Maggie Kuhn became a woman to be reckoned with when she was forced to leave her job at the age of 65. Because of that and the deplorable conditions of nursing homes at the time, she formed the Gray Panthers movement. In 1970 it was mandatory to retire at the age of 65. She also was caring for her own disabled mother and a brother who suffered from mental illness.
She became an activist not only for the aging in America, but also for young people, stating that both ends of the spectrum were a resource that had gone untapped for generations The Gray Panthers took on other issues as well.
Maggie had a great outlook on the value of growing old. I agree with her philosophy for the most part. I do believe that the elderly (65 and over) have a very useful place in society. We don’t need to be condemned to a recliner for the rest of our lives, eating chocolates and preparing for our funerals. We still have much to offer. Thankfully the mandatory retirement age has been lifted, but fewer jobs are available for us old fogies because we can’t physically do what we used to. However, if we still possess our mental abilities, there’s no stopping us. We can provide mountains of experience to the young generation – giving them tools for their futures and encouragement for the here and now.
If we have a passion for something, we have the means to provide that same passion to someone else. When we reach that “actual” time of retirement, there are so many ways to keep living. If we opt for the recliner and chocolates, we can be sure that the funeral will soon follow. The minute we stop doing – is when we stop living.
When it came time for us to place my mother in law in a nursing home, it was heartbreaking, but she suffered from mental illness and this was the best thing for her. Her new residence caused her to thrive and she went on to live there for several years.
My own mother died in a hospital bed, but time she spent with us for the last seven years of her life were full of an exemplary example for our children and grandchildren. Those few years also served as a time of togetherness for her and me.
Now as my husband and I approach our 76th year of life, we could call it quits and give in to the stereotypical elderly couple – who has their share of accidents, some health issues and less energy than when we were 50. On the other hand, we can still hold classes for others – teaching them the love of art and theater – doing our own housework, grocery shopping, write a blog or creating art every day. We can even shovel five inches of snow off our driveway (AGAIN!)
Growing old doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It’s all a matter of attitude. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lean on the One who carries all our burdens.