The Third Age, The New Generation: Planning for Retirement

By Lillian Husted

Aging in our culture has been one of the last taboos. It’s something we are not supposed to talk about, and something we are not supposed to do. But the aging are not only the old. The aging are all of us. It’s time to appreciate what this means.

It’s time to banish stereotypes of age. It’s time to see how much all generations need each other. It is time to value the special understandings that are possible only then we’re old. So, if we are to understand the aging process; if we are to value old age, we need to live around people who can teach us.

I recently heard a beautiful quote by Rabbi Abraham J. Heshel. He said, “Ours is a twin problem; the attitude of society to the old and old age, as well as the attitude of the old to being old.”

Here is a strange thing about people. Throughout childhood young people are prodded by adults to think about their future . . . . . decide upon a career. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Johnny?”

This is the kind of question we begin asking our children about the age of five and continue asking through the college years. This says to the child that society is expecting something from him . . . looking forward to the day when he or she launches into the work force of the world and begins to contribute.

Around the age of twenty or twenty-five, everyone stops asking. You are what you are . . . . and no one is expecting you to be different or change your career. You’ve found your niche.

Then before you know it, people start asking another question. “What are you going to do when you retire, Steve?” Too often this question is not taken seriously. We often say we will play golf, fish, sleep till noon, or just rock and take our well-earned rest. The past generations have had these pat answers ready and they’ve used them unthinkingly. But then 75 years ago many things were different. . . these answers were more acceptable.

Today we’ve entered “The Third Age” and we have a New Generation of older adults. Science and medical advances have extended our years. Now, it is our business to extend our living, and ourselves.

Successful aging is not measured in terms of chronological years, but in the style and purpose, value and direction. There is a revolution in the thinking of this new generation. They know that the 10-15-20-25 years of their lives which they can now expect after retiring from their first career needs to be thought out . . . . planned for . . . . scripted.

Realistic Planning for Retirement

We’ve found that these persons who think retirement means only time to entertain themselves and rest, usually find six months later that they feel useless, without meaning, unwanted, bored, and frequently find serious deterioration in their health.

As individuals it is our responsibility to learn how to plan for and live in the Third Age. Often as we begin to realize that retirement is just around the corner, we design a “quickie” plan A for how we will spend our leisure. “I’ve always wanted to travel . . . Steve and I will travel and visit the kids and perhaps get a camper and just go where we want to go . . . and do what we want.” That sounds good, so now you don’t have to think anymore about retirement days. Right?

Wrong! One of the challenges of aging is remaining flexible - and able to change directions without feeling unsettled and lost. One of the realities of aging is change and these changes come suddenly. What if Steve dies young? What if you physically are not able to travel? What is the plan then? Where is your plan B? It is suggested that every person write out more than one plan. “What would I do if I were very healthy?” “What would I do if walking was a problem?” “What kind of activities could I enjoy if my eyesight prevented me from enjoying golf, sewing, or cooking?”

We must face the Third Age with honesty. It is likely that women will live more than five years longer than their husbands. What then? Of course, it is difficult to plan for the worst. But you cannot feel you’ve adequately though tout your retirement if you have constructed only a “dream” plan A. Script for yourself alternatives and options. Build into your plans some modifications. Have ten plans or twenty. You will then be prepared to better think through the real plan when the time comes for you to venture into the New Generation.

New Living Styles

From a traditional past, we have learned that “old people’s homes” were for poor people and ill people without families. Well, forget that. The Third Age has brought a New Generation, a New Generation that has sought out a different kind of life-style. Retirement centers, congregate living centers, homes with nursing services available on campus, cottages, and high-rise apartments designed especially for the over 60 crowd - these are the modern new styles which have come of age during these few years.

“Fun cities, sunny paradises” are some examples which show us that the New Generation is wanting more from their retirement living than a protective environment. With these new attitudes about retirement life have come a new breed of retirement opportunities. The New Generation expects their retirement center to provide opportunities for LIFE. It is that simple. They are interested in life and in living. They want to learn, try new things, discover hidden talents, and be a part of the entire community. . . have privacy and contribute to congregations and all of society.

Plight of Shut-Ins

Lately, there has been more and more said about the plight of the shut-ins. Those persons who live alone and have little contact with the outside world—usually because of their inability to venture far outside their door—normally are elderly and struggling with finances. During the past ten years, some new programs have been created to help those people, i.e. Meals-on-Wheels, Friendly Visitor, Telephone Reassurance, Visiting Nurse, and a collection of other support services. But it is also a fact that hundreds of thousands of old people are missed. They are left untouched by these services.

