Last June I noted in the post, What does living a satisfying retirement mean to you, that it is best to approach your retirement with a mindset that this stage of your life will be uniquely yours. In most cases it won't look exactly like your parents' or older relatives' retirement. While a few comments left on that post told stories of some exceptions to this "rule," many agreed that how our parents' generation chose to spend the years after working doesn't do much for us.
The focus on leisure or just filling time holds little appeal. The acceptance of the slow shutting down of the mind and body as inevitable doesn't fly. Most of us prefer to stay active, both mentally, and physically, as long as possible. We are not denying the reality of aging. Rather, we are making the most of each phase of retirement. As a door closes, we look for another door to open.
Because it is the only one I know well, I will use my parents' version of retirement as an example. Know that I love my parents deeply. They were tremendous examples of marital fidelity and dedication. I raised my daughters based on the principals I learned at home. As I told my mom shortly before she died two years ago, I have no bad memories of my childhood.
But, as I move into my 12th year of retirement I have a solid perspective on their approach versus mine. There are major differences. After retirement they:
- Didn't develop any new passions or interests.
- Didn't change their lifestyle or relationship to possessions.
- Didn't develop a spiritual life.
- Didn't make new friends.
- Didn't take many risks (except to move closer to me)
It is important to understand that I am not making a value judgment on their choices. They seemed genuinely happy in how they lived. I think that they believed retirement was a time to do what they had been doing before, just less of it. They lead their lives through my family as it grew and matured. Reading, singing in choirs, and watching the Phoenix Suns on TV filled most of their time.
Mom did volunteer as a teacher's aide at an area school. As a school teacher for over 30 years that was something that she would not give up until her health became too fragile. She tried computer e-mail but went back to written letters rather quickly.
Dad absolutely refused to even touch a computer - a little unexpected from a man with an electrical engineering degree who sold technology equipment for a living! Like almost all men in his social circle he played golf twice a week, but became bored and dropped the sport when costs started to escalate.
The friends they had were primarily the ones they left behind in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Dad's reluctance to become involved in any social activities in their new retirement community meant few local friends to spend time with. As the years went on, Betty, our kids and I formed their relationship circle.
They did travel rather extensively, both abroad and around the United States during the first decade or so of their retirement. I may have gotten my RV "bug" from them since they loved to take month-long driving trips at least once a year. During the years Betty and I owned a weekend cabin in the mountains north of Phoenix Mom and Dad enjoyed spending time there with us.
They remained loving and supportive to us, always available to help or offer financial support when needed. But, they pretty much stopped any personal growth or exploring new things. As mom's health deteriorated their world shrank around them until it was just a procession of doctor and hospital visits, and the room in the nursing home.
After Mom's passing Dad has become even less involved. The community where he lives offers a full range of discussion groups, movie and concert nights, trips to local museums, exercise session, aquatic classes, a full fitness center, and bridge classes. He will not take part in any of them. Instead, his days are filled with reading an endless procession of mystery novels.
Except for two meals a day and lunch with us once a week, he rarely leaves his apartment. We have tried to get him more involved, even taking him to a concert of big band favorites, but he wanted to leave after the first song. I'm not sure if it was the noise, the other people, or simply a change in his routine. But, trying new things is simply unacceptable. Even offering to take him to a restaurant away from the community is refused.
I don't think the way he lives is entirely a result of mom not being there. His interest in other people or activities was always only a reflection of what she wanted to do. Without her presence he has no one to force him do much of anything.
I admit I am frustrated by my dad's refusal to try or experience anything new. I don't understand how he can be satisfied with simply existing instead of living. He is nearly 89, has little short term memory or hearing left, but his overall health remains good. He could participate in all sorts of activities, either with a group, or on his own. But, nothing interests him enough to leave his easy chair. Betty and I keep trying but have just about run out of ideas.
I guess the lesson for me is he is entitled to live the last years of his life as he chooses. If he is uncomfortable with anything different then I must accept that and stop worrying that I am not doing enough to make his life fuller. Our retirement journey is unique to us. My view of what he should be doing to be happier are invalid.
Even so, I just wish..........