This article was updated on 1 November, 2022. It discusses grief in retirement.
We all know it – grief is part of life. And it’s not just the obvious, big things like the death of friends or family that cause this pain. Sometimes the source of grief and loss is not noticeable to others.
A classic example is retirement. Everyone comes up to the newly retired and slaps them on the back, congratulating them on the endless holiday that stretches before them.
We’re all so different. Some can’t wait for work to finish. It’s whittled down and they have other interests capturing their attention . If they’ve got financial security it’s harder to stay in the yoke.
And then there are others who see it entirely differently. They’ve had a big career that they’ve given everything to. Hobbies don’t hold them. Their work is their life’s passion and it keeps drawing them back in.
For them, retirement can be a source of fear. They’re losing a life they’re attached to and moving into the unknown.
Melbourne’s Rabbi Fred Morgan retired in 2009 – and in a sermon he gave at that time he was honest about how hard this was.
He used it as an opportunity to talk about life’s transitions. The commonly identified ones are death of someone close, marriage and the birth of a new baby, “because with them the world changes before our eyes”, he said, quoting philosopher Auguste Comte.
But Morgan explained his coming retirement was a big challenge, an example of something we can feel afraid of, even though it’s supposed to be good.
Being a rabbi, he put some of this into the context of sacred pilgrimage.
Here are some of his other points.
- Some people say that transitions are part of life, but they are mistaken. Transitions are life.
- Within the journey that we call life, certain moments stand out. They are markers on the way, and they have special capacity to give direction or meaning to our journey. These are the moments of transition.
Rabbi Morgan pointed out the work of William Bridges, a guru on the subject. He said Bridges describes three stages.
The first is letting go.
“This involves no longer seeing the world in terms of what was previously the everyday reality; fare-welling the past without forgetting or rejecting the past. There are significant similarities in this process of letting go with the nature of bereavement. In this stage, transition is less about taking on the new, than it is about giving up the old. That makes it very risky, as well as painful.
“There is a misunderstanding that is sometimes expressed about letting go, that we are betraying the past, or not giving our history its full due – that we are dishonouring the past by letting it go. This view is stultifying and incorrect. On the contrary, the past will always remain a part of us; it formed us, and we honour it best by acknowledging the strength and confidence it has given us to move on.
“Bridges calls the second stage the ‘neutral zone.’ Anthropologists might refer to it as the liminal phase, an interval of time during which the transition has not yet been confirmed. It is a most difficult, generally lengthy and often uncomfortable period of in-between-ness, when we are no longer able to rely on the stability of past practice and yet our future direction is not yet clear.
“The third stage is the period of new beginnings, when our future begins to take on a design or pattern of meaning; we can start to see where it is taking us. When we enter that stage of renewal, the journey no longer feels like we are wandering through the wilderness. It is a homecoming. Life‘s journey once again takes on the character of a “sacred pilgrimage”.
The full Kol Nidre sermon by Rabbi Fred Morgan can be found at:
Relationships Australia is one of many counselling services that offers support during life’s transitions. They can be found at: https://www.relationships.org.au/
To find out about grief in older people, go to:
For an audio copy of William Bridges Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes, go to: