Morgan Darrow shares tips on how to help one's parents prepare for one of life's most difficult transitions.Morgan Darrow shares tips on how to help one's parents prepare for one of life's most difficult transitions.
It seems that all our lives we are preparing for retirement, both mentally and financially. We regularly set aside part of our budget for it, make lists of things we’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the opportunity because of our jobs and plan new living arrangements to help us adjust to this new stage in our lives.
Yet retirement can still be a strange and unexpected point of time for many. The day when we can finally forget about our careers can be surprising, unsettling and even depressing.
After more than 45 years in the workforce, my mother recently retired with such feelings. Although I can recall the cheery and enthused tone in her voice on the day of her retirement, it didn’t take more than a week before her calls became less frequent and when we did get the chance to talk, she sounded despondent.
When pressed, she confessed that she felt like she was a burden and that she was simply waiting to die.
I’d heard of many retirees who experienced such feelings, but I was shocked to hear them from my own mother, a woman who’d never seemed to doubt her self-worth and who planned everything down to the last detail. In retrospect, I should have expected such a reaction.
It’s difficult to make any huge adjustment in life and much more so when it involves work, especially for someone who has been a workaholic.
I actually felt guilty about contributing to her feelings of distress, as did many in my family. The rest of my family confessed to having difficulties approaching her, feeling that they didn’t want to “disturb her” or “stress her out.” It’s an unfortunate trend that’s all too common.
Recent retirees often become distant and isolate themselves, and family members take this as a cue that they want to be left alone.
So how can you help to prevent such negative feelings from developing in one who has recently retired?
1. Understand why retirees may be pessimistic
Negative feelings experienced by retirees are related to their worldview and self-worth. No longer obligated to work, they can find it all too easy to feel detached and lethargic. They associate retirement with stagnation, so they choose to distance themselves and stop thriving.
Retirees often view retirement as a kind of metaphorical death or even as a precursor to actual death. After they have retired, the death of a friend or a loved one can leave them constantly grieving and fearing or contemplating their own deaths.
While grieving is natural, it can quickly lead to depression. Some may feel hurt, because they now have to rely on others to provide for them. Others may feel that after retirement they’re not respected or appreciated as much. They may even feel guilty, perhaps thinking that they’re a burden for not working yet continuing to consume the family’s resources.
Such feelings inevitably lead to another common source of sorrow for retirees: financial woes. Many retirees, especially those who aren’t well-to-do financially, may feel regret for their situation. Retirement funds tend to be exhausted a decade or so after retirement and retirees without good financial planning skills can have a lot to worry about.
2. Help retirees feel valued through meaningful routines
To help the retirees in your family avoid negative feelings, encourage them to participate in family and community events. If you have family routines such as dinner preparation, lawn maintenance or grocery shopping, encourage them to participate.
Suggest something they can do with you if they seem hesitant to participate. Productive routines within their capacities are excellent ways to ensure that retirees feel like they’re contributing members of the family. If they’re part of a church, keep them up-to-date on weekly events and encourage regular attendance. Prayer is an excellent way to help them feel at peace with themselves.
Feelings of low self-worth are often instilled when their environment tells them they aren’t valuable. Establishing meaningful routines can help to improve their self-esteem, especially if they’re troubled about being financially dependent. Even those who plan their retirement carefully, as my mother had, may feel resentful for not working. So find ways to give retirees a way to contribute, which can make them feel valued in their household and in society. Even a handful of daily chores can give them a sense of purpose.
By offering love and asking for their participation, you’re conveying how valuable they are to your family. It fosters emotional support and better lines of communication for all members of the family.
At the same time, ensure that you aren’t being overbearing to those who genuinely require some quiet time alone, but don’t allow them to isolate themselves for too long, which can make them feel uninvolved, unimportant and burdensome.
3. Be a good listener
Another key to promoting positive feelings is honest and open communication. Talk with them frankly if you suspect they’re feeling inner turmoil. Provide a non-judgemental ear to hear their problems and offer counsel and affection when they need it.
Reaching out to retirees is essential, because the elderly are the second highest demographic that suffers from depression (the first is young adults). Many people wrongly identify symptoms of depression as a natural result of ageing, but this can’t be further from the truth.
So watch out for these symptoms of depression in older people:
an inability or a lack of desire to participate socially;
- refusal to talk about personal emotions;
- comments about feeling empty or worthless;
- constant and even unexplainable feelings of guilt;
- social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities or leave home);
- hints or even direct statements about suicide;
- complaints about physical pain; and,
- slow speech and lethargic in physical movement.
Major medical conditions or life-threatening events such as a stroke, heart attack or accident may cause an elderly person to become depressed. Certain medications, particularly those designed for conditions that elderly people tend to suffer from, may make them more predisposed to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Make sure you stay fully aware of any side effects of the medication your loved ones are taking. And if anyone in your family ever expresses ideas or plans of suicide, seek help immediately.
After speaking with my sister and her husband, we took steps to help our mother be a more active part of our family.
As I pulled into our driveway a few days ago after a long and hard day at work, my mother wasn’t sitting on the couch watching television as usual. Instead, she was kneeling next to a flowerbed just under our porch, wearing a sun hat and oversized gardening boots meant for my father.
“You really don’t have to take care of those now, Mum,” I said.
But she turned toward me with a big smile and said, “Don’t be silly. I haven’t even started—and it’s a lovely day!”
Saving for Retirement
If you haven’t given much thought to your own retirement, it’s never too late. Following are some tips on saving for retirement: