When I first decided to include a chapter on the positives and negatives of ageing in my book I felt that just including my own thoughts about this wasn’t really representative of older people so I started to ask round for the views of others. The result has really surprised me. So many people have been reluctant to respond. A few said they found it very confronting which I hadn’t anticipated. Surely we can look at ourselves and our lives at this later stage and sort out what we like about it and what we don’t like without feeling afraid, or whatever people mean by feeling confronted. Haven’t we done this all our lives as we have been faced with challenges and choices at various stages?
Is it because for the first time many of us are faced with physical restrictions we have never had before? Is it because in every other stage of our lives there has been another stage ahead which we can plan for and look forward to and this time we can’t do that, there isn’t a next stage unless we think in terms of dependency? My grandfather, a farmer, retired to live with one of his daughters (he had 13 children!) and set up a vegetable garden there. One spring he planted it out, stood up, had a stroke, went into a coma and died a week later. I like to think he knew the end was near and prepared for it.
He was in his 90’s when he died, a rarity in those days. Today one of the fastest growing age groups are the centenarians! We live in a very different world. Thanks to advances in medicine most of us can anticipate living for several decades beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. When that was first introduced only about half the population lived to that age.
We are the first group to anticipate living for decades beyond that milestone and in that sense it makes us pioneers yet we don’t seem to realise it. How we behave and how we approach this new extension to our lives in theory will set the precedence for those coming after us although the baby boomers say they will be different (without saying how!).
This is why I have been so surprised that so many people find my question confronting. Just to illustrate the extent of the problem the editor of our local University of the Third Age (U3A) newsletter kindly inserted a request for people to respond to it. Out of a membership of over 4000, I only got 2 responses. Considering all the hurdles we have gone through in our lives, including wars, depressions and diseases I still can’t understand why people find this too challenging.
Fortunately several people did come to my rescue so that the chapter will go beyond my own experience of this part of life. One person included a very funny comment which has restored my faith in us! After all we are terrific people and we should wear the badge of ageing proudly. We particularly shouldn’t be ashamed of it or ourselves.