embark on this journey of self-discovery, content to maintain the status quo whether they are happy or not. But for those who are brave, this third phase of life is a time of unprecedented discovery, joy, and growth. Be inspired, not retired.