Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Growing Old Gracefully

Your "golden years" should be a time of relaxation and letting go.  For many oldsters, they are a time of stress and worry.   It needn't be that way.

Living here on retirement island is like training wheels for retirement.  We are easing into retirement like easing into the grave, one inch at a time.  And we are seeing how some folks are enjoying the last decades and years of their lives, while others are worried and stressed out all the time.   And the latter is a sad scenario.

Growing old isn't easy.   But it doesn't have to be hard.   You just need to realize a few things.

1.  It is inevitable.   You might not want to get old, but it is going to happen.  And it sneaks up on you, too, a little bit at a time.   You wake up one day at age 40 and realize more than half your life has elapsed.   You wake up the next day and you're 50 and wondering how the fuck a decade got away from you.   And pretty soon you are looking at 60, and the decades are flying by a lot faster.  It is concerning, to be sure.   But there ain't nothing you are going to do about it.

2.  You are going to get sick.   Yes, sick.   It happens to everyone.   It is not just one thing, either.  Just like an old car has mutiple things wrong with it - a fallen headliner, creaky door hinges, a broken power window, and a transmission than "thunks" into reverse - the human body is the same way.  You fall apart a little bit at a time, and over time, these "chronic conditions" get worse and worse.   It will happen, so just get used to it - and raising your threshold of pain.

3.  You are going to DIE.  And yea, that is not negotiable, either.  The oldest person on the planet is maybe 114, and the title changes hands rather often.   Average life expectancy in America is around 77 years.  If you make it to 60 or 70, you have a good shot at 85 or 90.   But beyond that, well, the odds are slim and it gets ugly fast.

Well, OK, these things sound so depressing, right?  Well, as I keep harping in this blog, reality is what it is, how you deal with it is up to you.   The long and short of it is, these are not negotiable items.  If you live long enough, they will happen to you and you don't have a choice in this matter.

How you choose to react, however, is entirely up to you.

And in America, getting old and retiring and dying is a lot better than getting old and dying in most other countries.   In most non-Western countries of the world getting old is not an option as life expectancies are far shorter than in the US.

How you react to aging, sickness, and death is going to determine how well you live your remaining years.   Yea, it ain't pretty, but obsessing about it only insures that your remaining decades or years are miserable ones.

1. No one wants to hear about your illnesses.   Talking constantly about your illnesses - real or imagined - and your doctor's appointments, test results, latest medications, battles with medicare or your insurance company, your aches and pains, and so forth is only going to make you the most unpopular person in the room.   Among old people, no one wants to be reminded of their illnesses, much less hear about yours.   And by obsessing about illness, you amplify illness and make it worse.

And by the way, this goes double when talking about your spouse's illnesses or making a hobby out of your spouse's illnesses.  It particularly offensive when you talk about your spouse's intimate problems, to other people, when he is in the room and within earshot.  Yea, having a colostomy bag sucks.  It is worse when you megaphone it to all your friends.

So, just shut up about illness.  If you need help from a friend because your husband is in the hospital and you need a ride, great.  But hours-long diatribes about illnesses, hospitals, doctors, tests, medications, and symptoms is not helping you or anyone else.   You've got a decade left, if you're lucky.  Don't waste it whining about being sick all the time.

2.  Get Out and Do Things.   A lot of seniors convince themselves that they are no longer capable of doing anything, so they shut down.  This is about the worst thing you can do.  Yes it is hard to go up and down stairs and maybe you need an adult diaper.  But that doesn't mean you should stay shut up at home.  There are plenty of things to do still in the world, and although it is a lot more effort, it is worthwhile to go do them and be happy, rather than sit home and be miserable.

Seniors love these bus tours.  They come to the island every spring.   For young people, they sound pretty dumb - getting on a bus, going to some tourist destination, having lunch and going to a museum.  But for a senior, getting out of the house and going out and engaging the world is important.  Go one a bus tour.  go on a cruise.  Go see Italy.  Whatever.  The clock is ticking, so you might as well go out with a bang.

3.  Stop Worrying.   Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young.  When I was in my 20's, I was pretty care-free and worry-free.  Being drunk and stoned all the time probably helped.  But I had nothing and I had nothing to worry about.  Life seemed long and I would have a lot of time later in life to make money and get ahead.

The last decade of your life should be the same way, really.   You have little or nothing to worry about - you are going to die and that is about it.   Why worry about the inevitable?  Why not have a good time while you are still around.  If you think about it, really Seniors have nothing to lose at this point, so what fret?  Don't worry, be happy.

Sadly, I see a lot of seniors do just the opposite.  They worry and fret about the dumbest things.  "I'll run out of money!" one says, "and I'll end up in a rest home!"  That may be true, but other than spending less money there ain't much you can do.   They have to have a $160 a month cable bill, and yet worry.

"I want to leave an inheritance to my kids!" another cries.  Why?  No one left an inheritance to me.   Chances are, you didn't get one either.  Take care of yourself and stop worrying about your kids.   They sell more of this "Elder Life Insurance" (which is a rip-off) because parents worry about leaving "something behind" for their next of kin.

"I worry about bills" another says, still making mortgage payments on his home, well into his 70's.   They have lots of "things" and thus are financially stressed from month to month.   Granted, this is a result of a lifetime of poor financial planning.   But why spend your "golden years" worrying about making payments on a house?   There are cheaper places to live, smaller houses, and yea, you can live without 500 channels of cable and shopping at the mall every weekend.

Others spend their hours being busybodies (self-style "activists") or trying to get Marge thrown out of the Parcheesi club.  I simply don't get it.   You've got a decade left, tops, and this is how you want to spend it?  Being a busy-body?

Get out there and do things.   Have fun.  Enjoy life.  It is incredibly short and getting shorter all the time.  Stop obsessing about sickness and decline and looking for "signs of trouble" in your body or mind.  They will be there, to be sure.  But documenting your inevitable decline is not the answer to anything.   Cutting yourself off from activities on the grounds that you are "too old" is a self-fulfilling prophesy.