How Long Do You Get to Live?

Just yesterday.

A woman said.

“I can live until 77.” Cracking a joke everyone over 50 identifies with.

I thought, when is the value of a life measured in dollars and cents?

Of course, she was referring to her retirement account and it’s longevity. Which seems to be the determinate of a lifespan (at least among my crowd) these days.

Saving for retirement is a lot like saving for a child’s college. Completely necessary, often forgotten, and, I would add, not always realistic when college tuition is skyrocketing, and stocks are dive bombing. I was told 2 things regarding old age.

  1. Marry well so someone can take care of you in your old age.
  2. If you don’t marry well, have a lot of children so they can take care of you in your old age.

I did neither. I’ll add that neither did I work for the state, so they could take care of me in my old age. The conclusion: Someone is necessary to take care of me in my old age. I rebel at the thought, while recognizing the changes age is definitely bringing with it.

Vulnerable.

That describes my emotions as I move into this last 1/3 of my life.

Planning.

That’s the word I hear from financial planners to insurance salesman to my AARP magazines. Plan for retirement, plan for long-term care (they turned me down), plan to downsize so my expenses are less. You cannot plan enough. Who can plan all of that and even hope to get it right?

I don’t really want to know when I’m going to die, but truly if one did know, and the means thereof, the planning would be a tad easier.

Enjoyment.

I’m told to enjoy these final years. I find that word a bit pandering.

Someone recently told me that life was not a spiraled progression but a series of circles. We stay in one circle until it’s time to go to the next one. And then we must leap to the next one. The time immediately before leaping is the hardest. We don’t often know what circle is next or what to expect when we get there.

I don’t like the stereotypical circles for “elderly,” retirement communities, cruise ships, nursing homes. I can’t see myself in any of those circles. They remind me of the show my College Son watches, The Dome. an encapsulated place predetermined by God knows who that is supposed to meet my needs, but doesn’t quite, and even separates you from family in some cases. But, I don’t think I’m so smart I can outwit old age, and avoid those places. Sometimes life is about finding meaning and purpose right where you are, encapsulated in a dome or not.

If I had a bucket list, it would have only one thing on it: Purpose.

I want my last years to be an exercise in addition not subtraction. What can I add too? Where can I give? Where is the circle that accepts what I still have to offer? I want my days, when I am laid to rest and the reminiscing starts,  to be added together, each day added to the previous one to equal the sum of a life with purpose. Giving, loving, blessing, contributing, belonging. If subtraction enters the equation, I only want it to do so based on what I gave, not on what I depleted.

And, if there is any money left in any accounts (and, hey, don’t forget all those off-shore accounts :), then oh, do spread it around. Don’t stress over it’s longevity. Cast it onto the waters,  and see how it returns.

It’s Called Empty Nest & it is a Syndrome

  1. A syndrome, in medicine and psychology, is the collection of signs and symptoms that are observed in, and characteristic of, a single condition.

No wonder we have so many syndromes. Somebody is collecting signs and symptoms and giving that a name.

  1. Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. (Psychology Today)

Note, it does not say feelings of exuberance, joy, relief or downright giddiness. This surprises me. I totally expected to just jump right into this empty nest thing, and soak it up. It has been 25 years since I was alone, as in, all by myself.

So okay, it’s been a DAY since the College Son departed for Costa Rica to do the student exchange thing, and I can officially claim the syndrome of an empty nest. “Hi, my name is Cinthia, and I have Empty Nest Syndrome.”

I realize, for those returning from Afghanistan with PTSD, it just loses something when said out loud. But, this dang house is too quiet. And, I swear, not making it up, someone just tried to open my back door, but they did not because it was locked, and I was screaming. So, instead they ran off, and are presently telling the neighbors, “Um, yeah, don’t try making friends with the lady in the house on the corner. She’s cr-ra-azy.”

Well, I feel a tad crazy. I mean, all the hubbub that goes into getting your 20-soon-to-be-21-year-old son ready to live in a foreign country is crazy making. (As in, in two weeks he’ll turn 21 in Costa Rica. He’ll have his 21st birthday in San Jose. I feel so good about that.) It was/is an emotional roller coaster for this family whose favorite place to travel is Jekyll Island for a two-week stay at the Hacienda where we speak English, and sleep on the beach all day. Adding stress to our lives by experiencing “another culture” is typically not our M.O. because life is stressful enough in this culture, why go looking for it in another one? A real global girl, here.

