A Workbook for Healthy Aging
INTERESTING STUFF – 18 April 2015

Disengagement in Old Age

Readers sometimes send me interesting questions about getting old (as if you think I actually have answers). When they are specific and about topics on which there is a body of knowledge and consensus from experts, I can act as researcher when I have time.

Then there are questions like the one from Jim Harris we discussed last week and today's from Lynne Spreen who blogs at Any Shiny Thing.

Lynne's question, which has been sitting on my blog to-do list for longer than I realized, is about her 89-year-old mother's apparent ennui.

Here are the most salient bits of Lynne's email:

”What do I say to my mother, who is asking, 'What's the point?'

“Mom is sharp and healthy, although discomfited by damage from a broken femur of 3 years ago. She lives in a 55+ community, where she participates, but she's older than almost everyone, and can't keep up with the younger peeps of 75 or so.

“Still, she does crafts, drives, has community and church activities, but says she feels like she's swimming through Jello. She laments the slowness, forgetfulness, dependency, and general fearfulness. She deals with grief, over and over again, when another friend or sibling dies.

“Not that she doesn't have joy! But sometimes she feels like she's just going through the motions...At 60, I don't know what to say to help her. She lives 4 blocks away and we include her in 90% of our activities, including those with great-grandchildren, which she enjoys.”

With mood or mental changes, it is good to check for physical reasons and my first thought was medical: is Lynne's mother takng a large number of medications – including over-the-counter drugs? This is officially called polypharmacy or overmedication and is a common problem in old age because it can lead to dangerous drug interactions, and is a serious issue because it is easily overlooked.

Dr. Mehrdad Ayati lists potentional side effects of overmedication in the book I told you about on Wednesday, Paths to Healthy Old Age, and they are many:

”...heart failure, seizures, disorientation, confusion, weakness, sedation, falls, fractures, hypotention, incontinence, electrolytic disorders, anxiety, delirium, mental decline, blurred vision, constipation, GI bleeding and loss of appetite.”

Because elders are often treated for several diseases and conditions at once, each with its own specialist physician, it is easy for a variety of drugs to cause negative interactions. If you use the same pharmacists for all prescriptions, those professionals are a good backstop for negative interactions.

You should keep an up-to-date list of all drugs with you always, including over-the-counter medications, supplements, etc. to give your doctor so he or she can check new prescriptions against the list.

If the problem is not an excess of drugs and Lynne's mother is not clinically depressed, then what?

Part of Lynne's message about her mother is a good description of old age in general: our bodies slow down, we become forgetful, dependent and our personal worlds contract, if we live long enough, as our friends and relatives die and the number of people who share our world view declines year by year.

These are the burdens specific to old age and they are not easy – particularly, I think, with grief because in the U.S., we do not grant ourselves much time for bereavement; we expect people to be “back to normal” in a couple of days.

On this, let me quote a bit from Sogyal Rinpoche's brilliant and wise Buddhist spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He speaks of how we can help the bereaved who, he writes, may be

”...shattered by the array of disturbing feelings, of intense sadness, anger, denial, withdrawal, and guilt that they suddenly find are playing havoc inside them.

“Helping those who have just gone through the loss of someone close to them will call for all your patience and sensitivity. You will need to spend time with them and to let them talk, to listen silently without judgment as they recall their most private memories, or go over again and again the details of the death.

“Above all, you will need simply to be there with them as they experience what is probably the fiercest sadness and pain of their entire lives. Make sure you make yourself available to them at all times, even when they don't seem to need it.

It takes a long time to grieve a loved one's death, time we don't readily acknowledge in our culture and in old age not only is time necessary, the deaths keep coming one after another; there are so many to mourn.

There is another factor that affects those who are very old. In all that I've read over 20 years of studying aging I have never come across a reference to it (that I recall). I have only personal experience.

My great Aunt Edith was my favorite relative. For most of her old age, she lived on the west coast and I on the east but we wrote letters (remember those?) and we spoke on the telephone about once a week for an hour or so.

