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MEL MAGAZINE: WHAT REALLY HAPPENS WHEN YOU ‘DIE INSIDE’?

Quinn Myers

HOW DO YOU RECOVER FROM DYING INSIDE?

Watching people die inside wouldn’t be as fun if, for example, we knew Thompson’s dropped tray of beers was just another in a long line of huge mistakes. His reaction hints that this is out of the ordinary, and something Dr. Deborah Heiser, an applied developmental psychologist, would call a healthy “attributional style.” That is, what he attributes to why everything went wrong.

Quinn Myers

Dr. Deborah Heiser, an applied developmental psychologist who specializes in helping people enter retirement age, once had a recently retired patient tell her, “I feel like I’m falling off a cliff.”  

"By engaging yourself and actively thinking about your identity, you can view yourself beyond the one dimension of a career," explains Deborah Heiser, PhD, an applied developmental psychologist who specializes in the over-50 population. Think about things like your favorite hobbies, connections within your community, and meaningful relationships within your family. All of these things can help ease the transition into retirement. Here are seven other pieces of wise advice:

Deborah Heiser, 50, agrees that having a grandparent around is a major perk. She and her husband and two sons live with her 92-year-old mother-in-law in a home in Great Neck, New York. "The bond [my sons and mother-in-law] share wasn't as strong before she moved in with us," said Heiser. "I also love that my boys are able to see that at 92, their grandmother travels, is extremely social every day, and she always has a treat or snack handy for them. They don't see older adults as a burden or as invalids. They have an expectation that life can be exciting and fun at any age."

Many people hang on to more possessions than they ultimately desire. “People think they want the stuff initially but later on they don’t care,” said Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y., and co-editor of the book “Spiritual Assessment and Intervention with Older Adults: Current Directions and Applications.” They might store things for three months, she said, then decide they don’t want them. Once they have found a “new life,” she said, they usually want to dispose of them one way or another.

The payoff is often a fresh start, lower living expenses, less house-related work, a different lifestyle with more amenities and more freedom to travel.

“When you do something meaningful, at any age, that’s what adds meaning to our lives and makes us feel like we have purpose,” says aging specialist Deborah Heiser, a doctor in psychology. It can be overwhelming to begin something new, and often people don’t know where to start, particularly later in life, says Heiser. Living in a community, or having a resource like a senior center or community services center that can help give you direction is beneficial. “We should never stop working toward goals, and we should remember we should never say we’re done,” she says. “Age does not mean that we’re supposed to stop, and meaning can be found in many different ways.” 

Some boomers, of course, aren’t sentimental about hanging onto family possessions. “Baby boomers don’t care mostly,” said Deborah Heiser, an applied developmental psychologist based in Great Neck, N.Y., and co-editor of the book, Spiritual Assessment and Intervention with Older Adults: Current Directions and Applications. For many, the attitude is “new home, new me,” Heiser said. “It’s freeing — liberating in a way.”

Talking about your feelings regarding the changing roles can help reduce tension and make the transition smoother for everyone, she says. “Many children and older adults have preconceived notions about what life should be like for a senior,” she says. “Children may have wonderful intentions but don’t realize parents have a lot at stake emotionally like their identities, self-worth and value to society.” 

Heiser recommends discussing downsizing early and openly with your parents. “When you spring something on someone out of nowhere, it can be frightening,” Heiser says. “But if you have an ongoing dialogue that’s genuine, then that’s how it can be made a positive experience.”

Since the process is partly psychological, here’s how to prepare.

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