At any rate, I expect the College Son to come back all tanned, 21, immortal, and ready for the next big challenge. Because he is almost 21. But, me? Well, the Psychology Today newsletter that gives us the Empty Nest Syndrome low-down, says part of the dilemma for we women (and men) whose children are leaving home is that we are also facing  “so many other life challenges.” Like caring for a parent, or losing a parent, menopause (I cannot believe I just wrote that word in public), looming retirement or disabilities. Disabilities? I should be offended. But, as I type, I have my foot propped up because I am in pain equal to childbirth, and assume amputation awaits me. Adding insult to injury, this is not the result of an injury, so clearly, old age has arrived along with my empty nest.

Just a quick note: Let’s catch Psychology Today up with the times. Right after Empty Nest Syndrome is the now popular, I’m Never Retiring Syndrome, shortened to the Remember-When Syndrome.

All in all, first empty-nest-day down, put me down for a no. I preferred my children at age 3. They hadn’t learned the word no yet, were still in my constant care, and loved to snuggle. The problem? It seems that’s about the age I should have started the letting go process. Susan Newman, Ph.D., says in her article on the topic, that the first step into the kindergarten classroom is a benchmark for the first day of pulling back, preparing both child and parents for final departure day.  Okay, so I am WAY behind. Typical me. Now, it’s about the cram.

But, alas, I have no choice. The baby literally flew the coop, and the eagle has landed in a sunny, tropical spot, no less. So, what’s a mom to do? Costa Rica sounds like a nice place. I hear it is a great place to retire. If such a thing existed, I mean. Psychology Today also said I should embrace new adventures at this juncture of my life. So who knows? Maybe I could be a global girl.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, empty nest syndrome

The eagle in a tropical paradise. (Photo courtesy of SnapChat. Yeah, like those things work.)

FYI: this is a fun blog for empty nesters: Adventures of Empty Nesters

Leaf Senescence; Pondering Mid-Life as Autumn Approaches

Senescence is the orderly, age-induced breakdown of cells and their components that lead to the decline and ultimate death of a plant or plant part. The timing of senescence is species-specific. For deciduous trees (non-evergreen) it is typically fall. Leaves last through the growing season before senescing prior to winter.*

People talk about getting old and how they’re going to do it differently. They won’t be grumpy old men, or cantankerous old women. They won’t get fat, or soft. They’ll stay active and eat right and travel the world and have new adventures. In other words, they will use those final years (that last 1/3 of life) rather like a plant’s senescence.

Senescence is a metabolic process and so, it requires energy. It isn’tt just the ending of growth.

Take leaves. They move the products of photosynthesis out of leaf tissue into stem and root tissue during senescence and before leaf drop, The bright green color of chlorophyll fades during this process and the yellow/orange colors of the carotenoids become prominent and combine with the red/blue anthocyanins to produce vibrant colors–quite the display in my neck of the woods right now.

All this talk of activity and world travel from my peers will require energy too.

Around me, my friends are discussing how they will use the products of their own photosynthesis (energy conversion) to fuel other activities or organisms as priorities shift and time moves forward. Energy will be expended prior to the their death, or the death of some part of life they’ve always counted on, like work or health. Perhaps running through neighborhood streets or yoga in converted warehouses will replace subway dashes and five o’clock traffic.

I passed the mid-way mark (is it still 40?) over a decade ago, yet I am only now beginning to think to myself, so how will I grow old? What will be my energy conversion and when will I begin it? Leaves, it is thought, but not known, have a senescence hormone. I suppose that would be a hormone that triggers the process of aging, and death. Soybeans are thought to have what is referred to as the senescence factor, but all plants may not have it. .

I’m not sure all people have it. I fear I do not, and am behind on the senescence, not the physical changes, but the mental processing of it. But then again, I am nothing, if not forever behind.

