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Planning Retirement Online


                         February 2010

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Maggi’s personal ‘end of year audit’.

A year or two ago I wrote about someone who had, to her immense joy, found a brother she didn’t know she had. He is now a treasured member of the family, as though he had always been there – and in a way perhaps, he had. Now, although with a very different outcome, I know  a little of how she felt.

I have been looking back over 2009, taking stock and looking forward to this New Year with hope and anticipation.

It is a fact of life that we never know, however carefully we plan ahead, what the future holds for us. At the beginning of 2009 my husband and I risked starting a new life many miles from the house we had loved for many years. Things took unexpected turns and we lived a very different year to the one we hoped and planned for.

Year in, year out we had talked of making the move out of London and back into the country but had never quite agreed the right conditions for doing it. There was no immediate reason why we should leave our wonderful neighbours and friends, the pleasant ‘village in the city’ surroundings and nearness of many of the advantages of busy London life. Yet beneath our active and happy day-to-day existence was a knowledge that time was taking a toll of ever limiting financial circumstances and increasing age leaving us with fewer years in which to cram the many things and places we still wanted to explore. We slowly came to accept that selling our London house would free us financially to realise these wishes.

Through pure good luck we have found the perfect small country market town which answers many more of our needs than we ever thought possible and we have resolved to stay right there.

Yet the year we had waiting for us was to give us a true test of the real essence of life. By that I mean the way we worked as a couple, how friends new and old have helped and supported us and kept us focussed on where we want to be.

One of the reasons I wanted to move was to be a little closer not just to sons and grandchildren, but closer to my two brothers, living in my home village still and unwittingly holding my subconscious anchor. The pull towards our childhood home can be a powerful force as we age and I recognised this, though knew that living back in the village was not what I needed.

As we were settling into our new home and enjoying the growing feeling that we had done the right thing, my eldest brother was becoming seriously ill. 2009 became a test of physical and emotional stamina for him and all those close to him.

My brother had an advanced cancer, diagnosed too late to treat with anything other than palliative care. Throughout the late spring, summer and autumn I spent as much time with him as I could, renewing my childhood closeness to him, talking with him of our mutual past – such a pleasure - and what lay ahead for him – such sorrow.

Throughout this time my husband kept a quiet eye on me, running our new home and ever at the ready with a glass of wine when I returned after a few days with my brother, too emotionally tired to think clearly and totally absorbed in the sad progression of events. This was one of the tests I spoke of. I felt unable to be emotionally available to anyone to any significant level and yet there was my man, sorting out daily tasks and ready to listen - or accept silence. In short he was able to recognise my needs and act on them before his own. In turn I felt able to ask for things knowing they would given if at all possible.

Holidays were cancelled several times and our social life kept at a very low level. My own physical state became one of blinkered unawareness, I just got on with whatever task was at hand, made no plans, went nowhere much and spent spare time tending the prolific tomato plants my brother had given me.

My closest friends made themselves quietly and unobtrusively available to me, sending texts or emails to keep in touch and listening whenever I felt the need to talk with them.

After my brother died I had time to reflect on our year. We had uprooted ourselves from our familiar area, full of good intentions and in hope of an interesting, perhaps even exciting year of resettling and exploration. What we got was a year of putting life on hold, with a few short interludes. My friends yet again proved why I treasure them and my husband held me together while getting on with his own interests and made new friends that have welcomed us both into the life around us.

What did I learn last year? That none of us should put off things we want to do or say. Sometimes it is left until too late, and there is no way to make up for the sense of loss that can cause.

I promised my brother that, wherever possible, I would do what I wanted rather than what I thought I ‘should’ do from now on; that I would care for my health, never dismissing any symptom without establishing the possible cause; and that all the good things I have saved for my later years, I would begin now, not wait until I felt ‘old’ enough. And, that I would relish every moment of pleasure from the company of my husband, our family and my friends.

I have begun to make up for being rather late in getting to know our neighbours and I’m enjoying visiting old friends. We have both joined in activities in our little town and found so much more here than we had hoped for. We know we have made the right decision and are both ready to grasp life by the scruff of the neck while we still can!

The German poet, playwright and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sums up such experiences thus:

Only by joy and sorrow does a person know anything about themselves and their destiny. They learn what to do and what to avoid.”

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it”

May you all find enjoyment and boldness in this New Year.



You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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