Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Life in our 60s. It ain't what we thought, but so what?!

Over coffee, a friend of mine explained this week how unrealistic Americans are about life over 60. "There's no such thing as a retired retirement," she lamented. "People have health issues, people get sick and die, elderly parents drive us crazy, our kids need money but we're less able to give it to them. If anyone thinks 60-year-olds are entitled to a relaxed retirement, they need to think again," she said.
I agreed. Life over 60 for me has meant one challenge coming pretty much on the heels of the next. It started the year that I celebrated my 60th birthday when I experienced a wrenching and unwanted divorce and my best friend from the second grade died of stomach cancer.
Within two years I had quit my full-time job of 26 years, remarried and taken on the task of working part-time while getting comfortable with the idea that I'm going to be pulling money out of my retirement nest egg rather than putting money into it. Budgeting, I admit, has become an obsession.
Another friend called this week to say her husband is going in for prostate surgery after testing positive for cancer. This is just two years after they lost their 30-year-old son to a rare thyroid cancer. I in turn told her that my older bi-polar son who is grappling with a manic episode that has been the final blow to his marriage. After sharing all this, we laughed.
"Welcome to our 60s," I said. "I didn't really think a lot about what life would be like but it's not anything much like most of us thought," I told my friend. "There's loss, stress, chaos, family challenges and worry about staying healthy."
"Yes, she said. "It is a real roller coaster. Maybe it's going to be this way from now on."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining but just remarking on how precious life becomes when you see friends die, when you see your elderly mother finally become truly old and when the lives of your children continue to be a struggle. Your 60s are anything but restful. Retirement is a myth.
The trick, my friends and I agree, is to live life to the hilt. Stay in the game but don't let things become overwhelming. I'm asking myself:
How much do you try and save your kids from themselves. It's knowing when to fold'm and when to hold'm.
When DO you move to town and give up the beautiful country life in the woods? How long do we wait before taking that physically demanding trip to Turkey? Answer: Before we're too old to lift our travel bags.
The 60s are definitely a transition away from that middle-aged world shaped by work and vacation here and there. Shaped by a a social life built around work friends and family. There's less concern about money when you're working full time. Less time to mull the meaning of life.
Now, I find something new around the corner almost every day. Things seem less permanent. There's a need to live in the moment. Take every day as a blessing.
Frankly, the trick is to get a good night's sleep, not drink too much and breath in the day, every day.
My days in retirement are much more random. I may be meeting a friend one day, working at my desk all the next day and then be off on a trip for a few days later in the week. If part of staying anchored is structure....forget it. You've got to create structure in your own mind what ever you're doing, where ever you are. You can not rely on that job eight or 10 hours a day to push everything else out of your mind.
In my 60s and in retirement there's more to do and less time to do it in.
In my 60s there's a sense that everything is fleeting, life is valuable, our friends and family are like gold.
If I need a boost, I take a walk, I read a book, make a new flower arrangement, take a hot bath, jog on the treadmill for 20 minutes, call my mother or call one of my wonderful friends who have been there through some of my worst times.
Here are tips for taking charge of your life over 60.
From http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist.
- Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
And from http://www.mystressmanagement.net/.
- Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
- Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
Onward.
- Julia 

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