When my boys were growing up. I was always playing catch up. I thought they were 4 years-old, when really, they were 5, and on their way down the kindergarten hallway. When the heck did that happen? So, I’d scramble to figure out all the nuances and protocols of kindergarten, and just when I nailed that, I looked up, and bless me, they were in the 3rd grade, with a science project due the week before Thanksgiving. Guess who’s buying a turkey while shopping for craft supplies? Is it just me? I’m all like, isn’t this great, we have 3rd graders doing a school play tonight, only if I look closely, it’s my granddaughter, and she’s headed out the door to dance class. How do I miss the change in time that others seem so cognizant of, but to me is as subtle as the light shifting through the slates of my bedroom blinds as autumn approaches?

The role of hormones in senescence is not clear, but the role of hormones in my own senescence is rather apparent. I am at least conscious of it, and I wonder if the plant is. I am unable to name all my particular hormones, and what their roles are in this stage of life, but I see the evidence. Much like the leaves changing colors, there are things changing physically for me. I tire more easily. I am hot now when I used to always be cold. My knees and feet hurt after running or walking a ways. i have little tolerance for lack of sleep, but I wake early no matter what. And while, I hope to make my own list of possibilities for these last years, I find I am still winding down on the previous ones. I wonder if I will miss my opportunity.

Presently, I am having a good dose of reality about aging gracefully, or not.

Growing older must be scarier than we yoga loving, adventure hounds care to admit, or why else would the words mid-life and crisis so often couple? While I see no reason to be all gloom and doom about passing the mid-way mark (more than passing it actually), I do think some of old age’s accouterments make it, well, harder to process than a trip to Europe will soften. I am a realist and must process the facts before considering the possibilities. Still, I am hoping for my own vibrant decline, depressing as that may sound.

As I observe the changing of summer into fall, and am awed by the glorious sight of it, I think how odd that death holds such beauty. Perhaps, hormones and senescence aside, death is speaking to us. Could it be that this bared beauty, that holds nothing back, is telling us, this is just the beginning?

The leaf senescence allows the perennial plant to continue living by providing for the roots and stems what it stored in its leaves. One must die for the other to live. I do not claim to understand the mysteries of death and life, or even plants–who frankly shroud their mysteries well–but I am finally watching the signs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In That Small Sunday Space

Today is Sunday. I woke up around 7, like always, but it was Sunday, so I willed myself back to sleep. My clients don’t call (well, most of the time). The store is closed. One day out of seven, I can do this. Covers over my head, bury myself beneath the dander of dog hair on my comforter (she’s not allowed but she’s good at cheating), and close my eyes tight. In this small space of Sunday morning, cravings that are ignored weekday-in-and-weekday-out are heard.

I need to mow the yard, write garden notes for three clients, get ready for an hour long seminar next Saturday, review notes on the client’s I’ll visit on Monday, weed the perennial bed, vacuum (remember the dog dander), buy groceries, walk the dog, fill out insurance papers, go to church. My church is 40 minutes away. Do I do the drive? (I hate it when things I love become chores.) Pay bills. Figure out where the darn ants are coming from. Vacuum again. These are not the cravings, if you’re wondering.

These are. I want to shop for my daughter-in-law’s birthday, which is this month. She is a fall girl. I want to pamper her with gifts that smell like fall. I want her day to be joyful. I want to look at the picture of the ultra-sound she texted me yesterday–a new grandchild due in May. I want to lie still and listen to the nothingness of Sunday morning. I love the Body of Christ, but I don’t want to drive anywhere today. I want no place to go. I want to cook something nourishing, because it is 58 degrees outside and suddenly a crock pot full of food is so tempting. I want the house simmering with the smell of it. I want to write. I want to take the dog on a long walk and snap pictures of gardens. I want to go to McDonalds and get black coffee and sit on my screen porch, on my glider, sipping it to the sounds of the birds chirping away. I want to organize my pictures. They’re all digital, ugh. I want to FaceTime my granddaughters. I want to hear their silly laughs, and Miss Priss say, “YaYa, do you want to play with me?” I want to talk, really talk to my children. I do want to vacuum because the pet dander can only be stood for so long. I want to finish reading the book, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, because if she found it, surely I can too. I want to plant the fall flowers I bought for my community spot in my little town, to make me happy, to make others happy. i want to garden. I want to create.

