No, my husband isn’t retired quite yet but as of today there are only eight more work days until he is retired. He is certainly excited, but his excitement is tempered with the realization that after 38 years with Boeing as a trusted, well-respected, structures engineer, those skills will no longer be needed from him. Others at the company will have to take over his work, and let me tell you, that’ll be a difficult task for them to accomplish.
Guess what? You can’t take off or land without the airplane part that my husband was responsible for. Oh sure, there are many planes in the Boeing system but Jerry was intimately involved with several generations of those planes.
Even the President of the United States relies on landing gear to get from point A to B and back again. That’s right, the current President and several before him should be thanking Jerry for having the skill level my husband has, I mean, just think about it, the entire weight of an airplane is on the nose and main landing gears … you really, really want them to be structurally sound.
This same extraordinary engineer is also my husband and has been since February of 2000. And guess what? I get to be a part of his retirement experience and I am privileged to be able to grow old (older) with him for many years to come.
The Boeing Company was honored to have my husband in their employ for thirty-eight 38!!!!! years.
Now I get to have him all to myself.
A full-page newspaper ad for hearing aids, walkers, and safe bathtubs drew my attention the other morning:
“Seniors fear loss of independence more than death.”
I agree with that catch phrase, even though the final act of death brings its own fear level centered around how it will occur or whether or not it will be painful. But the loss of independence creates greater fear in me because of what it could mean:
- perhaps having to move out of my private residence;
- having my car keys taken away from me and being reliant on others for all of my transportation needs;
- being told what to wear, what and when to eat, and when to go to bed;
- not being able to bathe privately; reliant on someone else to make sure I get the job done right;
- speaking of which, needing assistance on the toilet OR having an alternate means of evacuating my bowels – ugh!;
- you name it – anything for which I am reliant, dependent, or beholden to someone else, scares me half to – well – death!
But maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m super sensitive to this issue because of my work with vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities. So I asked friends, family, and others with whom I’m acquainted what stands out as their greatest fear in their Baby Boomer years. Here is a summary of numerous responses to my query:
- loss of independence which oftentimes involves chronic illness and/or dementia that drains the household finances;
- loss of independence resultant from dementia as it seems to be prevalent in so many families;
- loss of independence thereby putting the burden of care on my spouse;
- loss of mobility;
I couldn’t resist listing the last response because it made me laugh while contemplating a subject matter that brings little humor to the table.
While taking a walk with a neighbor the other day, he concurred with the above, also adding that if a person had unlimited finances, loss of independence wouldn’t hurt as much: use of your own private driver, 24/7 caregiving in your own home, the best Chef money could buy so you’re not relegated to institutional “cuisine.” But you know, I’m not so sure that being able to afford all of the above would make me feel less dependent upon others than if I had a standard of living like most everyone else. Sure, the amenities are better, but the underlying cause for needing those amenities remains the same – the inability to do things for myself.
Now that we’ve all agreed that living an independent life is very precious to us – I know we understand more clearly why our parents or other loved ones fought the aging process every step of the way. I thought I was very empathetic to my father when he had to surrender his car keys. But now that I’m a wee bit older than I was at that time, I’m thinking I had no inkling of what my father went through as little by little he lost the independence he had enjoyed for eighty-some years.
But how can we prepare so as to avoid a complete loss of independence?
Well, if you find the magic formula, please let us all know. As for me and my household, I’m concentrating on the here and now in preparation for the future. Here’s my contribution:
- Exercise like your life depends upon it – because it does. That doesn’t equate to running marathons or riding the Tour de France, rather, it’s participating in a variety of exercise options to which you know you can commit. What works for you – not what everyone else is doing.
- Enjoy the food you eat but don’t be addicted to it. My husband and I have dessert every night and we use butter instead of margarine when we cook. Those are luxuries that we decided to enjoy while making sure that the rest of our diet is balanced and more healthy than not.
- Speaking of balanced, we love our wine, so nightly, we enjoy a glass during those post-workday (and post-exercise) moments while we catch up on our respective days. Oh, and we also enjoy another glass as it goes so wonderfully with dinner, don’t you think?
