Angela Macnamara offers a light-hearted and accessible look at the benefits – as well as the trials and tribulations – of growing older. She offers, in an easy style, helpful advice ranging from practical suggestions on how to remain active and positive, spiritual concerns such as trusting in God’s plan for us as individuals.
168pp, Veritas 2005. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie
THE IMPORTANCE OF REMAINING ACTIVE
1 Open to New Ideas
2 Feeling Fine
3 Delve Into the Library
4 Celebrate the Wisdom Years
5 A Make-Over
6 Spring Cleaning
7 Dressing-Gown and Slippers
8 Quirky Occupations
9 New Friends
THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIVE THINKING
11 Tug Out the Weeds
12 Smiling is Healing
13 Spirited Initiatives
14 Decision to be Happy
15 Positive Responses
16 Beauty and Wrinkles
17 Courage in Adversity
18 The Old Guard
19 Your Life Story
RESPONDING TO CHANGE
20 Changing Times
2 I Amazing Changes
22 Relating to the Young
23 What Others Do?
24 Brown Envelopes
25 Business Phone Calls
27 Living the Natural Span
28 A Stage of Grieving
29 A New Home?
30 Maybe a Nursing Home
TRUSTING IN GOD’S PLAN
31 Fan the Embers
32 A Reason to Live
33 In Reverence and Wonder
34 Welcoming Solitude
35 God’s Word
36 Keeping a Journal
38 Befriending Death
39 Heaven at Last
Open to new ideas
‘The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.’ Arthur Schopenhauer
It was windy outside with squally rain. I was in the hall tying one of those plastic rain bonnets on my head. I had always thought of them as being for old women when I realised, ‘Hey! That’s me now’. In my seventies I can relax and take on the plastic head-gear, not caring if it’s unfashionable. At least it will save me from looking like a ‘whirling dervish’ when I arrive at my destination. There is little possibility of looking attractively windswept when you are over seventy.
That started me thinking about writing down some of the experiences and thoughts about getting older as I am actually living those years. There is no period in life that does not have its own silver lining. We can often feel ten years or more younger as we set about some task or hobby. Other times I find myself asking, ‘Is this old lady actually ME?’ And she is. I who had for so long been wrapped up in life with family, work and social commitments, am now a free agent and it can feel like standing naked, swept in on a new beach – something of a beached whale. I have to clothe myself anew, redesign my life. Perhaps I have ten more years, maybe less. People tell me that one is inclined to define old age as being ten years older than one is oneself
I remember the first time I landed with a dull clunk having jumped off a low wall while on a country walk. I was about sixty and it was the first time I understood the meaning of losing the spring from one’s step. It wasn’t long after that when I began to occasionally forget the names of people and places; it seems that names are one of the first games the memory plays with ageing. ‘Join the club’, was the wry comment of a friend. Laughingly, she told me that such lapses of memory were humorously referred to as ‘senior moments’, thus conferring them with a certain dignity.
Retirement leaves us feeling a new freedom. This can feel like a glorious challenge as, at first, we see the silver lining. ‘I can do whatever I want, whenever I like: Now I can let go of false things. Freedom can also mean not having to live up to other people’s expectations. No need to log onto the internet or send endless text messages unless that’s what I choose to do. Many retired people are understandably daunted by the thought of computer technology. It becomes harder to take it in when some only start in their seventies. It’s difficult not to worry when shops, hotels, organisations and media provide only’ dot com’ addresses as the means of communicating with them. Let’s put in a word for adding the old-fashioned telephone number and address for those of us who aren’t familiar with the computer world. A friend of mine asked her twelve-year-old grandson to explain to her some of the magic of his computer with a view to her taking lessons. But he was such a whizz-kid at it that she felt her brain seize up with only one lesson. What we’ve never had we don’t miss, she decided. Younger people do not understand that the brain takes new ideas in more slowly as one ages. Of course, there are brilliant people whose brains continue to be technologically sharp well into old, old age. I just manage the computer at the most basic level, only a little beyond wordprocessing, and I feel hassled if anyone tries to push me on into mysterious levels of technosavvy.
Yet it would be all too easy for some of us to become – quite unnecessarily – couch potatoes, flicking around the TV channels for most of the day. But rather than be a lazy spud, each of us needs to look positively and realistically at what shape the rest of our life might take. Then, ‘Go for it!’ Let what you love deeply be realised.
Start early to develop interests and hobbies that you will still love when you are ninety. (1)
1. Well worth buying is The Retirement Book by Anne Dempsey (published by the Recruitment Planning Council of Ireland) which provides invaluable advice on all aspects of retirement.
Chapter 2 Feeling Fine
‘Old age is not for cry-babies’ Bette Davis, Film Star
Somebody sent me the following little poem, entitled, ‘I’m Fine, Thank you’:
There is nothing the matter with me,
I’m as healthy as I can be.
Yes, I’ve arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze.
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
Arch supports I have for my feet,
Or I wouldn’t be able to trot up the street;
Sleep doesn’t come easily all through the night,
But come the next morning I find 1’m all right.
