“What do you do” – it’s a question we all hear, especially, it seems, living in the District where there are regularly networking events and social meet-ups.
But for those transitioning into retirement, it can be a difficult question. At Iona, we recognize that these changes in later adulthood come with challenges – that’s why we offer the Transitions in Aging Support Group.
In the group, which I help facilitate, we discuss many common challenges people face when transitioning to this new stage of life. Conversations have touched on a range of difficult transitions, like:
- Adjusting to retirement
- Changes in household composition
- Downsizing to a smaller living space
- Health and memory changes
- Financial concerns
- Dwindling social connections, and
- Coping with loneliness
As a social work intern at Iona, these conversations have been inspiring for me. They have helped me cope with my own challenges in transitioning from my role as a student to a social worker. Additionally, I have had the privilege of observing group members thrive despite the challenges in their daily lives.
Thanks to the group, I now view life transitions in a whole new light.
I’ve learned that transitional stages in life can be a time for transformation and for developing a new self. At the same time, successfully transitioning into a new phase of life can also be accompanied by a fear of the unknown. For many, the flight or fight response can even be activated when there is change on the horizon. In fact, these challenges are so common, even popular literature takes on the subject. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, for example, captures the negative emotion that we feel when we change from the old to the new, when his protagonist suddenly transforms into a large insect (but, hopefully your retirement doesn’t feel like you’re turning into a monstrous creature!).
Generally speaking, then, taking on these transformations requires a sense of hope, vulnerability, and future-thinking about your tasks and goals. And, it doesn’t hurt to also have a good social support network. This, too, is represented in popular culture. For instance, the popular Netflix series “Frankie and Grace” deals with the challenges of divorce later in life, while also showing how friendships and social support can make even the most difficult times easier.
Unfortunately, as you age, you might lose some of the relationships you once leaned upon for support.
The loss of friends and relatives becomes a constant theme due to the prescribed course of life. Support groups, however, can help fill these gaps.
In the Transitions in Aging Support Group, I’ve observed firsthand how members enjoy the benefits of social support twice a month. People share their successes and challenges, turn to each other for support, and enjoy lively conversations.
The group is based on the notion that social interaction is beneficial to your overall wellbeing. Social groups can provide the benefits of socialization, companionship, and acceptance, and offer a safe space to be vulnerable. Additionally, having a space that supports your re-examination of hopes, dreams, and fears has the effects to renew from within.
Most importantly, through facilitating this support group, I’ve learned that when we think of transitional stages, we should always ask ourselves this question: “Do I want to transform into a self that is crippled by the fear of the unknown or transform into someone that takes charge despite the unknown?”
At the end of the day, transitioning, especially as you age, is difficult. There might be bad days when you feel like Frank Kafka’s monster, and there might be good days when you can laugh and enjoy quality time with friends or family.
But, when we begin to accept these ups and downs of aging, the path to purposeful living becomes easier to find. Acceptance means understanding your realities and being proactive in your future. By taking charge, you can accept that there are going to be rough days along the way, but there is always a brighter day around the corner.
And, remember – you do not have to face these challenges alone! Iona offers a range of support groups, like the Transitions in Aging Support Group, among others, and mental health therapy. For more information on these groups and to sign-up, please call (202) 895-9448, and ask for our Helpline.
Do you ever feel like Frank Kafka’s monster? Let us know in the comments how you deal with transitions in your life.
By Jivwe Partridge
Jivwe Partridge is a MSW student intern at Iona. She co-leads the Transitions in Aging Support Group with Susan Lieberman. Jivwe expects to graduate in May with her Master’s degree from the University of Baltimore. She plans to continue her work with older adults and addictions.