Editor’s Note: You might be familiar with this contributor’s work if you were a fan of the Caregiver’s Diary columns… Over the course of a few years, the writer described his experiences caring for his mother, father, father-in-law and mother-in-law during their final days. Since the recent passing of his father, he now cares for himself. We wish to welcome you to the columnist’s new series “The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up”, in which he will tackle, among other things, the transitions he is experiencing, taking care of his health his finances and of course, living life to the fullest. If you loved the Caregiver’s Diary touching stories, poignant honesty and elegant style yet uncluttered style – we believe you will also become a fan of this new regular feature… Without further ado – we present you with the inaugural column in the series – “Coming of Age”.
Coming of Age
I’m a yuppie (Young Urban Professional) and a boomer (Baby Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964) and I’m 59. All those things seem contradictory to me, because I feel, and think I am, about 29.
This can be dangerous. I drive recklessly, I act impulsively, I do things with my aging muscles they aren’t built to do anymore, and sometimes this comes back to bite me. I’m a sailor, an activity which requires a certain amount of brute force, and I weigh about 135 pounds. Every summer, I haul on something, or lift something, or climb something that completely incapacitates me all winter long. This year it was climbing over the aft rail after diving on the propeller. My upper arms just can’t lift those 135 pounds without damage (I don’t work out). The result was a stiff chest for 3 weeks, but, more insidiously, it led to another bout of my old nemesis, frozen shoulder, an exquisitely painful but non-critical condition reserved for the newly old.
The reason I’m riffing on age here is that I’m afraid I have to grow up now, something all boomers are loathe to do. I have written in these pages of my experiences with the deaths of my mother and father and mother-in-law and father-in-law, all in the course of a few years. They’re all gone now, there’s no one else to be a caregiver to except me. So this will be a sort of Caregiver’s Diary for our generation, one that is going to have to learn to care for itself.
Boomers grow up when their parents die. They’re left alone, with no one to seek approval from, no one to compete with, no one to confide in. Boomers bury the last parent, look around and say “What now? I’m the boss? It’s all up to me now? Oh hell, I never wanted that”.
We were told when we were young our youth was eternal, we would own the world; and we did. We could do that because our parents were so SOLID. They had fought in the war, defeated fascism and come home and not made a big thing out of it. We stood on their shoulders and reached for the sky. Now those shoulders are gone, we have to stand on the ground, and take stock of new realities.
There are decisions to make that would have seemed outlandish a few years ago. I have one year to decide whether to take my CPP early (at 60). I’m a freelancer, so retirement isn’t in the cards for me. Like most boomers, I didn’t save like my parents, and I’ll have to work until I’m dead to maintain my standard of living. Taking your pension early is a good idea if you plan to live a long time, which I do, and have the genes and the family history to achieve. You get more money in total from the government that way, even if it comes in smaller amounts.
Apart from the frozen shoulder, I am in robust good health. Skinny, but healthy. I smoke and I have clean lungs, eat salt and have low blood pressure, love fried foods and have low cholesterol. I come from long-lived stock on both sides of my family, and I sleep well. I’m planning on being functional into my 90s. After all, they say the first person to live to 150 years is about 50 years old today.
So, to recap; no longer a pretend teenager, now a grown up orphan. Poor but healthy. Soon-to-be pensioner but full-time freelancer. Increasingly, this will describe a large slice of the Canadian demographic. How well we take care of ourselves will impact on how well our children can take care of themselves. If we all fail early and clog the health system, we’ll be hated. But if we take care off ourselves, eat well, stay active and engaged, we may be the generation that lives forever.