Grieving the Roles You Leave Behind as you Redefine after 50Nov 10, 2021
As we start to think about redefining after 50, we typically think about what it is we WANT to do moving forward, rather than what we might be leaving behind as we move forward. And this makes perfect sense! We want to be excited about what is in store for us on the right side of 50. We want to hop our of bed each morning, looking forward to doing that “thing” that brings us joy and passion – whatever that “thing” might be for each one of us.
And yeah, we may be leaving roles behind, but isn’t “grieving” a bit of a strong word?
I answer with an emphatic “NO!”
BE PREPARED FOR IT OR IT WILL TAKE YOU BY SURPRISE
I am at a point where I am beginning to slowly and systematically phase out of my career as a behavior analyst working with children on the autism spectrum. I love(d) this career and my job. It allowed me to follow my passion and work with kids and their families. It also allowed me tons of flexibility in scheduling to be able to make my family a priority.
However, as I’ve been approaching 60, this job is becoming increasingly difficult. It involves a lot of crawling around and playing on the floor with little guys as well as managing behaviors. I’m still able to do it, but I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. I’m older, I’m tired, I have arthritis, and I want to be able to use my energy for my grandchildren. My career as a BCBA, at least as it looks today, is coming to an end. Slowly, but it’s happening.
At the same time, I started Life Balance After 50 and developed content and my program to help women like myself. This has given me joy and purpose and I know it will continue to do so as I move forward. Solid plan, right?
TAKEN BY SURPRISE BY MY LAST POTTY TRAINING
One of the things that I did in my career which gave me a great sense of purpose was potty training the kids I worked with. This may seem strange at first, but if you’re a parent or grandparent of a kiddo with a disability, you get it. I’ve trained many children – on all levels of the spectrum from completely nonverbal on up. I’m passionate about this – toilet training is THE most important independent living skill a person can have. It is also the number one way to prevent sexual abuse among this population.
And I am in the process of completing what I believe to be the last potty training of my career and life.
As I was chatting with my husband about the scheduling of it and how much I wasn’t looking forward to the physical aspect of it, I suddenly felt really sad.
Which was surprising because I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wasn’t prepared for this feeling.
But, it was the real time realization that this part of my life was, indeed, coming to an end. I’ve been talking about it for a couple of years now. But, it’s really happening. Slowly yes. But surely.
THE GRIEVING PROCESS THAT COMES WITH SHEDDING ROLES
There are some roles that have a double whammy when it comes to grieving their loss.
THE ROLE OF CARETAKER
Typically, we shed our role as caretaker because someone has died. So, we are not only grappling with the loss of that often very major life role, we are dealing with the grief that comes from losing a loved one. In addition, there is often guilt involved as a result of feelings of relief that might surface because this role is shed.
THE ROLE OF “MOM”
Many of us after 50 are just facing empty nest syndrome. For those of us who have been at home moms, this leaves an enormous gap that needs to be filled emotionally and timewise, as well. Empty nest moms deal with a range of feelings from pride, accomplishment, sadness, grief, and a sense of “what do I do now?” Again, there can be a layer of guilt, as well, during those times that we experience a sense of relief at the prospect of being able to do the thing we’ve always wanted to do.
2 WAYS TO MANAGE THE BARRAGE OF FEELINGS
I think my feelings were compounded by the fact that I was completely unprepared for them. Yes, I am leaving a job that I have loved, but it’s been hard lately and not as much fun. AND, I’ve got something else I’m doing that is giving me joy and that I can picture myself doing forever.
But, my career as a behavior analyst has been one of my main defining roles for over 20 years. Why wouldn’t I feel sad? Or even more, grieve the loss of that role.
REFLECT ON WHAT IT IS EXACTLY YOU ARE GOING TO MISS ABOUT THE ROLE THAT YOU ARE SHEDDING
Take a look at what you loved and didn’t love about the role you are leaving. Reflect and journal on it. This is information that will help you if you aren’t sure exactly what you’d like to do moving forward.
REMEMBER HOW MUCH YOUR BRAIN HATES CHANGE
Shedding a role is the ultimate change – the ultimate loss of the status quo that our brains love. When we change something about our lives or our routine, our brain perceives this as danger. That can lead to worry, anxiety, and an increase in the negative feelings that you may be experiencing in terms of grief.
It helps to be aware of this so that you recognize it. So that it doesn’t cause you to become “stuck” as you move forward in your redefinition.
There is no growth without anxiety. So, as I start to feel the feelings, I will continue to remind myself of that.
“Don’t cry because it’s over…..smile because it happened.” ~Dr. Seuss
I’m sure I will cry some, but I’ll remember to smile, as well.