The Who, in their song “My Generation,” stutter, “Why don’t you all f-fade away?” Well, we Boomers know the answer. We have never done anything quietly. As Dylan Thomas suggests, we will “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And it will be costly, as I’ve previously blogged. Read on for a Boomer perspective on how we might channel rage.
I have been surfing on the wave of what was, up until the present, the largest generation in American history. My engagement in governmental processes, like many of my generation, has been tepid until now. Vocal with a narrow circle about issues such as gender equality, our government’s overseas adventures, reproductive rights, immigration reform, wealth inequality. Lots of carping from the sidelines. Voting. Occasional donations to candidates.
Now retired, I have landed in a life that, while not luxurious, is abundant. A snug house. Able to purchase whatever I want to make for dinner without comparison shopping. Only ache when I first get up in the morning.
What has awakened me to the needs of aging Boomers is the roles in which I have become involved. Membership and leadership within a lifelong learning program for older adult. Hospice volunteer. Member of an organization that was involved in encouraging conversations about end of life wishes and their documentation. Service on an advisory committee to the local Area Agency on Aging. Participation on a state steering committee on long term care. Member of an advisory committee on our local senior center.
What I’ve learned: aging can be freeing. Less need to posture. Time to travel and connect more deeply with friends and family. Time to reflect and give back. Also true: aging can be terrifying. Eroding sense of identify and purpose. Social isolation. Geographic dislocation. Loss of friends and family. Economic anxiety. Poor health. Fear of death.
All of us Boomers will need supports when we inevitably face functional decline. Some are weathering this or will relatively easily. Receive assistance from family or friends or able to self-pay. Some lack means or will. Have to rely on help from strangers and need taxpayer assistance.
As previously noted, in all cases, our decline costs others, particularly the younger generation. Time away from jobs and family. Erosion of whatever wealth might have been passed to children or causes. Public funds that might otherwise be spent on education and healthcare.
My generation faces an ethical question: given that we will most certainly decline and die, how much is it fair to take to provide ourselves with a soft landing? And what are we willing to do to help others on the aging journey?
My personal answer to the former is being attentive to my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Making a resolution not to pursue treatment when cure isn’t possible. Planning ahead for supports to avoid excessive demands on family, friends and taxpayers. And hopefully accepting what life has already taught me: I probably can’t control what actually happens.
The answer to the second—what are we willing to do—requires a definition of “we.” We as individuals can be caregivers, care managers, volunteers, government advocates. And, if we look to government, the collective we, unless we want to spin our wheels, we need to determine who has the power and the funding to provide the desired supports. Is it the city, county, state or federal government?
Our elder years are a time for considering legacy. I think about how to contribute to a good future for our species. In the absence of great wealth to endow institutions and causes that might advance my evolving definition of “good”, I’m augmenting volunteerism with advocacy out of a concern that the absence of cost-effective supports will accelerate a wealth transfer from young to old. Not good for species survival.
Here’s what my advocacy looks like. Swallowing my aversion to public meetings and showing up. Acting on my preference for one-on-one dialogue. It’s almost always productive in finding commonalities and shared agendas. Reaching out to incumbents and candidates. Seeking collaborations between and among public and private organizations. Working with, more than against. And gradually learning the right spot at which to apply my tiny lever. The feds don’t fix street lighting. The city can’t fund long term care.
I hope my fellow Boomers use our unexpectedly long lives to good purpose. Whatever “good” means. Maybe recognizing kind-ness. Old, young and in-between, we’re the same kind, in the same lifeboat.