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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 37

It could be you....   

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.

How we feel about getting older

Recent conversations with older people have highlighted the fascinating variety of ways to face - or not face - the ever-shortening period of life left to us as we live into the eighth decade and beyond.

A friend said to me a while ago, " I have mostly the past, very little future; all I have left is the present. And I shall live it." Although I have some way to go yet before joining this noble band of 70-and-80-somethings, I have been considering how I might feel when I reach that stage of later life.

I have watched and talked with many elders and been filled with admiration - and hope – by their determination and even 'joie de vivre'. Although sometimes house-bound through arthritis or heart or respiratory problems, they remain interested in life, gossip, politics, sport, as well as their friends and family.

In an account of the tributes in the House of Lords to former Prime Minister James Callaghan, who died recently, (on the eve of his 93rd birthday), his daughter Baroness Jay said that he had been looking forward to resuming his place in the House after the coming election. He was one who "never lived in the past", and he was anticipating "a good crop of raspberries in his garden in July".

That isn't so for everyone. Interest and determination can be severely shaken for some people, as more and more in their circle become ill, and as they find a growing frequency of funerals to be attended. Yet attending funerals can have a strange bonding effect - meeting friends or colleagues from working days. Funerals provide the opportunity to reminisce and many people rather enjoy such occasions despite the sadness. But, of course, as the years go by the group grows smaller.

One spry 91-year-old lady says she has run out of friends and funerals to go to. She's the only one of her social group left. Now she relies on a few young friends in their 60s and 70s for company. Others have expressed feelings of loneliness, of not belonging to today's bustling world. They feel detached and see that as the beginning of their own leave-taking.

I meet once-vital people, who, though still healthy and physically able are starting to tire of the everyday pleasures that have sustained and entertained them for decades. Unlike Jim Callaghan, while still tending their garden, they are less enthused by the signs of another spring and the appearance of the first bright green leaves or shoots.

"I've seen it all before"... "Everything is so much worse than it was"... A journalist who worked for many years on a national daily newspaper coined a phrase that seems to have echoed down the years through those who knew him. "Progress means deterioration", he would say, and his old colleagues would nod sagely and murmur in agreement, noting also the wry humour with which he said it.

There is an unspoken assumption that by the time you reach your 70s or 80s, you will have experienced loss many times and will now be more able to cope with it.

Not true.

Grief in later life is about so much more than the loss of another contemporary. It involves the memories of shared experience, good and bad, the loss of connection, memories of youthful vigour and the realisation that there is nothing to do but adjust to the situation.

One 85-year-old compared being old and being young to the difference between a traction engine and a Ferrari. He said, "When you travel slowly it's so much harder and takes much longer to change direction". Coping with change requires insight and humour and resilience. It also needs help.

We, in younger age groups, need to make room, and time, to listen to older friends and family, and to adjust to their pace. We may have to accept that, as time goes on, there may be less desire and ability in older people to change at all.

If you are one of the older visitors to the website who identify with this experience, be reassured, it is absolutely normal to take time, to feel sad and to grieve or feel lonely. But do talk to a friend, a relative, or, if you don't have anyone to confide in, ask your GP to book you some time with the surgery counsellor. You can always post a note in our Laterlife Caf?- it is a friendly and welcoming forum. There may well be others who share your feelings and you could make some good new friends.

Remember, you have many amazing qualities – not least your open and enquiring mind - after all, you use new technology in to keep in touch through laterlife.



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

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling Index page



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