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Retiring or withdrawing?

Food for Thought

The number of Christmas cards, and those “Christmas Letters,” has dwindled over the past few years. Probably because of the ease of communicating via e-mail. Or maybe people think twice about sending Christmas cards to everyone they know because of the constantly rising cost of the cards themselves and the stamps to send them on their way. A few years ago, I cut down my Christmas mailing list considerably because I was in touch with most of my life-long friends through our class newsletter. And I don’t think it makes sense to send cards to people I see frequently.
Most of the cards I get these days are from old friends or relatives who’ve drifted away, and I appreciate the chance to catch up on their news and be reassured that they are still doing okay.
Some of them aren’t, however, and reading between the lines, I’ve noticed that those who have moved to what we used to call “retirement homes” but are now more commonly called “assisted living” seem to be telling me that they are lonely, even though living in close proximity to dozens of other people. Sooner or later we all end up alone, couples don’t seem to notice as much as singles do after a spouse has died.
They write things like, “All my friends have died. There’s nobody around who really knows me.”
I don’t know what to say to them about it except to point out that there are lots of nice people out there who are still alive, and they might become friends if you’d make an effort to get to know them.
And, then there’s the lament that, “My children and grandchildren don’t seem to have time to come and see me very often. They invite me to visit them, but travel is so difficult for me these days.”
There was a time when several generations lived under the same roof. Grandparents helped to raise and entertain the babies. Teens willingly did little chores for their grandparents. Mothers of young children had the advantage of advice and help from loving grandparents, and experienced help in the kitchen or on the farm. Someone to keep an eye on the gravy, someone to talk to while the dishes were being washed and put away and someone who knew just when it was time to till the garden. Cousins played together, went to school together and became as close as siblings in many ways.
The older generation lived in the midst of it all. They were needed, they were useful, they knew all the children and grandchildren and all the children and grandchildren knew them because they were together much of the time. This style of multi-generational living was more or less traditional, the elderly took it for granted that they would, not only have people around to care for them when necessary, but that they would relinquish a portion of their own independence in the process.
The concept of “independent living” sounds appealing at first. Rather than moving into someone else’s home and becoming a sort of “permanent visitor,” you can have a nice apartment, with someone to help with the housework when it suits, and meals cooked for you when you don’t feel like doing it yourself. The cost of all this “independence” is that you give up living amidst your own family and having their company and attention on a regular basis. You trade it for just getting the work done by people who are paid to do it. You are still, essentially, alone.
I’d like to tell my friends who are feeling lonely or neglected to keep busy, both physically and mentally. Keep your mind busy with language. This involves lots of brain cells and helps keep you from becoming forgetful or dwelling on what you can’t do. Read, work crossword puzzles, write down those family stories and anecdotes so they won’t be lost to your grandchildren, or get a tape recorder and tell them (your descendants will love hearing your voice relating those stories).
Go for walks, learn to swim or dance. Make new friends and learn what their lives have been like. Talk – and listen – to everybody you have contact with. Learn something new, even if it’s just a new card game. Memorize a poem or, better yet, write one.
Remember who you are, all the things you’ve accomplished, all the interesting places you’ve seen and special people you’ve known. Those are all a part of who and what you are. It’s an impressive list, a unique list. Nobody else in the world is quite like you, be proud of it and of yourself.
There was once a temptation for me to embrace that “assisted living” lifestyle, but the more I think about it, and the more I understand what some of my friends have experienced, the more I’m beginning to think that the price, not in money but in things relinquished, is too high.