A surprising number of our friends - older friends - are in denial They don’t think that they will grow old with the inevitable losses of muscle strength, need of eyeglasses, hearing aids and, if they live long enough, some disabilities too. Our friends say such things as: “I don’t want to think about it, it is too depressing,” or “I’m not old enough, I feel strong and vital,” or “I’m not ready.”
Being in denial is not facing the reality of passing years with their toll on youth and vigor. Being in denial is being afraid that if you acknowledge aging, it will make it happen - as if when you don’t think about it, it won’t happen.
Why would intelligent people not want to face reality and plan for it? In our culture, independence and self-sufficiency is valued, so the specter of dependence and not doing everything for oneself by oneself is seen as such a negative as to preclude envisioning it. Our identities are so tied to what we do that giving up work to retire feels like a loss of identity, and we are unwilling to plan for that distant future, when in fact that future may be around the corner.
Denial is also related to the fear of death. Many people are afraid to die, and so not thinking about it removes it from our consciousnesses and places it in a kind of never-never land where one lives forever, young and healthy. Remember Peter Pan, the boy who won’t ever grow old. I call this type of not facing reality - and therefore not preparing for the future - the Peter Pan Syndrome.
Denial is not always negative. When there is no preparation possible and worrying will not help, then denial may help us survive difficult times. One lives as if all is well, when in fact a family member may have a terminal illness, but chooses to live life as fully as possible for those remaining weeks, months or years.
So how do you prepare for that last part of your life, the one where you may be retired from full-time work, the one when you may be widowed and living alone, the one where you will need help with daily tasks, the one where driving will be more difficult?
One option certainly is staying in one’s own house - if 1. there are no stairs, 2. there is a spare room if one needs full-time help, 3. there are enough financial assets to hire a driver in order to not be homebound, and especially 4. if there are children or someone in charge for managing all the above. I did this for my mother who died at 96 with nurses ‘round the clock. She was lonely and often depressed. We drove to L.A. every weekend from San Diego to take care of bills, to take her to doctors, and to hire people to do the endless repairs an old house always needed.
The other option, and the one my husband and I decided on, is to move to a retirement community where everything is taken care of.
One exercise we did that made it clear what we needed to do is to ask each other the question: if I die first, would want to stay alone in our current house? And if you die first would I want to stay alone? Also, if one of us becomes disabled would we want to stay in the house with help ‘round the clock?
The answer to both questions was “No”.
So for those of you, my readers, who are in denial, it is time to wake up and start planning for those golden years of no cares and everything being taken care of, and of being able to do all the fun activities that were postponed during the working and child-raising years, those later years maybe the best yet. It is your next great adventure, but if you don’t plan ahead, you might be left with few options and long waiting lists to get in anywhere. You will be beating yourself up for not having planned, not taking care of your old age - yes, I said that: your old age. If you don’t want wrinkles and grey hair, you will have to die young.
You need to make a deposit in a retirement community now - most of them already have a two-year waiting list. When the baby boomers are ready to retire, I hate to think how long that waiting list will be. A deposit will ensure you a place for when you are ready. We made a deposit 10 years ago so that now we are where we want to be.