There are four key coping skills:
1. Continually renewing your sense of purpose
2. Having a serenity about the deaths of friends and family
3. Embracing lifelong learning and change
4. Developing and sustaining a rewarding marriage or dealing effectively with intimate relations beginning and ending
Consider one aspect of dealing with loved ones dying. If you are going to live well into your hundreds, a lot of people you love will die. If you have difficulty dealing with the losses, you become vulnerable to depression and health problems. Defy Aging has a whole chapter on strategies for dealing with death. Space only permits discussing Brickey’s personal favorite—what he calls the Fred Sanford strategy.
Remember the TV program, Sanford, and Sons? What would Fred do when he was having a tough time? He would hold one hand over his heart and have the other hand in the air and say, “Elizabeth, I’m coming, this is the big one (a heart attack).” Then he would carry on an imaginary conversation with her and receive love, comfort, support, understanding, and guidance. He knew her so well he knew what she would say. (He probably got along with her better after she died because he was a pretty cantankerous guy.)
Fred was a simple, uneducated person. If he can do it, you can do it. Seeing a deceased love one as an ongoing presence in your life is a very powerful way of dealing with the death.
There is a bonus benefit that comes with the strategy. In doing 30 some years of therapy with clients Brickey has often heard clients lament, “I wasn’t there when he died.” “He died when I left the room.” or “I never told him I loved him.” It was like there was a brief window of opportunity and it is gone forever. If he or she is an ongoing presence in your life, however, you have unlimited opportunities for unfinished business.