The great Roman statesmen Marcus Tillius Cicero in his essay Kato the Elder argues that the best antidote for old age is a purposeful life.
When people reach retirement age, the question becomes what next? The formula used to be, you work all your life, retire, and then die. In our January 2019 blog The Power of Life Narratives we stated, “Whether through age, illness, forced retirement or other reasons, when people lose outlets for living their purpose and if they do not find a way to continue living their narrative, they can fall into Erikson’s stagnation.”
Through our creativity new things are born. Famous people as well as everyday people are achieving great accomplishments in their advanced years. The late Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to freeing his native country of South Africa from an oppressive apartheid regime. For his activism, he was imprisoned for more than two decades. When he was released, he was 72 years old. He then became the first black president of South Africa four years later and the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
A second example is the woman who worked as an office manager for years at the largest social service agency in her county. She was forced to retire after 50 years of employment. Young social workers at her job were mesmerized by her stories of having to soak off filthy diapers glued to the skin of neglected children in the early days of the agency. It was clear that her heart and soul were in the agency and the children it served. Less than a month after retirement, she began working as a volunteer in an English as a Second Language program, continuing to help others and enjoying it immensely!
The National Council for Aging Care, recommends some ideas for being creative that include traveling and exercising. To that we add, learning something new and joining or creating groups that share your interest. In a recent Diane Keaton movie Poms, Keaton’s character moved into a retirement community to die when diagnosed with cancer. A neighbor asked if there was anything she still wanted to accomplish. In high school she couldn’t be a cheerleader, because she had to stay home to care for her sick mother. To fulfill that dream, Keaton’s character formed a senior cheerleader squad. These once sedentary 70-and 80-year-olds energized their lives with a new found activity and purpose…proving that creativity is the antithesis of death!
In this entry we reframe the definition of “death.” Our meaning includes types of losses and changes in life that can cause people to withdraw and become depressed, more so than a physical death. These “mini-deaths” and can be the result of various life changes and losses. Let’s look at the young man who contracted a rare illness that culminated in a leg amputation. He met that loss with creativity by designing an automatic ramp to load his wheelchair into his van. He later constructed a walker with blinking lights for easy visibility. The young man’s creativeness was not limited to inventions. He became an expert in state and federal legislation affecting provision of mental health services.
We are aware that creativity, activity and purpose do not prevent physical death, but they can significantly mute feelings of hopelessness! To modify Cicero a smidgeon, we believe that the best antidote for old age, or any type of “death” is a purposeful life and most of all…creativity!
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