Jane Fonda chronicled her life in three acts in her best-selling autobiography Prime Time, with her current stage of life being Act Three. We each have different ways of remembering, analysing and categorizing our lives to make sense of our journey. Retirement has also been broken down into three stages. The first, where many early Boomers are now, is when we have the resources to do what we’ve waited our entire lives for. This may include traveling, playing lots of golf or tennis, ladies white wine lunches or simply relaxing on the patio, in your LaZGirl chair or on the dock with a good book.
During the second stage of retirement we slow down a bit. The inconvenience of travel has diminished its lustre, we’ve seen most of the places on our bucket list and we really prefer to sleep in our own beds at night. Our energy levels are compromised and we’re starting to get a bit creaky which requires more visits to the doctor with its associated blood tests and various hard-to-pronounce scans. Our spending is reduced and we’re content in smaller, more efficient single-level accommodation close to friends, family and services. Our lives centre around comfortable routines and rituals like a daily walk, regular meal times, watching the news or playing cards with friends.
The third stage of retirement is the most difficult and least rewarding. Some of us may be fit and able enough to still live in our own homes or apartments but the majority of us will require some level of care. Then our expenses will rise again as assisted living and chronic care facilities are not cheap. Depending on where you live and the level of service you require, costs can range from $2,000.00 to $5,000.00 per month, per person. We’ll be eating through our nest eggs pretty fast at those rates. I expect Boomers will be getting creative about our living arrangements by then (à la Golden Girls). Many of us are already discussing communal or clustered living with friends and hiring a cook, driver, cleaner, gardener or whatever support services we need to keep us rockin’ and out of the “home”.
The number of years associated with each of these three stages of retirement is fluid depending on the individual. I see my own life as now being in the first trimester of my third trimester. Then, I happened to see Dr. Christiane Northrup (the definitive authority on women’s health issues and menopause) on PBS the other day that has me rethinking the cycle. She was promoting Goddesses Never Age and her other books and DVDs, but her message is always solid and dependable.
We tend to think of our journey through life as a linear progression from baby to old age, then death. It can also be viewed as a circle in which we rotate from being fed, diapered and cared for as dependent babies to being fed, diapered and cared for as dependent seniors. When I first moved to Toronto at the age of seventeen to start work, I moved into Willard Hall, a girls boarding residence. My life’s possessions were contained in one suitcase and a train case and I shared a spartan dormitory room with another girl. How long will it be before I repeat that experience when I move into an assisted living or chronic care facility with one suitcase filled with nightgowns, slippers, track pants, toiletries and contraband bottles of Pinot Grigio, coming full circle over a lifetime.
Dr. Northrup suggested another way of looking at our lives that has a less negative connotation. Instead of perceiving of our journey as a linear progression with diminishing returns, consider the possibility that we are simply occupying space not time. That concept is reminiscent of Ekhart Tolle’s philosphy of living life in the moment. We are what we are, where we are in current time only. I rather like that concept. Occupying an abstract chunk of space in the universe sounds much more appealing than following a finite timeline that is running out.
A major bonus of embracing our lives as abstract chunks of space is that as Baby Boomers, it’s very likely we’re in the best space now that we’ve ever been in before; we’re more financially comfortable than we have ever been now that the mortgage is paid off or we’re living in an affordable rental space that we like; the kids are launched, literally and financially (we hope); we don’t have to get up and endure the stress of rush-hour traffic in snow storms to get to work on time and be lashed to our work stations until the clock says it’s time go to home; we’re as healthy as we’ll ever be (Boomers are the healthiest generation in history) and we can still do whatever we want. We get seniors’ discounts on movies, public transit, certain retail purchases and we’re finally our own boss. I’d say the present is a pretty perfect time to be who we are in the circle of life.
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