Aunt Edith read widely – books and magazines. She mailed me articles that interested her – political, social, weird news, etc. - and she also liked to send cartoons from The New Yorker.

She had a good sense of humor – about life and about herself especially, as they occurred, her diminishing physical capacities. She was well into her eighties when she told me that after scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, no matter how hard she pushed, she couldn't stand up.

She had to crawl into the living room and pull herself up with the help of chair.

Aunt Edith laughed throughout the entire story (which she dragged out because she was a good storyteller). And we laughed some more when I told her that they'd invented this amazing new cleaning tool she might want to look into – it's called a mop and has a long handle.

It was about this time that I first noticed other kinds of changes in Aunt Edith.

Her letters didn't arrive as often and when they did, there were not as many cartoons and other clippings. She stopped sending her cooking-for-one recipes (she had never married and had a large collection). More frequently than in the past, I did the telephoning as if, perhaps, she had forgotten. Or was distracted. Or something.

None of this was sudden and it took awhile for me to notice. Gradually, over a period of two or three or four years, I came to see that she was withdrawing from life. She had less interest in news and politics. She wasn't reading as many books. Her stories were fewer. She wasn't as generally curious anymore. Our conversations became shorter.

There was nothing wrong with her mind. She just became less and less involved with the world and its activities.

Aunt Edith died in 1985 just a couple of months short of her 90th birthday. Since then, I have given a great deal of thought to her steady disengagement from life.

In doing so, I have come to believe that if you do not die suddenly or linger in great pain from disease or injury, a period of letting go makes great sense. It feels "meet and right" to make time as the end appears to grow near, perhaps over a few years even, to look inward, to make private peace, accommodation and to find some harmony perhaps within the mystery of being.

As it did with Aunt Edith, I suspect this goes on without need of discussion about it with other people, friends or relatives.

I have no basis in fact for any of this although I have noticed its possibility in three or four other people, including my mother who knew she was dying, that it would be soon and who, as she grew weaker, had less and less to say.

Does any of this have anything to do with Lynne's mother? I have no idea. In the (embarrassingly long) time since Lynne first emailed (January), I've poked through my library of books on aging, consulted Dr. Google and can't find anything that directly applies.

Her question, “What's the point?” already comes to my mind now and then and I'm 16 years younger than Lynne's mother. I'm not sure it needs to be answered or that there are any answers. Not to be too flip, but it occurs to me that you first have to figure out if it is meant cosmically or just about whether to replace a shabby chair.

What I hope is that my rumination has given us all a few things to think about and I'm looking forward to see what you, dear readers, might say. Remember, it's the internet and there is no space limitation – just please, please use paragraphs (hit enter twice) if your comment is long.

Comments

I know we all age differently, but my oldest friend, who recently died at 93, was fully engaged in life until her death. She took great joy in her grandchildren and great grandchildren. And she was full of curiosity and wonder about life every day. I hope to follow her lead.

I am only 58, but after decades of being extremely busy with children and then a career, retirement is making me ask this question of myself. What, after all, if you don't have obligations, IS the point? What is the meaning, if any, of our time on earth? Not to say at all that I am going through what an 89-year old experiences. Only that I could imagine that if sources of simple pleasure become more difficult to access - moving, holding a loved one, eating, seeing the vibrant sky - the questions of meaning might become larger.

But I look forward to hearing from you older and wiser ones. I've started to focus more on my values, on somehow trying to, sentimental as it sounds, make the world a better place. That, and caring for my loved ones, seems to answer my particular question as well as it can be answered.

Disengagement is one of the theories of aging discussed in the gerontology class I audit every semester. I wonder if introversion/extroversion might be part of that picture.

I can identify with this post big time. In fact, just two days ago I asked myself, "What's the point?"

I'm not over medicated by any means. I only take three pills a day. I'm not under active. I keep as busy as I can in the community. Still I get an occasional bout with the blues. I've decided the cause is there is no one left in my life to share the ups and downs of normal every day things. Two dozen friendly acquaintances can't make up for that.

