Retirement is Not An End

Marlene Chan moved to Montreal after retiring from a thirty-year career in Ottawa with the Federal government. In this delightful video she talks about how she first fell in love with Montreal as a young woman and why she seized the chance to make it her retirement home.

Marlene is inspiring in so many ways. She recently went back to school and earned a degree in the History of the Book, a Masters in Research from the London School of Rare Books. She participates actively in the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning where she’s co-moderated several study groups, and one of the off-shots was a Symposium on 21st Century Age Friendly Habitat.

“You have to think about retirement before you leave the job that has defined you for so many years,” Marlene says. “It can’t be done at the time of retirement, you have to think about it very much earlier. There’s a wealth of opportunities for people who are retiring. Don’t think of retirement as an end.”

The photo below shows Marlene surrounded by the staff from the video production, which was done by CUTV Concordia University Television. The video is part of a collaboration with YES Montreal's “Impact Dialogue Series”, which aims to decrease social isolation among seniors, engage seniors with their community, and promote intergenerational learning. In the 4-part video series they are highlighting inspirational seniors from a variety of backgrounds and Marlene was a perfect choice.



What’s Your Legacy

When we hear about someone who has been killed in a car accident we regret the senseless loss of life and grieve for those who have lost their loved one. We are also reminded of our own mortality. These stories about lives that are cut short abruptly without forewarning are deeply disturbing because we assume our life stretches off into the far distance. We like to think we’ll have plenty of time to think about our legacy; time to compose meaning to our lives; time to figure out our life’s purpose; time to make amends, time to clean up our messy lives. But what if we don’t? Would our time on earth have made a difference to anyone or anything? What would we be leaving behind for those we love? What responsibilities would be left dangling? These are the tough questions I’m exploring in my latest book on legacy.

The book examines the multiple elements, both material and non-material, that form a legacy - from living a conscious life that makes a contribution, to writing our wills and recording our lives. You’ll find stories about people trying to align their lives with their values and those who are struggling to write equitable wills. Interspersed with these widely shared challenges are eclectic tales about bequeathing tattoos and accounts of legacy bots using artificial intelligence so our digital selves can live forever.

I wrote the book for people of all ages because our one precious life could end any day. And the book offers insights for everyone regardless of assets. My findings are a reminder that we’ll be leaving a legacy – like it or not – so we’d be wise to pay attention. By living with an eye to a-future-without-us we benefit doubly by enhancing our present at the same time as we are forming our future legacy.  Look for the book in late December/ early January.


Finding Purpose

There’s a theme that keeps recurring in my books. Whether I’m getting advice from elder role models, figuring out the best home for a long life, or talking with men about their retirement, the need to find purpose is a powerful mantra. I’m writing a new book on legacy, which examines the importance of living a life driven by positive values and community commitment. By living a life of purpose we have an impact in the here and now, and our contribution keeps giving after we’re gone.

Sometimes we feel we have nothing to give. We may be overwhelmed with our own personal challenges; we may have health issues; we may doubt we have a skill or talent that would make a difference. But, in truth, we always have the capacity to contribute something to someone, or something. And by giving back we also receive. I found an eloquent example of this truth in Daniel Gottlieb’s book - Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. Gottlieb started to write these letters to his grandson Sam when Sam was born. At that point, Gottlieb had been a quadriplegic for twenty years as the result of a car accident. His letters to his grandson share his experience as a practising psychologist, combined with the insights he gained from his disability.

The memorable incident happened about two weeks after Gottlieb’s accident. At that point, he was thinking he would prefer death to being a quadriplegic. He was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to monitors and tubes, his skull bolted in a fixed position, and he began to hope he would never wake up. That night, a woman he was unable to see clearly sat beside his bed and asked if he was a psychologist. When he replied “yes,” she asked if she could talk to him. In a voice not much more than a whisper, she explained that someone had left her. She had an unbearable sense of aloneness and was having thoughts of suicide. Because he understood her pain so deeply, Gottlieb was able to listen with great compassion. After they finished talking, he offered her a referral, and he was certain he’d been able to help her. It was at that moment that Gottlieb knew he could live as a quadriplegic. “Everyone else had been trying to convince me that I was still a worthwhile person, but the only way I could really learn that lesson was from someone who asked something of me.” That evening they likely saved each other‘s lives.