In my small space on Sunday morning, all these cravings, unheard over the drone of the workday week, present themselves. Head down, tucked under the covers, I am torn. It’s not as easy as it seems. Take the day, and rest, Cinthia. Just rest. The Sabbath for you, Jesus said. Created for man. Created for our refreshment. Take the day.

My clients are side work, done on my days off. If notes aren’t written today, then it’s an automatic behind for the week ahead. I don’t have another day off until next Sunday, and this week’s evenings will be spent preparing the fall clean-up seminar. The insurance man would probably like his papers filled out so he can clear his desk of my file. The bathroom needs a cleaning that no amount of candles or diffusers will disguise. If I want lunch at work this week, then groceries are a must. I could possibly do the crock pot, but I will miss the dog’s walk, because a day is only 16 hours. I have no idea when I last paid bills, but I am grateful for all this work, because I can pay them. Don’t read this as griping about work. I am thankful for the blessing of work. .

But sometimes, it seems the pursuit of creativity/personal care/relationships/life is overshadowed by the pursuit of money. How much is enough? My boss often says you can tell who is hungry and who is not by how they work. I am evidently quite hungry.

Fun Fact for some of you: Did you know that if you start taking 4% out of your retirement account right now, it will not deplete in your lifetime? (But does 4% pay the bills?) My financial planner is full of these little nuggets of wisdom.

The time ticks away with my head still buried under the blankets. I swear I hear the sound of the digital clock, and this small space of Sunday is almost gone. This moment when the world is quiet and a day could possibly be spent in creating (cooking? writing? gardening? photography? long walks for inspiration?) a possibility. I know that when my feet touch the ground, and the shower head starts to steam the bathroom, that these Sunday dreams will cease, and I will end the day wondering, what was it I wanted to do today?

 

 

Freedom 55? How I Wish.

I read an article today written by a guy who termed himself a Millennial, as in part of the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. The dates for this generation are iffy, but it seems to refer to those individuals born between 1980-2000. He titled his article Freedom 55, referencing my generation (the Baby Boomers) and our desire to retire at age 55. He thought the idea of retiring at 55 a bit mundane, not because he didn’t like the idea of retiring, but because he wants to life his life fully, every day, right now, He doesn’t want to wait until he is 55. I can applaud that.freedom 55

He also plans on redefining the work structure in America, or at least for himself, and anticipates working more efficiently, instead of longer hours or extended years. And, he expects to be rewarded handsomely for his efficiency, thus allowing him the ability to life that full life right now. I can applaud this too–except–he did not give any explanation or ideas on how he intended to work more efficiently.He just said he was going too.

But, he made a couple of assumptions:

1. He assumed that Baby Boomers never considered the idea of working more efficiently with less hours or extended years. He assumed that it never occurred to us that while we poured ourselves into a day-in-day-out-job-consuming-week-upon-week life, to stop and wonder, could this be done differently? I don’t know about the rest of the Baby Boomers, but I most certainly have wondered if work could be done differently. Racked my brain over it, actually. Which is why I would have preferred his how-to over his going-to article. Perhaps I’d follow his example, only he left us without one.

2. He assumed that all of us are going to experience Freedom 55. Not so. Though I am 55 there is no Freedom Bell ringing in this household. I suspect I will be working long past 60 and into my 70s. My own mother is 77 and still works a full-time job. She cannot afford not too. But, how I WISH.

3. He assumed that we Baby Boomers are not living our lives fully now. That we’re all waiting until the day of retirement to begin.

4. He assumed that we bought into an employment ideology. I am sure we did, and just as sure that he has. It may be an ideology yet to be revealed, but I am certain, it is one the generation following his will accuse him of buying into. But how are ideologies born, I’d like to know? And, do we only know, after the fact, that we’ve bought into it? It being some life-sucking, dream-denying monster that ended up destroying us?

Here’s what I hope:

1. I hope his generation is able to find a way to redefine work. I hope they can teach their predecessors what that is.

2. I have seen my son’s generation–at 25 he is a Millennial–do some pretty awesome things, so I think I have good reason for some high hopes.

Here’s what I know:

1. It will take more than just boasting to accomplish it.