I can see how people older than me get to the point where they disengage from life. I'm not there yet and hope I never do but I think I understand why it happens. We get to a certain age and we're doing childhood in reverse. A child's world keeps expanding and in old ago our world gets smaller and smaller. Friends die. Mysteries get solved---we know where rainbows come from and about the wonder of butterflies. We're no longer naive and trusting and in most cases we know that a new love is NOT right around the corner. Heck, half us probably don't even want a new love because it's too much work building the kind of relationships we miss when our soul mates are gone.

Well, Miss Mary Sunshine needs to quit writing now before I bring us all down....LOL

Lynne here, Ronni. Thank you for this long and very thoughtful post. It was worth waiting for.

Mom takes very few meds and she's an extrovert, with numerous friends, of necessity all younger. Her question about "what's the point" is existential. It comes up when she’s more tired, or discouraged over yet another loss or the chronic pain which she generally manages well.

I think the question arises because like so many women, she was raised to believe that her purpose in life was to serve others - in her case, raise family and tend to a demanding, overbearing husband. Now that’s gone, she sometimes wonders what is the point.

Having grown up in that environment, I empathize. We sometimes laugh about working to cultivate selfishness as a virtue. To her credit, she enjoys and is grateful for her days, and when the blues hit, she has strategies for dealing with them. I guess that in a nutshell is maturity.

Thanks again for featuring this issue in your column today.

I've noticed lately, at age 76, I have started keeping more to myself instead of making plans with others and this bothers me as I have always been very socially active. I also tend to not contact my five adult children as much as I used to too as I am afraid I will bother them with my seemingly trivial pursuits, and because they are like I was at their age, always very productive, busy and very engaged in their own social lives.

So, yes, I tend to agree with this article. We do become disengaged as we get older whether we want to or not. Possibly our friends are pulling inward as well and that is why our social circles become so much smaller than they were at one time. I also think the internet has a lot to do with us spending more time alone, by choice. So maybe it isn't just our age causing the dreaded ennui, in older age, but society, at all ages, has changed. Social media is so geared to electronic technology now, that we never need to leave our homes to interact with people in the flesh. My final observation....medication has no bearing on my situation as I don't take any and this article has made me aware that I must make more effort to get involved or I AM going to just slowly fade away and I don't like that idea. I would much rather go out with a bang!

I have made it very clear to my primary physician that I do not want to be overmedicated. He is in total agreement with me and has promised to discuss any medication changes in depth before prescribing them. Old people need to speak up and not just go along like sheep and accept anything thrown at them. The number of people I see walking around here with glassy stares as a result of taking 12 to 14 pills a day is frightening.

This hit home with me. I'm 68 and a two year widow. No children and a few good friends and a brother and I try to stay busy. But I ask myself this question more often than I like to admit. My husband's sense of purpose was tied up in his work and when he retired too young, he asked this question a lot. I believe he had undiagnosed depression. There are small things now and maybe that's all there ever really was. I think it's a situation of getting and giving. You want to get the most you can out of life, which is harder as you get older and by giving of yourself which in a way is a gift returned back to you in the form of "point".

Also, the book Aging Well by Dr. George E. Vaillant is worth reading. He says doing for others and remaining socially involved are two of the critical elements of healthy aging (I'm paraphrasing for brevity's sake.)

In a 1961 study, Cummings and Henry proposed the "disengagement theory" of aging. They proposed that there is a gradual mutual and satisfying disengagement between society and the individual. Resulting research indicated that it constitutes one among several alternative styles of aging. This is affected by personality, activity level, psychological and social factors. Some older adults are intensely involved and preoccupied with an orientation towards life review survey to put their life into perspective. Also the elderly tend to not depend upon group support as much as younger people. There are also some studies (Looft 1972) that indicate egocentricism as a strategy of communication may plan a role in making the aging person appear less engaged.

Very much enjoyed this post Ronni. Am doing an IONS study on Conscious Aging right now and the book includes a poem by Safire Rose of Agape Spiritual Center: She Let Go... I found it to be the most truthful and beautiful description of aging I've ever seen.