It's Also Blessed to Receive

Coquitlam Men's Shed

Doug Mackie knows a lot about aging but admits to being surprised at a recent life lesson. Doug is the founder of the Men’s Sheds movement in Canada and it was his daughter who inspired him to start the program. “She learned about the Australian Men’s Sheds in a chance conversation at a conference,” he explains. “She immediately called me and told me to go online, learn about Men's Sheds and start one. Of course I did just as she told me and opened the first Men's Shed in North America in Winnipeg. That was over eight years ago. Now there are fourteen Men's Sheds in Canada, from Quebec to BC, with funding in place for one to open in Summerside, PEI. Worldwide, there are now close to 2,000 Sheds.”

Now comes the lesson. On a bitter January day (-44°C with the wind chill), Doug fell on some ice and broke one rib and cracked another. “It’s no fun for a 76-year-old very busy guy to suddenly have to stop nearly everything,” he says. “I know I need to put this in context - I didn’t hit my head, wrench a knee nor break a hip! But when I learned they can do nothing for cracked ribs other than pain killers and rest, I knew I was in for a new experience! I am very lucky to have a 25-year-old son and a 26-year-old daughter who live in Winnipeg and both have stepped forward as excellent and firm caregivers. So this is new for me - learning to rely on my family members. It’s humbling - but has turned out to be very rewarding.”

This was one of my big lessons from You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? To retain your independence you must learn to accept help. It’s not easy being on the receiving end when you’ve always been a giver, but as Doug found out – learning to receive has its own rewards.

If you’d like to know more about the Canadian Men's Shed Association, Doug would love to talk to you about it. Send us a quick note by clicking this link and we will connect you.

Vanderhoof Men's Shed


Gratitude for the Perfect Home

Gratitude fills the air this time of year. Many of the stories I’ve received give thanks for homes and communities that are sustaining and supporting us as we age. Jean has given me permission to tell her story. When I interviewed Jean for The Perfect Home For a Long Life she was 70 years old and living in a second-floor suite of rooms in a rambling 1910 heritage home owned by a childhood friend. Several years earlier her marriage had fallen apart and she was happy to retreat to the welcoming sanctuary of this home-like environment. That was four years ago. A couple of months ago Jean broke her ankle in one of those classic accidents, stepping the wrong way on a curb outside the store while her arms were laden with groceries. The break was bad enough that surgery was required to insert metal supports to shore up the bones. She’s still in recovery with probably six more weeks to go. You know it’s serious when the doctor says you aren’t allowed to put any weight on your leg - for months.

At this point, you’re probably trying to envision Jean struggling on one leg up the precarious narrow stairway of the hundred-year-old home - but your imagination is failing. There are 15 stairs by the way, and the same number to get into the house from the street. Knowing these old homes you would have guessed accurately that there are few bathroom facilities on the ground floor – in this case, only a toilet and tiny sink, with no bath or shower, but the room is too narrow for a wheel chair or walker, anyway.  Regardless, there is no room on the ground floor available for Jean to stay – even temporarily.

But Jean’s timing was impeccable. About a year and a half before her accident she realized it was time to move and her one criteria was that the building should have an elevator. One of Jean’s friends noticed a well-priced condo was available in an ideal location, and another friend with interior design skills helped ease Jean's apprehension about downsizing to a 600 sq. ft. home after being used to a large house. “I was so worried about the size and shouldn’t have been,” Jean says. “This darling apartment is perfect for me. It’s cozy, has a great view, and is really bright. There’s a balcony that’s just right for sitting on and growing a few things. And I’m on the top floor so I can hear the rain on the roof.  I’m grateful that when the universe gave me a thump and broke my ankle I was living here. I'm in the perfect place for my three-month recovery. First I hopped around with a two-wheeled walker and now I’ve graduated to a knee scooter and I scoot around happily. I hope I don’t have to move again until I’m carried off.”