Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I read an article yesterday that proposes that all that money that we “lost” in the recent decline of the stock market wasn’t really real anyway.

Like many older people, we thought our money was “working” for us in retirement. It looked, at least on paper, like we could live comfortably to a ripe old age in pretty much the same style. It is a comfortable, but not particularly lavish, style. We drive our cars for a long time and many of our clothes come from discount stores. My husband is the consummate do it yourself guru. We are careful about most things. The occasional splurge on a vacation or home improvement is carefully considered and purchased at the lowest possible price. We didn't ever seem to be out of control, just comfortable.

Last week as we watched talking heads, whose intentions appear to inevitably be biased, giving reassurance or preaching financial Armageddon, we were in that dazed state that often follows the receipt of tragic news.

Then we started to figure out what steps we needed to take personally, just to deal with the immediate effects. (Not much, as it turns out.)

Then came the conclusion, perhaps erroneous, that it really wasn’t going to be too bad after all. (In psycobabble, this is called denial.)

Then came the anger at whoever got us into this mess. Who knows who it was, but I’ll bet we’re all angry at someone about it.

Does all this sound familiar? To anyone who has survived any kind of life event resulting in loss, it should.

The stages of adjustment seem to always be pretty much the same. We’re shocked, angry, in denial, sometimes all of those things at one time, and then we go on, using a mixed bag of tricks to cope.

Eventually we become resigned to do what we have to do and do it. When we reach the final stage of adjustment, we step away from ourselves and begin to want to give a hand to others.

Am I there yet? I don’t know, because adjusting to any loss is never a straight path. It kind of wanders around, back tracking now and then, going up some steep spots and sliding down some inclines. I do know that we all seem to be programmed to keep on going, hoping that the next turn in the road will give us a glimpse of the finish line. Each loss lends us experience to anticipate the next one and cope with it better. The illusion of being in control is tempered by reality.

I hope I eventually get good enough at dealing with loss that I can laugh at it and skip some of the less productive stages. I'm thankful that I understand the process.


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