Aging is likely the most unique period of life and because we are only now exploring so what it means to us very few have the words, and maybe the fact that it is so unique means we will never have the words. I'm struggling to accept this possible truth now.

Well! I messed that up lol! Because we are only now exploring what aging means to each of us, very few of us have the words etc.

So many good replies-thank you! At 82 I often ask "What's the point?" Several years ago I read "The Last Gift of Time-Life Beyond Sixty" by Carol Heilbrun and now, as then, I find it to be true.I quote from her book:

"Many of us can, at various harried times in our life, feel alone and assaulted by the meaninglessness of what we are doing. But, at such times, we Are doing;- the problem is not a lack of activity with a point, but rather questions the point of the activity. These later malaises are not only ordinary but difficult to parry or change. The world outside neither cares nor offers attentiveness, except occasionally. If one ventures out to meet others like oneself, the conversation is predictable, the discussions repetitive; shared hopelessness may rescue one from the sense of uniquely empty destiny, but it hardly comforts."

Today I am joining a new craft group that has a point to their activity...I'm not much of a "joiner" but they meet once a month-that much I can handle! I'm looking forward to seeing what it has to offer.

I call it "ennui," and I have it in spades.

I retired too early, but had to because my MS made the job too difficult. Now I am 65 and wondering what the next twenty or so years will be like for me as I slowly become more and more at the mercy of a disease that has no cure.

I think that disengaging with this life may be in preparation for the next. Everything in this universe is in a constant state of flux. Why should humans be any different?

We are more than what we perceive around us. We are part of an unknown whole.

In 1969 when I was 20 my independent, strong minded grandmother broke her collar bone, not so serious but it was the beginning of the end for her. She withdrew, began to have other 'illnesses' and lost interest in life. During the autumn/winter pshe deteriorated further.

My mother, a nurse, asked her did she not want to see my 21st, also to be my engagement, in spring. She replied, she will be 21 whether I'm here or not, she wasn't and young as I was I could see that she had turned her face to the wall and died.

Since then I worked as a social worker for older people for many years both in residential and community care. I've seen this many times, it seems to be how some people come to terms with death. when physical, emotional and poly pharmacy causes are ruled out there does not seem to be anything pathological about this approach.

If if people choose to let go in this way, please let go of them.

Likely, many of us grew up hearing "Don't be selfish!" yet there is a good, worthwhile form of selfishness, too. One that others might not like, but it does them no harm.

Each of us is the center of our world, determining consciously (or choosing not) what we need, want and how we can thrive. And perhaps more importantly now, how we attain a level of contentment and happiness when held back by age-related restrictions.

I'm not there yet, nor did I witness my parents or anyone close to me being old. Even now, at 71, I am aware that purposeful change and meeting unintended or unwanted changes is what's rolling down a sloping highway. The journey now and later will be mainly inward, turning discouragement and fears into challenges, letting go of my ego and expectations, living with feelings of love. It sounds sappy, yet love is all we really need. And that's what I'd draw on if I want to help someone who sees only futility.


To Lynn: I urge you (and others like you) to realize that you have done what you can do. It may seem impossible; but, if you can do it at all, I urge you not to "own" your mother's "problem". You will have to own your own problems soon enough.

Ennui sets in, for me, because I lack the energy to do all of the things that I used to do (such as getting up from mopping the floor on hands and knees without pulling myself up using a chair - lol!)

As to Ronni's "...if you do not die suddenly or linger in great pain from disease or injury, a period of letting go makes great sense." I absolutely agree.

I am sixty-three. I ask the "What's the point" question often. My father who is eighty-seven told me the other day that he would have been fine dying ten years ago. The "same old/same old" syndrome coupled with body pain and loss gets to be too much for some people. I totally relate. I am still looking forward to things, and I am enjoying my life, but I won't be surprised if there comes a time when I will be ready to check-out.

I am 74 and employed full time at a job i enjoy, and i am withdrawing consciously and unconsciously.

