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  • Heartache in the Middle Journey: Grief and Loss at Midlife

    The journey of a full life is long; by the time people reach the middle of their journey, they have very likely experienced grief and loss. Perhaps this seems to be counter-intuitive. If so, that may be because our culture has an overly narrow conception of grief and loss.

    Photo by Andrea Piaquadio 

    If that’s true, what is actually involved in grief and loss? To what kinds of losses are we referring? Well, when we consider the kinds of losses that individuals in their middle years sustain, we discover that there are actually many and varied experiences of loss associated with this part of our life journey. 

    Loss and Midlife

    We may well be aware that midlife involves important transformations in our lives. It’s not uncommon for commentators to even refer to this period in our lives as a time when we “reinvent” ourselves.

    There is a great deal of truth in this perspective. For instance, people often experience a great deal of change in family life as their children move through high school, go into post-secondary education and move out into independent adult life. This may well create lots of room for parents to move in new directions, and to find new ways of living their lives.

    Yet, it’s important that we also recognize that, from the perspective of a parent, these changes as children become more autonomous and independent can also be accompanied by strong feelings of mourning and loss. There is often a profound change in these key parent-child relationships that have a genuine dimension of grief and loss.

    Individuals may have very similar experiences around their occupational or residential lives in the midlife period of their life journey. Depending on their particular situation, individuals may experience promotion in their occupational lives, or they may be downsized—or, as I have seen in numerous cases in my practice, they may experience both these things in fairly rapid succession. We should make no mistake: such events can often bring deep experiences of grief and loss, even though we might not usually think of them in such terms.

    For one reason or another, the midlife years may also be a time when individuals have to relocate, for any of a number of reasons. It may also be a time when chronic health issues start to emerge. Also, as statistics show, it is more and more common for individuals in this part of their life journey to make changes in their intimate relationships, to leave relationships and/or to begin relationships with a new life partner. While there may be joy and ultimate benefit in many of these types of changes, they will all also involve the experience of grief and loss.

    How can we deal with these changes as important parts of our midlife journey? What kind of meaning can we find in the midst of such experiences?

    Stoicism versus Acknowledgement

    It is not uncommon in our culture for individuals to meet all these changes at midlife with a kind of stoicism. We can easily lapse into an attitude that simply sidesteps the emotional impacts of these life changes. We can let them happen and almost treat them as if they are not happening.

    Yet, it may be a matter of immense importance to acknowledge the emotional impact of grief and loss, and to enter into an experience of mourning. Such experiences of loss are a genuine part of the process of being alive. As we live into and acknowledge these feelings, we make them a part of the story of our whole life journey. It is only against the background of truly processing our losses that we can understand the true, full pattern of our lives, and genuinely move forward in our journey.

    The Middle of Life and our Changing Perspective

    The midlife journey is completely bound up with the process of losing the identity that we had in the earlier part of our lives, and potentially moving forward into a new identity. The new identity that is trying to emerge can only do so as the identity that we may have had earlier in our lives passes away and creates room for it. This process, if it is to be completed in its entirity, involves the acknowledgement of our grief and loss.

    This vital psychological work can often be greatly aided through exploring our loss and grief with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist. The process of acknowledging the passage of our old identity is often connected with the emergence of of a fuller and completer identity that is founded upon all the dimensions of the life journey that continues to open up before us. This continuing journey is the heart of what Jungians refer to as the process of individuation.

    WIth very best wishes for your continuing personal journey

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2024