Among the programs we offer to groups on the subject of marriage is a presentation we call Aging Joyfully Together. It offers couples inspiration to work at their marriage and helps them to see the wonderful possibilities they have for a useful and joyful life together in retirement, along with some practical suggestions for preparing for the inevitable time when marriage ends with the death of one spouse. The following is a short excerpt from the beginning of the presentation.
While we are here to speak about aging we look at each other and say we’re not old enough yet to do this. Bob is only 70 and Rita will soon be 69. Bob retired from full time college teaching of physics and math in 1999 and has done various computer consulting jobs and taught high school for 3 years since then. Rita retired in 2010 from a career as a Catholic high school theology teacher, department chair and campus minister.
The title of our talk suggests that it is about what we do from this day forward, but we need to be aware that the journey of our aging together actually began on our wedding day. All the things we’ve learned or not learned along the way, the people that we have become or not become, the stories of our lives, whether happy or sad, all impact the way we will live out this time in our lives.
Some time ago, on a spring break vacation when we were definitely younger, we rented a condo in what turned out to be a retirement community. I (Rita) made some observations there about aging and I came home and told our children that they could get this in writing. I said first “I will not get my hair done once a week and then complain when someone’s child makes it wet in the swimming pool. Second, I will not go out to dinner at 4: 00 in the afternoon to save a dollar or two and third, I always want to have a future.” I don’t mean to offend anyone if those things describe you. What I was trying to communicate is that in aging I don’t want to put myself in a box. While I don’t get my hair done once a week, we have gone out to dinner quite early, not because we wanted to save a little, but with friends who did. Most importantly, I want to continue to dream and always have things to look forward to, that we have not yet done or experienced. I want to be able to travel, redecorate a room in our house, shop for new clothes continue to enrich the lives of couples. To put that into perspective – the good old days that so many older people refer to, if we are honest, weren’t always so good. We had the stress of jobs, less money, children to worry about on a daily basis. In many ways these are the good days.
A retired neighbor who was several years older than us once told us that life begins when the dog dies and the last kid leaves home. We’ve never had a dog but we can remember the freedom to set our own schedule when the last child left home, even though Rita was still working full time.
Another perspective on retirement and aging. A couple of years ago we traveled to Ireland. A priest friend of ours introduced us to a couple who gave us three tips on retirement. The first thing they said is that you needed to be sure to have the money to support the lifestyle you want or be willing to adjust your lifestyle to fit your financial resources. Second, they said you need to have a reason to get up in the morning even if that is to weed the garden or put gas in the car. Thirdly, they said that, as a couple you have to learn how to stay out of each other’s pockets. In other words, even though we might have retired to have more time together, much of our lives we had separate jobs, interests and even friends. As we were writing this we asked other happy retired couples what most contributed to their happiness. Each of them listed the fact that they had separate interests and activities as an important factor.
Aging is our journey through life and the acceptance that we came from God and will return to God. Many only view aging as a physical process. We are certainly aware of our bodies aging. Bob is facing some sight and hearing issues and I have some joint discomfort from osteoarthritis. Thankfully, neither of us seems to have any significant mental deterioration. But, aging is more than a physical process. It requires us to look at our attitudes as well. In fact, aging might call for an attitude adjustment. It’s funny to think of it that way because, on more than one occasion, we commented to our children that they needed an attitude adjustment. When we interview and observe couples in this senior stage of their lives we observe several things. Some couples focus on all the things they can no longer do while others look for what they still can do. Some even find things to do that they have never done before. Some say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and others “you are never too old to learn.” Some approach aging with a sense of entitlement and others view their life with a sense of gratitude. From our experience, couples who concentrated on the giftedness of their lives and are grateful for their lives, rather than the “can’ts”, “nevers” and entitlements are the happiest.
All of our lives, including these years, require a leap of faith. Let’s look to scripture to find someone to help us continue to take that leap. One person in the Old Testament who did that is Abraham. God spoke to him and said (He didn’t ask him, He told him.) to leave his home, his father and the land of his kindred and “go to the land that I will show you.” Now think about that – while we had some choices, it is really what God said to us on our wedding day. In fact it was quite literal for Bob and me. We did leave our homes, our parents and the land of our families and moved to a land that God showed us for the last 46 years. Like us, your marriage was a leap of faith. Most of us had no real preparation for marriage but we have lived in a variety of lands that God has taken us and have more than survived. Just adjusting to being married, having children (talk about a land that God showed us) jobs, illnesses and perhaps losses. We think aging is seen in a better perspective when we accept it as another land to which God is taking us.
Thinking about this time in our lives as another land to which God is showing us takes on another perspective if we think about Psalm 27: 13 which says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living.” The question that we need to ask is, is the land that you now see “the land of the living?” If not, we don’t believe that you will see “the goodness of the Lord.”
When we ask: “Are you in the land of the living?” did you reach down and take your pulse? We are really asking whether you have something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. Is there anything on your schedule that causes you to have a psychological bounce in your step, even if your legs can’t do it anymore? What do you see as the value of your life? God brings us into this land in which we will finish our lives on earth, not yet finished, but with work yet to do. Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, in her book, The Gift of Years, talks about the opportunity of this time in our lives. We are past the years of heavy daily responsibilities of jobs and raising children. Now there is new work to be done that can be as much or more fulfilling than our lives until now. This is a time with fewer schedules and more time to enjoy God’s gifts. I find myself moving more slowly when I work in the yard, not because I don’t have energy, but just because the day is open and I can enjoy being outside a little longer if I make three trips to put my tools away instead of one. Our goal today is to help you see some of the possibilities that this time in the “land of the living” offers to each of us.
Whether you are retired, near retirement, or have many years to go before taking that step in your life, take a moment today to think about your approach to giving up a work life and the daily responsibilities that go with it. Do you see retirement as a time when the most important parts of your life are over – time to put your feet up and do nothing? Or do you see retirement as an opportunity to do things you never could find the time to do, a time to pass on wisdom to younger generations, a chance to continue to be a productive member of society? An attitude of gratefulness and joy can make a huge difference in the quality of your retirement years.
We have much more to say on this subject but we can’t give you the whole presentation here. If you would like to hear more, invite us to your church, retirement community or other group. We are readily available in areas of IL, IN, WI and MI. and might just take on a new adventure to come wherever you are.