For example, I have traveled to Europe every year since 1998. Three years ago I made a conscious decision not to do it again. Two years ago i decided to stop flying in the US.Driving vacations are much more fun and relaxing.

One day about a year ago i was waiting in the dentist's office with nothing to read. I sat there for 25 minutes without anything but my inner life, and it was OK! That was unconscious, but it was OK!

This year I suffered a muscle spasm that sent me to the emergency room, after which i gradually became aware that several physical activities were going to be impossible unless i wanted a recurrence. I am learning how to sit down and sit still.That is certainly a form of withdrawal.

Yes, people I love are dying all around me; last year i attended five funerals and a wedding! It's good to talk and grieve with the people who knew the loved ones, don't you think? Not just at the funeral but afterwards, every few months or so. Could be helpful for all concerned.

Last thing: Richard Ford's character Frank Bascombe found it expedient, at age 68, to begin to jettison certain "friends" and I discovered i was doing that too! Several I was not all that interested in anyway, even if we did have good times and raise one anothers' children when we were in our 30s and 40s. I just quit calling them and in one case quit returning her calls. Yeah, you will say that's cold-hearted but it's OK with me.

I have no regrets about withdrawing. I expected to; it's what my father did, and he lived to be 95.

When my mother died at age ninety 11 days after falling and breaking her hip, I was furious because she had been a victim of too much medical meddling.

Later I realized she had been slowly retreating into herself for some time and I had refused to see it. A couple years earlier she had moved me to laughter and horror when she said, Maybe it would be better for everyone if I woke up dead one morning.

Now living alone and without children, I find it hard to keep interested in things, especially with the state of the country and the world. We could all be like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. and nothing seems to get better.

I have those "What's the use?" moments. It's frightening. But like the song says, Que sera, sera.


Thank you for this most interesting discussion! At 84, I find it most germane to my life these days. Many compliments on your willingness to always so sharply engage, too!

It used to frighten me a little to notice that I seem to be disengaging, but no longer. Somehow I see it as nature’s way of gently leading me away from what in the near future, with my inevitable weakening and death, will no longer be germane. In a way, I see it as opening more space for the soul and leaving far less for “the body” (and its conceits).

I am not religious, but a lover of God, the soul, and wonderful discussions like yours. Thank you again, so much.

Sincerely, Barbara

I don't have much to add except that I think the process may be somewhat different for lifelong introverts like me (Cam noted this as a possibility). Since becoming "involuntarily retired" four months ago, I'm still working on figuring out "what's the point" since I'm no longer productive in the sense that I was for over 57 years.

I'm 78 and in pretty good health. I'm not overmedicated, walk regularly and volunteer for a cat rescue organization. I still have my wonderful husband who's in pretty good shape at 85. Obviously, I'm not ready to disengage just yet, but I can foresee that there will probably come a time when I will be. We live in a culture that actively pursues lengthening the human life span. However, I think it's possible that longevity merely for longevity's sake may be greatly overrated!

This is a wonderful and important piece, Ronni, thank you so much! Not to mention, the comments are also excellent! Glad to know I have company. AND, awright, awright, I just ordered Paths to Healthy Aging. Couldn't hurt.

At almost 78, living with my large dog and cat, I'm a lifelong extrovert, but I certainly have far fewer contacts with people than I used to. to some extent, I blame the computer--it is possible to have a fairly rich social life online. I do have continuing interests, but writing and piano playing are for the most part solitary arts. I need to really nudge myself to get out and mix it up more in the real world.

Aside: one woman I know in her mid-80s describes herself as a correspondent from an earlier generation. An interesting way to feel one is making a contribution.

I now feel a little less "weird" for having become as withdrawn as I have. Post job and post second marriage, I finally moved to Denver after wanting to for decades. My son and his family are here and they are the extent of my life and contacts. I don't know anyone else and haven't cared about making friends. I'm an extreme introvert and have rather enjoyed not "having to" be engaged with others, doing something, or being somewhere. I'm not really unhappy, just concerned sometimes that I'm abnormally withdrawn. But maybe its not so abnormal after all. Thanks. This conversation has been reassuring.

