Monday, 7 October 2013

Dying Longer

I just finished reading Lyndsay Green's "other" book You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready?  Her statement that we are not actually living longer as much as we are dying longer caught my eye and caused my heart to blip! Many of us have seen our parents pass on over the last few years - some were blessed with a quick exit while others lingered in various states of being - dying longer. Not really something we can choose but, while we are still in the driver's seat, some thought and planning could make it less harmful and feel less uncharted.

Ms. Green's perspective is summed up so well by the name of her final chapter "Embracing Old Age".  So often the media plays to our desire to stay young and the creams and diets and exercise regimes flooding the airwaves (and our bathroom counters and bookshelves) these days are just the tip of the fear mongering  iceberg we boomers keep attracting while more and more marketers are looking to access our millions of hard earned retirement nest eggs! Youth is for the young!  Bail off that Titanic - you know where it is heading!  I plan on acting my age by being the healthiest, smartest, strongest old person I can be but, I will still be old!

Fighting to avoid old age can actually impair your ability to plan for old age. I am not talking about what you put on your face or the trendy clothes you hang in your closet or the cute shoes lined up in your other closet or cycling with a friend - those are passions that will continue forever! Seeking to keep up with the 30 year olds at the gym or in your Zumba class can, however, set you back rather than move your forward!  It can also make you laugh but that was another blog!  Chasing the fountain of youth may keep you slim and trim and athletic for a time, but eventually, you will slow down.  What I am talking about is obsessing over every new wrinkle, competing beyond your capacity to oust one more 30 something from your self-claimed podium or - well, you get the picture.

Many activities can become distractions from what might be more important in the here and now.  By refusing to be realistic about the inevitable we can play pretend and figure we have another day or week or year to think about the hard stuff.  We would rather clean toilets than think about how we are going to live out our lives - especially the last 5 or 10 when illness is likely to rob us of our mobility or brain power. Hiding our heads in the sand, hoping we won't get sick or fall, wishing harder and harder for the pot of gold or the next winning lottery ticket and thinking - that couldn't happen to me - all of this thought-clutter can lead us down a long dark alley with a light shining into our eyes so we can't really see what is at the end until it is too late to turn back.  No plans in place, no escape route to access, no friend to call. This heroic effort to protect our independence can actually rob us of the ability to make the decision in the end.

While researching the topic of how to find a home where I would like to retire to (that I could afford!) I was reminded about the diminishing capacity I have to make a decision - is that old age creeping in or just a carry over from my usual procrastinating self?  So much to think about with so much riding on the outcome - it is overwhelming even in my early sixties - what will it feel like in my seventies or beyond?  In actual fact, you can choose where to live each decade of your life and make that decision yourself five years in advance (just to be sure you make the mark!) or you can wait until you or your spouse have that fall or face that illness and then, others can choose for you.

Go ahead - paint the picture of what your retirement dream looks like now and work backwards.  Figure out what you have to do between now and then to get to that dream.  Spend less time and effort on planning out every nickel and dime (I am betting you have spent hours on that already) and really start to figure out how you are going to get to there from here.

I sat back today and let my mind wander and started to paint that picture for myself. First I saw beautiful sandy beaches, sunshine sparkling off the waves in that one second before they crashed at my feet.  Oh wait, that was just a video I was watching while cuddling up with my sweetie on the old couch in our living room. Sharpening my crystal ball gazing somewhat, I see myself smiling as I tell him about my bike ride that morning as I zipped to the library for a story time with some sweet toddlers.  I get up to make some tea and remind him our friends are coming over for a game or two of UNO that night.  Tomorrow - well,  tomorrow I am heading into work to finish off the intake of another aboriginal class - one day of three I am spending right now before we head off for a few months of warmer temperatures visiting friends further south and then spending some time in the Okanagan with a whole crowd of new friends we have come to cherish each winter.  I make a mental note to message Darlene and Joanne about our arrival date so they go ahead and book us a table for the New Years celebration.  Life is good.

So - how am I going to get there from here?  For Decade #1 the planning is underway - or will be next week!  Here are my first thoughts - scattered, just hatched, but, still, moving in the right direction:

  • To get to a secure, pleasant home with a comfy couch and privacy - well, we need to secure the one we have and make sure we make the changes we may need to our existing home that will support us into the first decade of our full retirement.  Things like a main floor laundry, grab bar supports in the bathrooms (the bars can come later - ambience trumps function so far!) and installation of a small wet bar/kitchen in the basement to enable a potential secondary suite to support our travel to visit friends or family plus finance our little Canadian escape to slightly warmer climes - or house a live-in care giver if that becomes a necessity.
  • Much as we would like to travel the world, our plan is to squeeze in some of the bigger trips before retirement and then see what life brings our way in health and wealth in Decade #1.  The idea of continuing work on a reduced schedule will certainly help along those lines and Raouf is an expert planner of cheap vacations!  I just follow!
  • I know I am going to have to work at keeping my mind from turning to mush - continuing to work in some capacity beyond age 65 will give me that brain exercise.  It will also help stretch the retirement budget a little further - see point above!
  • Building up a group of friends close by will go a long way to support our need for social interaction and provide some of the help along the way as we move from old to old old!  This, dear friends, is one of the biggest and most concerning aspect of The Plan!  Also, working on staying on top of technology because I think I might have to call on some great friends and family who live further afield - my justification just recently to jump on the smart phone band wagon! Facebook, blogging, email and phones - embrace them all, people. Your best friend with time for a chat may not be your close neighbour in Decade #1 or 2 or 3 - as many head south to warmer cities or across the country to be near family, you may see your face-to-face friends dwindle. Keep plugged in - learning this new technology at 85 will be much harder if you turn your back on it at 65!
  • Volunteering during retirement will help transition me from work-centered living to me -and-you-centered!  I have been advised that this is not something that just happens one day - I need to plan this out and get actively volunteering before retirement starts.  By establishing those connections while I am still working and connected (i.e. NOW), I will be able to carry this over into my retirement plan. 

As you can see, my plan has plenty of holes in it with lots of places that need fleshing out and more research completed but, at least it is a start and I am a few inches further ahead than I was last week! At least I am getting closer to what I think I want 10 years down the road (or sooner).

I certainly don't have my plan for dying longer in place and I might not even be all the way to firming up my plan for Decade #1 but, deep down inside, I am determined that I will make the choices I can earlier rather than later so when I do die, I will go out with a sense of having left my mark in beautiful strokes of yellows, blues and pinks and not scratched in frustration on some poor daughters back!  I hope that at least some memories of me will continue to make a few people smile when they hear my name. I will love long, play often and laugh at my own crazy antics and screw ups.  If my journal is a little sporadic and even stained with coffee or wine, I still want it to shout: I lived well and dyed long - but with a sparkle in my eye fueled by the love in my heart!

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