One helpful role religious organizations can play in finding a solution to this wasteful tragedy is to discover just what kinds of services are available in your community and get this information out to the public. Design services that are missing from your community’s programs. Find the untouched.

The Retired - A Powerful Work Force

This New Generation is also a powerhouse of creativity and a resource of energy. Do you have projects requiring their work? They are ready and able. All you have to do is start asking. As a religious body, a business, an employer, an organization, it is our responsibility to provide opportunities for learning, for growing, for living with dignity and purpose—a successful Third Age. There is a whole new generation out there ready to respond!One of the tendencies which we Americans have developed over the past few years is to ignore problems or to blame others for a bad situation, but not get involved in seeing if we can help. This is not a natural part of the thinking of the New Generation. Third Age members refuse to use cop-outs like, “How could one person do anything to make a difference?” Why? Because it has been proven over and over that one person can really make a difference.

Volunteer power is essential to the survival of many organizations. Without the regular help of volunteers, many non-profit organizations would be financially unable to provide the services they do. Many charitable groups such as, day-care centers, nursing homes, and hospitals, use volunteer power to polish their care and add those important caring touches. One of the most available and capable work forces around is the retired folk. They’re done with career number one but you can bet they are not done trying. Now they are free to work with you and build a second career, help others, learn.

Parish Commitment Extremely Vital

What is your parish doing to help the older persons in your neighborhood live a fulfilling life? That might be a good question to talk over. With some creative thinking you could do SOMETHING and that something could be a good beginning in making a difference.

During the Third Age, perhaps more than at any other time in their lives, people feel the need to really get to know God. Religion becomes personal. Beliefs need to be strengthened; fears lifted. Many people turn to God during their later life, even if they had not been closely tied to their faith before. Are the churches and synagogues ready? Are we in the Orthodox Church ready? If so, great! Please share your accomplishments with us. If not, how can we help you and how can we help each other to help those we love so dearly?

We are here to explore ways that programs can be expanded to more effectively serve the elderly in our communities. We feel that the role of the Church is of key importance for several reasons. First, when serious problems develop, church members usually turn to the Church before they seek help elsewhere and hope for emotional support through the fellowship and social concern of that body of caring persons. Secondly, churches have always been concerned for parishioners who need help. Therefore, any helping programs we might propose would be an extension of an existing Church function. Finally, when some of the problems of frail, aging persons become extensive and continue over a long period of time, family members cannot meet all of their needs for help. Instead, it takes a partnership of family, church, and community to effectively establish a plan of help to the person or persons in need.

Facing the Future with Action

It’s time to face the facts! The Third Age—The New Generation—is here to stay and it will become increasingly larger each year. Since January 1982, 5,000 people turn 65 every day. They tell us that by the year 2020, approximately 50% of the population in the USA will have reached the age of 65. Can you imagine what a magnanimous task we face? What new implications confront us in these added years of longevity? What preparations are we making to meet these issues sensibly so that the quality of life may improve rather than deteriorate. Futurists dabble in extravagant mental gymnastics over technological changes and implications, but aging is the one future fact in which everyone should have a vested interest.

We must think of ways to face up to the contemporary moral and economic decadence highlighted by the plight of the elderly. We must broaden our seminary curriculum to train our priests to cope with the problems of the elderly by having some knowledge of gerontology, geriatrics, social services, advocacy. We must have more opportunities and more training for lay men and women who want to help in these areas.

We must address these issues today. We cannot, with impunity, continue to neglect our older population. The Golden Rule can certainly be applied here. What you and I do, or fail to do, in terms of “older others,” is what we ultimately do to and for ourselves. What must be done and what must be changed in our world to making living longer more meaningful? What help can we give each other TODAY so that we, together, as a community of faithful Orthodox Christians, can follow the commandment of Our Lord Jesus Christ which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For Discussion:

1. Given the reflections in this article, how might you help yourself, members of your family, or members of your parish to prepare for retirement?

2. What are your attitudes about aging and toward the elderly? Where do they come from?

3. What can you and your parish do to resolve the difficulties of senior citizens in your community and to involve them in Church life?

Lillian Husted is a realtor by profession and lives in State College, PA. She is chairwoman of the Central Pennsylvania Regional Advisory Council on Aging, and a member of the Governor’s Council on Aging.

In the Orthodox Church in America she serves as a member of the Section on Seniors, Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.