12 Jul 2011
It may be hard to imagine but the life of many retired people is not the happy, carefree life advertized in the media. Instead, it is, in part, a life of sickness, injuries, loss of friends and relatives and especially loneliness. You can prove that this is true by a visit to any nursing home.
It all starts unnoticed after retirement as you lose contact with those with whom you used to work. You’re not part of the work-a-day world. Your status is gone. The promise of freedom to travel and having no responsibilities seems to be the desired world to those who are still working. In the years between age 60 and 80, however, chronic diseases peak with all their misery and it is likely that you or your spouse may fall victim to one of them.
Isolation, although often not recognized, slowly catches up to you as friends and relatives fade away. Unless you have chosen not to have a life of leisure but, rather, a life of service, your isolation will increase until a visitor comes once a week or even less. If you are living alone or with a housekeeper, your world has become very small and reactive depression is always just below the surface. This is no way to end your life, but by now it is too late to mend your ways. You are fixed and rigid in the life you have chosen.
Some level of rigidity comes to almost all of us as we age. We retain the beliefs of our parents that we often pass on to our children. We no longer learn because we assume our learning days are over. We believe we already know the answers to life’s questions and we especially don’t want to re-examine our beliefs as a result of our new situation. We have nothing to add to a discussion except to repeat our beliefs. This can reinforce isolation.
What can we do to overcome the problem of loneliness, isolation and rigidity. The answer is to never stop engaging in life.
1. Find a job whether you get paid or just volunteer that keeps you out in your community helping others. Hours and time at work are flexible and you are helping others.
2. Never stop learning new material. You need to attend lectures, go to classes including internet classes. Areas of interest should include astronomy, science in general, new language, history and psychology. Learn new material and you’ll become more interesting to others.
3. Attend plays, concerts, sporting events. Join groups or individuals for lunch or games, just to exchange ideas. This gets you out, gives you a reason to get dressed for the day and wards off loneliness.
4. Read non-fiction especially that which is more demanding. This is a vital part of your involvement. Avoid television. It no longer has meaningful content. Even the so-called news programs are geared to work you up or fill you with celebrity information, neither of which helps you in any way.
When you reach age 80 or better 85, your involvement in your community and learning will pay off handsomely. Your loneliness will have vanished. You’ll have made a few new friends to replace those who have died or moved or become inactive.
You can make this second part of your life fun and rewarding. It will take some effort on your part but remember the adage: “Retirement is when you stop living at work and start working at living.” Get busy.