- Use your brain in ways that you don’t use it while at work. There’s still no fool-proof method of preventing Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but you’ll feel better about yourself if you continue to challenge what you know – and what you don’t know.
- Seek peace amongst the chaos. In my article, Where do you find peace?, I explore both how to find peace, and how to keep that peace from slipping away. Rather than repeat what I previously said, I hope you’ll find time to read my “peaceful” article.
Now it’s your turn. What are you doing to avoid what many of us fear the most? I know many Baby Boomers would benefit from hearing what you have to say. We’re all in this together – regardless of how far from each other we live – so let’s work together towards attaining the goal of remaining independent as long as we possibly can.
I read in the Seattle Times newspaper recently that a dragonfly, in its nymph stage, lives in the water for up to four years while it is growing & developing. When it finally emerges from its skin, it only lives a few months.
I know there are other insects who have an even briefer adult life, but this substantial insect caught my attention for one specific reason – although its post-nymph life is brief, it goes for the gusto during its brief time on Planet Earth.
It’s believed that dragonflies have existed on Earth for approximately 300 million years – wow! – that’s older than us humans!!! I guess they’ve had a great deal of time to learn how to make their individual lives count. As nymphs, growing & developing under water, a special appendage on their head helps them to spear their food – small fish, other insects, yum! When full grown and ready to emerge, the dragonfly climbs out of the water, sheds its skin, and waits for its wings to dry before getting down to business.
By the time their wings are developed, they are considered full-grown adults and have only a few weeks remaining of their lives. Their primary goal during this winged stage is mating – so when you see two dragonflies flying through the air attached to one another, it is almost always a male and female mating. I guess they are able to fly while “distracted” because they can see nearly 360 degrees around themselves at all times – no obstacle will get in the way of these industrious bugs! And I can’t help but state that they present an entirely new definition of the mile-high club.
But this article isn’t really about dragonflies and their mating-in-flight capabilities. It’s about how you and I choose to live our lives because in the grand-scheme of things, our life span is just as short as an insect’s, if not – relatively speaking – shorter.
Considering how old the world is, even if we live to be 100, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the years that have preceded us, and the infinity that will carry on after us.
I wrote two articles on this Blog site about making the most of our lives – especially as we near retirement. Retirement Planning – it’s not what you think; and Creating the next chapter of your life explore whether “the rest of our lives” post-retirement will bore us and benefit few; or excite us and benefit many. This topic interests me greatly because I witnessed first hand what an unplanned retirement can look like.
A few months into my father’s retirement, my mother started to complain about my dad’s inactivity – phew, not fun! Before long – and in the midst of great boredom on his part – my father got the hint, climbed off his golf cart, and pursued volunteer opportunities with AARP. You see, he realized within a few months of retirement that he wasn’t satisfied not contributing to the larger community around him. The long and the short of it is that both my mother and father eventually established a state-wide volunteer program to help the elderly and low-income individuals with their annual tax returns. My parents recruited other like-minded retirees, put them through training, and by the time of my parents’ real retirement, this tax-aide program had helped more than a million people in the course of 20 years.
But that was them. That’s what my parents could do and enjoyed doing. We have to discern what an appealing retirement looks like for us. I don’t begrudge anyone a relaxing and enjoyable retirement – I’m all for it – but let’s not waste our previous employment skills by putting them on hold as soon as we leave our J-O-B.
My husband surprised me the other day when he stated that he’s already thinking about what he’ll do when he retires – four years hence. I’m thrilled that he’s already considering his options, and who knows? Maybe we’ll team up and do something meaningful to both of us, just as my parents did many years ago.
In an earlier article, “Retirement planning – its not what you think,” I talked about the planning required to have a quality of life after retiring from one’s job that relies on spending your time in a way that pleases you, and benefits others.
My closest friend, Sophia (not her real name), is in her 80th year of life and for the seven years that I’ve known her, Sophia has struggled with boredom, but not just boredom per se. Sophia wants to matter; she wants to make a difference; she wants to contribute to the world around her. In a recent e-mail to me, Sophia said:
“There are too many active Seniors roaming around the coffee shops and Malls wondering what to do next. Even my friend Walter, at age 97, felt a sense of accomplishment yesterday when he washed all the bed linens and remade the queen bed – this done using his walker, back and forth.”
