Tag Archives forcontribution by seniors

Loss and letting go – a personal story

As well as writing about the issues that face us as we get close to retirement, I’d like to share with you some personal reflections about aspects of this stage of life that I’ve experienced. I’m re-publishing an article I first shared in 2016. 

In the midst of planning a retirement lifestyle and how best to enjoy all that life has to offer, there is often loss. Not just loss of work, of a role, even an identity and connections with colleagues, but also the loss associated with parents aging and, yes, dying. So preparing for retirement can be tempered by experiences of loss and letting go.

Alzheimer’s – a thief

My Dad was 85 when Mum, his partner for nearly 70 years, died. Actually, it felt as if she’d left us some time before, as by stealth Alzheimer’s had progressively clouded her memory, stolen her personality and eventually snatched away her joy of life. It took its toll on Dad, who cared for her over 15 inexorable years, until just before her death. He was stoic.

After Mum died Dad was exhausted. He’d cared for her for so long, then coped with the emotional and logistical business of the funeral. He’d read her eulogy and responded with a hand written card to every one of the condolence messages he received. Dad insisted on doing these things as a way of sharing with everyone what Mum was really like. So they would know and remember her as she was before illness gradually erased her character, until she was a mere sketch of the woman she’d been.

I’m relieved that she has been released from the horrible confusion and mental dullness of her last years. But I miss Mum. I miss her great zest for life, her love of a clear blue sky and her ever positive outlook. She was interested in most people she met, was a natural teacher and loved children. Mum liked to be outdoors and active, swimming and walking in most weathers. She read and recited poetry, enjoyed word games. She had a tenacious strength that saw her sailing with Dad even when she disliked being cooped up. And Mum was a defender, a tigress when it came to all matters concerning our family.

Living and grieving

Dad grieved quietly. He talked about her sometimes and got teary. He found it difficult to sleep without her and the house has a different energy these days. Dad dealt with cleaning out Mum’s clothes, handing on her jewellery and the practicalities of her will. He visited her lawn grave, putting fresh flowers there and sitting quietly for a while in the peace of the cemetery, surrounded by trees, before walking home.

Nearly a year on, Dad asked my brother, Martin, and I for help with a headstone. Apparently, after a burial in this part of the world it can take up to a year for the earth to settle enough for a headstone to be set and grass seed sown around. We met at the front of the stone masons where there were around 100 old, mossy and water poked headstones lined up ready to have another name added, representing 100 recent deaths. It was quite shocking when your see death represented like that.

We agree on simple wording, name dates, and “Rest in peace” and also to leave a space for Dad’s name and dates with “Reunited” underneath. Martin and I are teary. I watched Dad and he seemed fine, even as he made provision for his own demise.

A year after Mum died, Dad took down the mementos he’d kept of the funeral and put them in the box where they kept all their cards and letters. Looking at them you can chart their relationship, from the poetry Dad wrote before they married (quite a feat as he’s more the engineering type) until right up to Mum’s death. But Mum stopped writing cards as she got worse, so towards the end it was a bit lopsided.

After that Dad wanted a quiet time, watching sport on TV, spending time with family and catching up with friends. It was time for him to look after himself and once again take enjoyment in simple pleasures: connections with loved ones, sitting in the sun, walking by the sea and keeping the house in order. Time to redress the balance of all that caring as he gently celebrated the life he still grasped with both hands.

#healthyageing #healthspan #lifespan#ageing #ageingparents #grief #Alzheimer’s #dementia #babyboomers #fiftyplus #retirement

First published in 2016.

Retirement by design

There’s a quiet movement afoot to recreate what it means to be ‘retired’. We have more time to play with than previous generations since we are (on average) living longer. A lot more time. At 60-65 some of us have another third of our lives to come. So what are we going to call it and what are we going to do with it?

Retirement – the third act

Reshaping our thinking about what’s to come is essential – now we have the possibility of 30+ years ahead. It’s useful to think of this time like the third act of a play. This is when we can resolve the loose ends and the tensions of the first two acts – and answer the riddles of life. We went to school, grew up, and established ourselves as adults – act one. We grew our friendships and intimate relationships, some had families. We worked, had careers. We gathered possessions and created a home – act two. The third act (retirement) then, offers time to complete things. Time to re-assess what’s important. To re-balance: have more time, give back in some way, and return to our personal interests.

Re-wire, re-fire

Fewer obligations provides the opportunity to ‘re-wire’. To rebalance priorities and re-shape the mix of daily activities. There’s more time for relationships. There’s space to explore interests, take up new opportunities. There’s time to allow a new sense of purpose to emerge.
For some people this might be intimidating. It’s daunting to think about leaving behind the structured workday. How will we get enough ‘people action’ when the myriad of work interactions has gone?
It can be hard. Some who have not considered their retirement lifestyle feel at a loose end. That they are loosing their mental sharpness. This can create tension in relationships. Rather than address the issue, some even return to work.
To have a plan for the third act, for re-wiring – to sketch out your retirement – offers a fresher way.

Lifters, not leaners

‘So much to do, so little time!’ some retirees say. What are they doing that makes them so busy? Using work experience to mentor students or early career professionals. Supporting a sporting or hobby club. Caring for family members. Starting a second career, sometimes called an encore career. Working in a community group, or a not-for-profit organisation as a volunteer.
Mature aged Australians are ‘lifters not leaners’. We contribute a staggering $65.7 billion per annum to the Australian social and economic fabric. This is through unpaid work: volunteering and caring for family members. (National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre)

New opportunities

There’s also time to pursue interests that have been on the back burner. To become an entrepreneur, to write a book, to tackle an ambitious trek. There’s time to travel. 
At the quieter end of the scale, there is more opportunity to reflect on life. To become aware of the preciousness of each day and each moment. To allow a stillness to develop within us, to experience peace and quiet joy.

Your design

Many different names are being used or retirement – “refire”, “rewire” and “third act”. The real question is not what to call it, but what it will look like for each of us.
Taking time to design a lifestyle to suit your needs means you can go into retirement prepared. And possibly recreate yourself.
Start designing your unique retirement lifestyle using the free Heydays Roadmap to Retirement. It provides tips on how to design different lifestyle aspects and indicates what to consider, and when.