Advice for retirees
This is our Linggo ng Parangal at the University of the Philippines, an entire week where, each day, we give awards to a particular sector for its achievements and contributions. It has been exhausting, but fulfilling, particularly one program we have for retiring faculty and staff.
I thought I’d share a modified version of the speech I delivered yesterday for these retirees, many of whom have devoted their entire adult lives to service:
I would like to thank you by offering some advice on retirement. I think I’m entitled to give this advice considering that I am a fellow senior citizen, with retirement just around the corner.
What I want to share comes from my own experiences as a happy old man, inspired by other happy old people. I have learned, too, from watching unhappy older people, whose misery makes me feel very sad because old age really should be the golden years of life.
Counting our blessings
My advice is simple.
First, be grateful for what we have gotten from life. Many of you will remember how we thought of our grandparents as very old, even if they were only in their 50s or 60s. Today, when people in their 60s die, we say, “Oh, how very young.”
We should be grateful for the many advances in medicine, as well as in economic and social development, that have allowed us to live longer. Beyond those advances, we live longer, too, because of the love and care received from relatives and friends.
I see many older people who are unhappy because they keep thinking the world owes them more. We think we deserve more recognition, more money, more of everything.
Many years ago the then president of Ateneo, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, delivered a speech observing that instead of being “old fools,” we can become “holy fools,” people who, as they age, realize that “being human is more important than self-image, role, power, prestige or possessions.”
Let’s think differently. If we count our blessings, rather than our entitlements, we just might find that we owe the world.
Second, because we have gotten so much from life, from friends, we should be giving more as we age.
When I was a graduate student in the Netherlands, my adviser, who was about 60 years old at that time, told me he had started to give away his books. You can’t take it with you, he reminded me. Now that I am in my 60s, I’ve started to do that as well, and not just books.
In these hard times, we may end up even having to help our children and their families. Rather than complain about this as a burden, we should be happy to help. Give our children a chance to help themselves, for example, by starting a business (or turning over the business to them), or offering to support some of our grandchildren’s school expenses.
Think, too, of supporting scholarships for the many young people in need. Get active with your alumni associations—for high school, for college—to raise funds for more scholarships.
Our generosity does not always have to be material.
We can give volunteer time with communities, with civic organizations.
Charity begins at home. In our old age, we may find ourselves having to stay home much more, helping to care for a loved one. I’ve seen how this compassion can change people—including my father, a former hard-line “boss,” becoming kinder, and happier—as they care for an ailing spouse.
Stay active, stay in love
Third, stay active, physically and mentally. The advances in science have allowed us to live, not just longer, but better. The most important advice is to keep physically active. This does not have to be working out in the gym. Walking is one of the best exercises.
Keep our minds active, too. Read. Surf the Internet, but keep away from the sites that might cause heart attacks.
Go back to school. One of my students this semester is a 70-year-old lawyer doing his PhD in anthropology, after picking up a master’s degree in sports science.
Dr. Jacqueline Dominguez, an authority on geriatric care, told me that “formal” dancing (she does not like the term “ballroom dancing” because of the connotations on dancing instructors) works wonders for the elderly not just as physical but also mental exercise, because memorizing the steps is exercise for the brain.
Fourth, stay in love. Now is your chance for a second honeymoon with your life partner, who I hope is your one and only. I hear from elderly friends about how they find out new things about their partners after retirement. Be bold, but don’t attempt acrobatics that might break your bones. Glasses and dentures are optional.
I want to give special advice to our men. If your wife was managing the house and the family when you were working, do respect her space. Many elderly women complain that after their husbands retire from work, they still want to be the manager or director, this time of the house.
If you are a widow or widower, or have never married, consider single-blessedness. Why look for new headaches? I’ve been told many times by widows and widowers and my fellow matandang (old) bachelors and bachelorettes. Stay “in love” with all the loved ones around you.
Now if fate unfolds so that someone does find you, well and good. But make sure you don’t become the headache, or heartache, that you were so fearful of early on.
Finally, do come back to visit your office, your friends. But again, respect their spaces. You are retired now, let the younger ones run the office. Don’t offer advice unless you strongly feel you have to. You will find that the more quiet and respectful you are, the more the young ones will come to seek your counsel, rather than running away and hiding.
Postscript: After finishing this essay, I thought I should write another one giving advice to those who are caring for retirees. Give me time to work on that.
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