Hi! I’m back! I hope you have had a wonderful summer so far. I am just wrapping up my summer holidays today, packing up and cleaning the wonderful cottage in the Laurentians where we spent the last month. This morning, I woke up to the call of the loon who graces our lake, made a cup of tea and went out on the deck to watch the morning mist rise up from the water. “This never gets old,” said a friend as we were sitting staring out at the view a few days ago. Our main activity at this place that is full of awe is to sit and watch the lake, the light over the cliffs, the falcons circle the sky, the beavers that hang out on our beach sometimes. That kind of thing. “It’s not exactly hard to be mindful when you are staring at this” said another pal of mine. I will get back to mindfulness in a minute. I am very lucky to have access to such a special place. Thank you to my in-laws, David and Kay for this.
So here are a few lessons gleaned from this summer, in no particular order:
1) Having older children is wonderful – as I watched my friends with one and three year olds chase their beautiful little children all over the place and eat supper standing up while preventing a catastrophe and getting up at 4:30am and endlessly changing diapers.
2) Having older children is bittersweet – as I see my children spread their wings and go into the world on their own, not needing the same kind of help, not always wanting my opinion or my hugs, but always, always wanting $20 from me (and a drive).
3) Having older children is expensive! I don’t need to elaborate on this, do I? Let me just say the words “teenaged boy who is entering a growth spurt and eating four times as much as anyone else and whose running shoes fit for only about two months before you need to buy him another pair.” You get the picture, right?
4) Having your health is everything – This summer, I have had the pleasure of spending more time with family and friends who are in their 70s and 80s. A few days ago, an uncle described to me this retirement home he has been actively fundraising for and he said “it’s for the elderly” and I asked him “What is elderly, exactly, in your opinion?” This man is in his eighties, ramrod-straight and full of energy and sharp as a tack even though he is battling a very serious form of cancer. He replied “hmm. 75 and up, I guess, is elderly, but I don’t really define myself as elderly” I guess the word elderly describes more a state of mind and a state of health than a number on a calendar. My grandmother decided she was old at 43, traded in her fun shoes and hats for “sensible” clothes. I always thought she looked like Queen Elizabeth (no offence, your highness). Now I look back and she would have been barely 55 when I saw her that way – three years older than my partner! Unfortunately, she died in her early 60s. Maybe her body was just worn out from her many illnesses. She was most definitely elderly in her heart and in her body.
5) Getting old sucks
Spending time with elders (whatever age that may be) is also a lesson in mindfulness: enjoying being in the present moment, not just always in the future or regretting the past. One lovely lady who is nearly 90 and very ill often says to me “oh, make sure you dance, Françoise, dance and enjoy life and your children, and your health. Don’t take these things for granted and don’t wait until you are old to do things.”
A friend of mine said we should approach retirement like professors do sabbaticals sometimes – they are called “half sabbatical” and instead of the full year off every seven years, they take 6 months off every 3 years. So a “half-retirement” could work like that too: retire for x number of years while we are young and healthy, then return to work for a few years and retire again for good in our 70s when things are starting to creak a bit more. I guess our Canada Pension Plan won’t go for that idea, eh?
Do you have elderly individuals in your life? Have you been to visit them lately? If you don’t have anyone in your circle of family or friends, consider volunteering for a hospice program or signing up to visit someone once in a while at your local nursing home. See what stories they have to share. My father-in-law has advanced Parkinson’s disease. His favourite thing is to be taken out of his residence for an hour for a cup of coffee or an ice cream – he looooves ice cream. I don’t think I know anyone in this entire planet who loves ice cream more than Dave. He doesn’t want the moon, and he really appreciates the company. As I live four hours away from him, I committed to visiting someone in my own community for two hours a week, as a way of paying it forward. If you would like to explore similar options in your community, contact your local Hospice chapter or nursing home to volunteer. If you don’t have time for this in your life right now (see item 1 above), that’s fine too, that’s what parents of teenagers and empty nesters are there for – we’ll cover you for a while – but make sure you come visit us in the nursing home when it’s our turn, ok?