Looks like you struck a chord in a lot of your readers with this one -- including me.

In fact, at age 78 I'm going through this same set of changes right now. Glad to see/hear that it is quite common.

One thing I am most sad about is that I'm disengaging from my life-long passion to fight for civil rights for people, races, creeds and sex. I still read a lot and sign on-line petitions, but due to reduced resources cannot contribute to my old favorites like struggling liberal candidates, wildlife conservancy, and such.

It is difficult for me to let go of these passions almost as much as it is for me to let go of old friends who are passing. A raging passion and a will to fight still lingers, but the fires are dampened.

Thanks to my very verbal support of these things and my active physical participation in marches and pickets, one of my children has carried on the family tradition in remarkable fashion. The other two do too, but in a quieter and more sober manner. Both reactions please me. I am also happy to know that my heirs are passing it along to their kids, too. That is wonderfully satisfying to me.

As Bette Davis said, "Old age ain't for sissies."

We spend our lives training for a job, and when that job ends, we may feel our lives have ended too.

Maybe our roles are too limited. Earning a living seems to be what it's all about. Isn't there more to life?

Seems to me young people nowadays sense this and they're making different choices. Good for them!

Past 90 now, I'm happier as an old person than I was when young. Now I can do what I want to do - not what I'm assigned to do by others. It's great!

And yes, being introverted makes a difference. I don't need a lot of socializing. Tuning into see what Ronni and her gang have to say is plenty for me.


I believe that curiosity helps to keep me "younger" and engaged.

I've been reading Brian Grazer's book "A Curious Mind, The Secret to a Bigger Life". He's been actively seeking out people to interview and learn from since 1970. Very interesting to me.

The world is going to hell in a hand-basket and I don't want to see it anymore. There isn't a thing I can do to raise people's awareness of how our country has changed and is changing every day and that we are no longer "the land of the free and the home of the brave." The police no longer "protect and serve," "Citizens United" has put all our politicians up for sale, so-called U.S. corporations manufacture everything in foreign countries and there are fewer jobs with fewer benefits for our young people to look forward to.

You bet I'm "disengaging."

Thank-you so much for bringing up this topic. I actually have felt this happening to me this past year. This kind of pulling into myself (like a turtle).

Also asking myself what is the point. I enjoy life but not in the ways I used to. I find myself very happy to be too old to be asked to watch little ones in the family or to cook for reunions. It is acceptable for myself and husband to try to attend functions and not feel bad if we don't help with the preparations. Now we just go when we can and enjoy.

On the other hand, some days I do feel blue because I don't feel that I am contributing enough. Its something I have to work on day by day. I don't want to use my age or handicap as an excuse. I think the thing that might help me is finding something that I can do to help others.

My grandmother was in a nursing home for 3 years before her death. She had broken her hip, it didn't mend, and at that time, surgery made it worse. At any rate, at first I tried every way possible to be a light in her life, visiting often, telling her she was needed.

However, about 9 months before she died, she stopped reading anything, quit watching TV and seemed uninterested in life around her. Then she stopped eating. I finally realized she was withdrawing, and even though one of my aunts insisted on a feeding tube (have an advance directive if you don't want that!)...my grandmother quit speaking. She died a few months later.

It took me awhile to look back and see that she'd started that withdrawal from life, and I think it is normal for some at the end-stage of life. She was 92 when she died.

at the fact that I am withdrawing from former interests. As anyone who used to read my blog knows, I was nearly obsessive about politics. I ranted constantly about the Tea Party Luddites and how our country is changing (and not for the better).

A busy time in my life left no time to read everything political and when it was over I discovered that I no longer cared that much. I peruse an occasional article, read the headlines and sign a few petitions, but my interest has diminished. For the first time in my computer life I delete all the articles that I used to avidly read.

If I am still alive when the next election occurs, I may become more interested, but right now I feel so hopeless about the direction our country is taking that I don't want to think about it. Perhaps I am protecting myself from useless anger.

