Retirement and Getting Old are not the same.

2016-08-10 09:24

We tend to lump these 2 ideas together when we talk about retirement. But retirement is when we stop doing what we have been doing and we either start doing something else, or we sit back and let the world get on without us.

Old age refers to a stage when we have limited regenerative abilities and are more susceptible to disease and increasing frailty.

Many of the young-at-heart, physically fit Boomers that I meet, say that they will never retire – and I must confess – I’m one of them. What we have in mind when we say that, is that we will continue working on our projects, running our companies, getting out there and making a difference. We won’t ever slow down because “when my time comes – then I’ll go”.  In other words we will work until the day we die.

And I wish us good luck with getting that right!

We read stories of Nonagenarians running marathons and pumping iron, swimming open water marathons and riding Harleys. One or two of us will beat the odds and become one of those. But for most of us, we have a big challenge ahead. The things we want to do become harder and more demanding on a body that is slowing down.

As we get older our muscle mass decreases, our brain synapses are less plentiful, our bones lose density and our flexibility diminishes. Our eyesight and our hearing start to go. We are injured more easily and it takes longer to recover. We move and react more slowly and the world becomes a little more scary. This may only happen in our 80s, but happen it will.

And if we don’t recognise these changes and we try to over-ride them with a “gung-ho” attitude, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of heartache.

A month ago I lifted my bike onto its storage rack and felt a tug in my shoulder. A month later it’s still sore and I don’t have full use or strength. A while ago I would have recovered in a couple of days. And I’m just shy of 70. How will I be at 80? And what about 90?

There is such pressure to stay “hip and happening” in our retirement – but there will come a time when we can’t any more. When that moment arrives it comes with a few “companions” – depression, anxiety, denial and fear. For many women, they have been talking to their friends, probably for years, or perhaps, they’ve been seeing a Counsellor so they’ve got some measure of the beast.

For most men it is a lonely time – how can we admit that we are feeling lost and useless, we can’t talk to our friends. What would they think of us? All our lives we’ve been told that men don’t cry – so how can we start now. We just suck it up and the “black dog” descends upon us.

It is at this point that we need to find our spiritual connection to the world and to those around us.

That connection may be religious, where we “let go and let God”, or it may be where we find our “oneness” with the world. Our “job” is now … to be. Just to be - in the moment, giving our fullest attention, listening to our inner dialogue, allowing ourselves to feel what we feel without needing to find solutions and “make things right”, allowing silence, allowing our-self to contemplate our history and to forgive our-self for things done and not done, said and not said. And we need to talk about how we are feeling and we need to express our fears. But we need a safe place where we can do that. Sitting in the pub over a couple of beers with the guys isn’t going to cut it. Some of us may be able to talk to our Church minister, but where else can men and women talk to other men and women?

One place where this could happen would be at the many retirement homes and villages that are springing up around the country – their business is retirement and old age. At present their focus is on their facilities and their social environment. Shouldn’t an important part of their service be to demystify aging? They have (should have?) the knowledge and experience to become the University of the 4th Age. A place where we can talk about the impact of retirement, the challenges of old age, the acceptance of frailty and the inevitability of death – not just for their existing residents, but for all the Boomers out there.

These are common issues, but they come with lots of denial and plenty of shame – and like most things – when they are brought out into the open and shared with others, they aren’t as horrible as we fear.

Alan Maguire is a Retirement Coach and creator of The Elders Journey – a guide to aging with intention. He can be contacted at alan@theeldersjourney.com and you are invited to join his Facebook Page  Society of Elders.

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