Do you ever wonder what goes through the mind of a senior citizen as they deal with the rapid and unpredictable everyday life surrounding them? What is the thought process they go through, heavily influenced by the lives they lived and the times in which they lived? Each of us has our own point of view which heavily impacts how we relate to others and our environment. With 70 or 80 or more years behind them, is there a “typical” point of view for a senior citizen?
As we age and move to retirement, the life changes we will experience are to put it mildly, monumental. We cannot ignore simple realities as discussed earlier in Accepting Aging. When we retire, we abruptly exit the working world that has been the focus of our lives for 30 or 40 years or more. We are now responsible for what we will do for the rest of our lives – each day – including everything from meeting financial requirements to maintaining our health to keeping mentally engaged and ultimately enjoying being retired. A full dance card for sure. Those around us need to be aware that we are dealing with all of this for the first time with no prior experience to lean on. Any insight into what retired seniors may be going through can help.
People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within. ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
A glimpse from the senior point of view
Frustration – after a lifetime of working to build a life for ourselves and our family, retirement finally arrives and we suddenly discover the ground rules have changed. Challenges to senior health lurk around each corner as time starts to take its toll on aging bodies. What used to be such a simple task to bend over to pick up a dropped magazine is now not so easy. Getting out of bed is no longer a matter of simply sitting up – instead we resort to more of a rolling motion to generate the momentum necessary to rise. Entertaining our grandchildren for the afternoon exhausts us and we are only too ready for the parents to return. And walks around the neighborhood become shorter as we may tire more easily. All of these changes take their toll and can lead to frustration in seniors who finally have the time to do what they want to do but increasingly are not physically to able to do so. The mind is willing but the body is not as able as we would like.
Loss of control – while in our prime, we were respected and our opinions valued. People would check in with us first to be sure a course of action met with our approval. Heaven help the miscreant who attempted to impose his will on OUR life without our blessing. Aging again undermines our normal lifestyle as other start making important decisions for us. Family members concerned about our ability to drive may apply pressure to give up our keys and along with that a significant piece of our independence. Everyone is concerned about what we eat and feels free to chastise a little indulgence in front of the rest of the world. And ultimately, if our mental or physical health fails to the point where we cannot safely care for ourselves, others begin discussions and plans for moving us to a retirement home. That respect and independence that we earned through our life fades as those around us make important life decisions for us – for our own good. The loss of control over our own destiny can be dispiriting at best for senior citizens.
Insecurity – the economy is in turmoil, politicians are doing nothing to help us realize a more secure future, and retirees are no longer working so are umable to add to their bottom line. A recent TIAA-CERF study found that 65% say they will not be able to retire in the manner they had hoped to, free to enjoy retired life. 80% do not even know what it takes to save! As discussed in Retirement Fears Confronted, running out of money is a real concern. With our nest egg a fragile thing, feelings and fears of an unpredictable future can weigh on our minds. At a time when we hoped to be financially secure, we often find ourselves more typically than not far from it.
Loneliness – the elderly are all too familiar with how frail life is as friends and family members become ill and pass on. What used to be a long list of friends and acquaintances begins to dwindle and increasingly we are left to our own resources to find entertainment and fulfillment in our retirement. Having a loving spouse may provide that saving anchor but the losses cannot be forgotten or replaced. The loneliness that results can impact how we invite others into our lives. Is it worth the risk letting someone become close when ultimately we will lose them? Others need to be aware that though we may appear solid at first glance, there are highly charged emotions being dealt with just under the surface that impact our ability to cope.
Acceptance – although frustration, loss of control, insecurity and loneliness can be integral parts of elderly living, our years on earth and the many experiences we have weathered, the highs and the lows we have lived through, all come into play to make us stronger. What does not kill us makes us stronger and at our age, we realize what really matters. We have learned to smile when we do not feel like smiling. We have learned to turn the other cheek and not fight every little battle. We have learned that maintaining a spotless home is not as important as providing a safe playground for children to play. Ultimately, we have learned to accept who we are and the changes that aging entails.
Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing. ~ Rollo May
These variables are part of the chemistry that makes up senior citizens. Our attentiveness can help to understand where the elderly are coming from, to get a little into their head and see things from their perspective. Armed with this, we can hope to better communicate and perhaps commiserate. Our sensitivity may be just what they need to open up, to move beyond personal challenges, and to live the retired life they have always wanted to live.
Dealing with change and challenges is basic to the human condition. Our attitude and point of view along the journey can give our lives value and bring happiness to those who matter most. We are all entitled to our own point of view. But a little flexibility can go a long way.
Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.