Once a few months ago I told my daughter that I was serving no purpose by living. She told me that she couldn't have gotten through a very rough three years without me. I hope I am helping in some small way, yet I still feel that the world will not miss me when the bell tolls for me.

I vacillate between feeling like the end is near and feeling like I will live to be 100. It all depends on whether my day is a good one or a bad one physically. I think that illness makes you withdrawn and left wondering what is the purpose of your life. And the older you get the more illnesses the average person has.

I am now plagued by a new illness; arthritis in my right hand and the beginning of the malady in my left. It makes my enjoyment of the Internet more difficult and painful. That, too, is causing withdrawal.

There are probably as many reasons that some elders withdraw as there are elders. I don't think it can be pinpointed to any one cause. Certainly the ones already mentioned are part of the reasons, but I think the basic outlook of an elder has as much to do with it as being over medicated. If the elder is able to adapt to changing circumstances and is basically a cockeyed optimist he/she will maintain a healthy attitude right up to the end. But if, by nature, they are prone to pessimism they will withdraw.

I think that you summed it up very well, Ronni, when you wrote about your experience and observation of your Aunt Edith.

Good luck in figuring it all out; I don't have an answer. I only have a few random observations.

Today I had an " aha" moment! I've been searching for a word that could describe some of the residents that live at my Independent community.

Could they have dementia, be overmedicated or depressed? I never discussed it with any of my friends here because we just accept the people the way they are

It bothered me that they were not aware of anything going on in the world, not local, foreign, TV, movies - nothing.

Now that I have the word "disengagement" as it relates to the aging process - I understand that could be the problem!

I try very hard to remain engaged, read the newspaper, books, watch TV and do some blogging . I also conduct a Yiddish class which gives me great satisfaction.

After reading your post today I realize
even though I am active I have started to "disengage."

I could make more phone calls, go to dinner more often but I'm content to be home, do what I want, when I want.

So, you could say, I'm still hanging in there!

Nearly 81, I am still curious. But, yes, my curiosity takes me closer to home these days, both in terrain and in physical friendships.

It is 'too much trouble' to travel far away but I have my photographs to remind me of interesting and cherished places.

Because I have made friends of different agees over the years , I have the good fortune of enjoying continuing friendships. But, oh yes, how I miss some of those who have gone before me in our next journey.

Even though I know we must make way for those who are yet to come.

I do sometimes draw my world about me as if it was a cocoon. Other times, I reach out. Mostly I reach for a book.

Oh, I have ailments that could keep me occupied - but unless they are "right now" inconveniences, somehow I manage to keep them at bay.

Still, like many others in this thread, oh yes, when the time comes, quickly, please.

So on the mark.. all the responses. I am still very busy as a teacher to refugees. As hard as it is for me to get out of bed in the morning and go to work..Yes, poor planning requires that I work into my seventies and may be beyond, when I see the look of joy on the faces of my adult, refugee students, when they comprehend English, it helps give me a purpose. Without a purpose to our lives, it all seems pointless doesn't it. Just waking to to another day with no responsibilities other than those to feed and clothe ourselves really can seem like we are just taking up space and resources that could better serve those younger and with more urgent needs.
So, I believe we elders need to serve.We have taken much. Now it is time to give back. There are so many younger people that could benefit from our experiences. We shouldn't wait helpless, requiring to be waited upon. If we can't or won't serve, then what is the purpose. We might as well be rocks.

Ronni, I am printing this column with all its comments, to save forever. So much thought, wisdom, and experience here, as well as (see the letter above this) passion and ethics. Thanks again.

Thanks for this post! And thank you also to all those who have made such thoughtful comments.

I have experienced disengagement in a slightly different way. I am 73 and not in the best of health. Walking is difficult, much physical activity is impossible. So I largely stay home. I keep busy here. I have family all around me. I keep a granddaughter of 10 after school and supervise her homework.