Sophia epitomizes the bored retiree that I discuss in my article, “Voices of the bored retirees.” We often think that when we retire we’ll be satisfied with being able to golf whenever we want; sleep in as long as we want; work in the garden whenever we like, and read all the books we’ve stacked up, but not had the time, to read. My father was one of those retirees who longed for the opportunity to be on the golf course as often as he wanted. A month post-retirement, he was bored with it all.
Another quote from my friend Sophia: “I really believe that much that we call Alzheimer’s is just a simple lack of interest in remembering what no longer matters. There is definitely a veiled space that occurs now and then when it is either too painful to remember, or not worth it to try. This, in addition to physical pain and boredom, can reach a kind of black hole.”
I know my friend very well, so I know that she doesn’t support that type of Alzheimer’s reasoning, but what she said really resonated with me. Too often we focus too much on what doesn’t matter, and far too little on what can matter greatly in our remaining years. Gerontologist S. Barkin believes that we have a responsibility to actively walk through our retirement (or Baby Boomer) years:
“What do we want to do for the remaining time in our life? We all should be mining our experiences and the wisdom therein to help with our present, and our future paths.”
Most of us, even when we’re enjoying the relaxation we so richly deserve in our retirement, truly strive to create a new purpose for our life. We want a reason to get up in the morning. We strive to contribute to the community around us.
Does the retirement age need to be raised in order for that to occur? Or can we be just as effective, and less bored, by cultivating a lasting purpose after we’ve entered the long sought-after retirement phase of our lives?
O.K. BABY BOOMERS OUT THERE:
- What’s your plan?
- What’s working – or not working – for you?
- What’s your cure for boredom?
You’ve worked your entire life; you’ve lined up your retirement leisure activities; you’re ready to start the first day of the rest of your life, but instead you start a new job: caregiver to your sibling, spouse, parent, or other family member.
Or perhaps you retired early to take on your caregiver job because there was no way you could do it all: continue your full-time job while moonlighting as your loved one’s caregiver. It doesn’t work or it only works until the caregiver runs out of steam. One way or another, your retirement years sure don’t resemble what you envisioned.
The CNN article, As baby boomers retire, a focus on caregivers, paints a frightening picture but one that is painfully accurate. The highlighted caregiver, Felicia Hudson, said she takes comfort in the following sentiment:
Circumstances do not cause anger, nervousness, worry or depression; it is how we handle situations that allow these adverse moods.
I agree with the above sentiment to a very small degree because let’s face it, the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s life is filled with anger-inducing depressive circumstances about which I don’t think caregivers should beat themselves up trying to handle with a happy face and a positive attitude. It just doesn’t work that well in the long-term. It’s a well-known fact, and one that is always talked about by the Alzheimer’s Association, that caregivers don’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to stop trying to do all of their life’s jobs by themselves.
“I’m obligated because my parents took great care of me, and now it’s time for me to take care of them.”
“For better or worse means taking care of my spouse, even though she’s getting the better of me, and I’m getting worse and worse.”
The problem with the above sentiments is that oftentimes the adult child or spouse start to resent the person for whom they are providing care. It’s like going to a job you hate but being held to an unbreakable employment contract; your employer is a loved one with a life-altering or terminal illness; and you’re not getting paid. “Taking care of a loved one in need is reward enough.” No, it’s not.
I’m not bitter, I’m simply realistic. Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs any of us will hold and we can’t do it all by ourselves. My blog article, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport, encourages each person in a family caregiving situation to create a team of co-caregivers to more effectively get the job done. And please take a look at the other articles found in that same category of Caregiving. I hope you will find encouragement in those articles – some based on my own experience, and some from other caregivers’ shared experiences – especially when a positive attitude and a happy face just isn’t working for you.
This VERY comprehensive article is designed for a person’s elderly parents but guess what…us Baby Boomers need to be aware of these resources as well so I want to pass this article along to you! It helped me – I hope it’s a great resource for you as well.