My memory’s wonky, my head tends to swim
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
The moral is this as my tale I unfold
That for you and for me who are coming on old,
It’s better to say ‘I’m fine’ with a grin,
Than to moan to the folks of the shape we are in.
There are, of course, times when we have a profound need to communicate pain and anguish to a special friend or professional helper. We may need to cry and to discover the healing power of tears. But such deeply sharing moments are not for casual social occasions.
Generally, it’s good to have a laugh at ourselves. Ageist attitudes tend to get absorbed unknowingly. Yet we all know that at any age there can be patches when we seem to have a variety of aches and pains which prompt us to think that a personal MOT (NCT) might be timely! The fact of having a few chronic health issues doesn’t stop the majority of our ‘good bits’ from functioning really well. Indeed, people often speak of the compensations one gets for the loss of a particular sense. So it is important to focus on the areas in which all is still well. We have a challenge in continuing to do as well as possible those things we have always been able to handle. We may not be as swift in our movements as before but does that really matter? Younger people can be impetuous and, as in driving, go unnecessarily fast. But we calmly adjust the speed to suit the mind and body – plus the rules of the road. If you had a beloved pony who had pulled the family trap for many a year but has now grown old, you will notice that he slows to his own speed and you accept that with understanding. The old family dog drops some of his puppy-like tricks and finds himself a place in the sun. He and the pony are not given to fretting about their new situation. It doesn’t preoccupy them or cause them to wonder what other ponies or dogs will think of their changed routine. How wise!
Of course, we too need to find the appropriate ‘place in the sun’ for ourselves as we get older. A comfortable chair is a special gift to oneself. But a comfortable frame of mind is a ‘freebie’ that is even more rewarding. Give yourself ‘brownie points’ for your on-going activities and for those out-going qualities of concern and care for others. Watch out for and behead any sign of disinterest in people and exaggerated self-pity. Regrets about past actions need to be left behind with the realisation that there is no changing them now. You had ups and downs. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Like the pony and the dog, find activities you are comfortable with. Some may still climb up the nearest mountain. Others prefer to ford the stream or sit on the bank with toes in the water. Choice, freedom and responsibility are blessings.
These can be happy days of growth and creativity.
Look at the flowers: the daisy ‘grows where it is planted’. It experiences from the outside, sunshine, storms, cold and warmth. It is buffeted by winds. Yet at its inner core is the strength to see all this as part of a daisy’s experience and to accept it all as the harmony of life.
Chapter Three Delve into the library
‘Work is a creative adventure. ’Paul Tournier
Libraries are well worth visiting. In earlier years many busy people may not have used libraries fully: work and family filled their day. They bought books to read aloud to the family. Nowadays, the daily papers and current issues of magazines are available to read in the warmth of the quiet library. Computers are available to students. Not only do libraries have a multitude of books, but they also supply all sorts of facts about classes available for people of all ages. You will find that whatever art, craft, language or skill you wish to investigate, there is a class in your vicinity. There is also the possibility of your running an interesting class yourself if you have a particular skill which is not already catered for in the courses in a local school or adult education centre. So do go to the librarian and he or she will help you. Choose a time when they are not too busy dealing with a long queue at the counter. Then, when you have chosen your favourite subject look and see if there is a book on that topic in the library. It may be next term before you can get into a class or course so it is good to have read up a bit before that. Parish Active Retirement Associations, religious institutions and techs also have courses available for the elderly. (1)
Very often what we need is the will to take the first step. Many aspects of life may have become complicated for older people because of modern technology that can intimidate us. But fear not! You are going to be with other people around your own age when you do get as far as the class or course. The local library can be a gentle first step in the direction of a hobbies or further education class. Beginners are almost always catered for.
I understand that it was through the kind suggestion of the mother of ex- Taoiseach Charles Haughey, that we now qualify for free travel at the age of sixty-six. That opens wonderful possibilities for a trip into town for the day or even a day-trip taking a couple of hours on the train through the countryside, a nice meal and chat at one’s destination and then the trip home. Also, if you are planning a holiday in the country it is a really encouraging start to be able to travel for free. God bless Mrs Haughey senior for that! Enquire at Bord Fáilte about discounts for older people available at some guest houses and B&Bs. An overnight spree can be such a pleasant change.
It’s a very nice idea to buy a couple of tickets for a concert or theatre and invite a friend for this little treat. You can book by phone or internet and collect your ticket fifteen minutes before the entertainment starts. Look up the daily papers for the price of seats. No need to get the most expensive, but the cheapest may require that you have very good eyesight or the seats might be a bit hard. Try the middle range.
1. Aontas, the National Association of Adult Education have about 3,000 courses available throughout the country.
The Retirement Planning Council of Ireland, which is a registered charity gives information on matters such as entitlements, finances, relationships, health in later years, use of time, ete. They also give Retirement Courses (charging a reasonable fee). Their address is 27-29 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin 1. Telephone 01-6613139.