I am happy. I am content. But I am also disengaged, almost gleefully so. Are we going to the hot place politically? Too bad. I have had my time of working to correct things. I have tried to do my part in my time. Now it is someone else's time. In another year or 5 or 10 I Will Not Be Here. Why worry about it?

You may say that I have responsibilities to those grandchildren I love so much, and I do. But they are responsibilities of love and caring expressed in the here and now-today. What they make of their lives and their world will have to be up to them.

My world has become smaller, much smaller. At the same time I cannot adequately express the joy I find in my day to day life. From waking to find my old dog is right beside my bed to snuggling my cheek into my favorite pillow at night, my life is full of small joys, and I am grateful for every one of them. Sometimes that gratefulness takes a good bit of determination, but you knew that. Right?

I always enjoy reading your blog, Ronni. Today you hosted a really great discussion about a very engaging topic. I chuckled a little when you expressed dismay at taking such a long time to respond to Lynne... and then found out that her question had hit your to-do list in January. An answer by late April seems quite prompt to me.

I love checking in here not only because you are always engaging and your topics are always relevant to our common condition (getting older, and long may that be so); but also I love checking in because the comments and the community are so generally fine. And I run across people I'm acquainted with like Cop Car and Millie. And I am made aware of new (to me) people like Lynne.

So, I clicked through to CopCar's blog and there in the comments was a one liner from my old and dear buddy Stu Savory. Stu and I cross paths less these days because I spend too much of my online time in Facebook hell and not enough in the real world of the Indieweb where people make things and write and such. Mea culpa.

It was sort of an eye opener for me to scroll through the comments today and see how your community grows, but how my engagement here has diminished. I only knew a few of those with comments. Ah well, I think our online relationships can be proxies for the community engagement that keeps us going, and I know that the Facebook is a place where I can form deeper connections with people in my geographic area, so there's a trade-off.

Engagement, disengagement? I think there's a time when we can begin to let go of a lot without our friends and loved ones needing to be concerned that we're suffering clinical depression. But I think that we owe it to them to share our experience of letting go so they don't take it too personally.

I lost my BFF (friends since we were 5, daily email contact, yearly stays) a few months ago and I've felt this huge disengagement, grief I suppose, but my life touchstone is gone and I'm trying to figure things out on my own. We supported each other mightily for 65 years.
The loss of friends as we age sometimes feels insurmountable. New friends just aren't the same, the scaffolding of our lives disappears.
XO
WWW

This is a wonderful post and discussion. I'm only 63 and already feel I'm withdrawing. That's the word I use, withdrawing. I always considered it a normal phase of getting old, because I've always seen it in people older than myself. And it seems more true of men than women. My father and uncles all withdrew sooner than my mother and aunts.

How can we not think retirement is our time for waiting to die? How can we not ask, what's the point, when our whole life has been future oriented?

But for me life has always felt like I was swimming upstream, so getting older only means the swimming is harder. I take it for granted that it's going to get harder still.

I'm a big believer in Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus" where he compared living to endlessly rolling a rock up the hill. The existential solution is to find our own meaning for existence while we roll the rock.

The trouble is the older we get, the weaker our body gets, and the more our mind fails us. At some point it gets very hard to find meaning. We're still forced to roll the rock, but we've forgotten why.

I think quality of life comes from the will to find our own meaning. It's like the guy in the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande who said he was willing to fight to live as long as he could eat chocolate ice cream and watch sports on TV. Cutting out cartoons was your aunt's way of finding meaning. Our task as we get older is to keep finding things we find meaningful. But aging also causes us to drop a lot of old pursuits. That dropping aside bit is what I call withdrawing. I think as we go through life we gather hundreds of things we care about to give us meaning, but as we get old, we drop a lot of them along the roadside. I had a friend before he died who told me the only thing he still cared about was Duane Allman and Benny Goodman.

I think we all withdraw at this time of life, it's just a matter of how much and how fast. Maybe I once had 300 hundred things that were important to me. Maybe I'm down to 125. I expect in ten years that list might be down to 50. I know, at some point, if a heart attack or bus doesn't catch me off guard, it will get down to 0.

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