How will I spend my time?
The short answer: Doing whatever you want, as long as you want. Retirement homes free up time you haven’t had before because you’ve spent it working, often doing things you don’t enjoy so much (raking leaves, cleaning out the gutter, peeling potatoes, putting away dishes, etc.) Retirement homes offer full daily activity schedules with more than enough to do. You’ll find yourself excited anew, doing things you haven’t done in ages or never thought you’d do.
“The passing of time is inevitable,” mused Simone de Beauvoir, but the way to make aging meaningful “is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning—devotion to individuals, to groups or to causes,social, political, intellectual, or creative work.” In The Coming of Age she calls aging a “ripening.” If we’re wise, she writes, we’ll view getting old as a privilege that allows us to grow deeper daily.
Beauvoir is one of many observers who believes that aging—all of living, really—can be an art. Let’s turn our culture’s youth-oriented cliches upside down: as you age, you can become more beautiful. Given the right conditions, you can deepen your exploration of your greatest loves or discover new ones, especially if you have others to share them with.
Take Rita Munro, for just one example.
Rita moved into The Village of Arbour Trails in 2020,a doubly lonesome time for her, having just been widowed as social isolation measures began. When she moved in, though, one of the first things she noticed was a need for gardens in front of the Village. She wanted to make it a pretty place to sit, or as she says, “I wanted to do something meaningful.”
She suggested to staff that they start a gardening club. Support was immediate. Wendy, an administrator at The Village, sat down with her and started planning. “We just ran with it,” says Rita. “It was terrific. We had so much support.” The club, now eight strong, all enjoy their home’s lovely first impression—and each other’s regular company.
For Rita, gardening isn’t a new passion, but it’s been revitalized since moving to the community.
It’s always been a stress reducer for me. [My career as a nurse was] a high-energy, tense sort of environment, and I used to come home to garden. All the tensions just faded in my own little paradise. It worked for me for 40 years. Now I see it working for other people here.
In an encouraging environment, and with the right people around to share them with, interests can grow, no matter what our age. On the other hand, they can fall by the wayside when things get in the way. If you’re bogged down by mundane tasks that seem overwhelming, or if you feel lonely, you can lose the sense of possibility every day. Move to a vibrant retirement home, and you’ll find opportunity to explore interests and even grow in new directions.
GROW IN NEW DIRECTIONS
“The art classes have been a great success,” says Teresa, from her home in Tapestry at Wesbrook Village in Vancouver.
“People that have never drawn or painted before have joined and are succeeding. I love seeing people happy and satisfied—and sometimes even astonished by what they create.”
She might sound like a seasoned art teacher, but teaching is new to her. She has, however, developed an artistry of living over her lifetime. Through 25 years of marriage, she lived in five different countries, raising four daughters. Later, after her husband passed, she worked for Cancer Care Ontario, supporting people dealing with cancer diagnoses through art therapy.
From the age of 12, she’s loved painting and drawing. “Art is always with me,” she says, “It’s so empowering to make something out of nothing.” Now, that lifelong passion has had breathing room to develop into teaching.
It was a very hard decision to sell my house, dispose of everything I owned, and move to a small apartment. And I never thought I would be happy…but I am. I’m happier than I ever thought I would be in Tapestry at Wesbrook Village.
She lives independently, visits friends and family, and with the support of staff and her fellow residents, her lifelong passion has evolved into something she never thought about before.
That’s what happens when you stay open to possibilities, “attuned to ourselves in ways that are new to us,” in the words of Sherwin B. Nuland. He explored this fully in The Art of Aging, a 2008 work with enduring influence. Aging shouldn’t be an abandonment of your previous life, he cautions, but a continued building on a foundation you’ve laid throughout your life.
“Later years must be approached with the conviction that they can be creative, that they can contribute to the well-being of others,” he writes. And it’s easier to be attuned to our aging selves in a setting where we’re surrounded by people our own age.
BE SUPPORTED BY OTHERS
At Wild Rose in Edmonton, Marge is one senior who never thought of herself as an artist until she moved there. Certainly, she “loved crocheting and other creative work,” and she loves how “you’ve always got something to keep you very busy” at Wild Rose. Art, though, wasn’t on her radar, until Erin Keith, the lifestyle programs manager there, invited her to a class.
We have a pretty strong group that comes out every week. They support each other. We don’t always talk a lot but instead we just support each other as we paint.
Marge found that aspect of it both appealing and encouraging. As Keith says, “People come to the group less for the artwork than to spend time with others.”
In the class, Marge has now found a new thrill. “I love it. I never dreamed that I would ever be interested in art.” She’s already expanded her interest. “I never thought I would enjoy water colours but Erin has gotten me into it, and now I prefer water colours over the acrylic.” She’s come to a new understanding of her own creativity. “I have fun with it,” she says.
Marge’s “magnetic personality”—Keith’s words—also made her an easy choice for community ambassador, welcoming newcomers. That’s how she met Molly, and over the months, they’ve “developed a deep connection,” says Molly. “We look after each other, get each other going,” says Marge. “Other people get involved, too.”
Sure enough, Molly admits, “Marge has got me painting, too. I’m now a painter.” The friends create together, as well as, per Nuland, “contribute to the well-being of others.”
Marge admits that her life before moving in was less than ideal:
Where I was, by myself in my condo, it was very lonely. But being in a community like this, you’re never really lonely. It’s home now—there really is no other word for it. It’s where you find your friends are, where your family comes to visit you.
In the words of Beauvoir, Molly’s retirement home “prevents her turning on [herself].” Along with Molly, and like Teresa, Rita, and others, she’s deepening her interests with new creative work, thanks in great part to the encouraging company of others. “We have a tendency of looking after each other here,” she says. “That means the world to us. Before I moved here, I never knew how wonderful that would be.”
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 Comfort Life Retirement Guide