I can remember when families would publish photos if they had four generations living because it was not all that common.
When my sister Theresa passed away this year, she left behind five great grandchildren, something that is becoming fairly ordinary.
As the life expectancy expands, the nuclear family expands as well. I recently read that the children being born now can probably expect to live to be 100. That means that the family unit will probably expand into the fifth generation. This seems quite astounding to me because I only knew my maternal grandmother, and not that well since I was only 8 when she passed away.
I try to imagining the specter of such a multi-generational array of elders in a typical family, and it seems like something contrived - my grandmother having a living grandmother. How could that be?
I paused to watch a TV pundit recently as he spoke of the issues related to all of us living longer lives. There are social, financial, and emotional implications that are connected to longevity.
Everything that we now know about old age is based on a knowledge base that is quickly becoming obsolete.
How do you continue to provide services to this expanding group without many of them ending up in nursing homes? How does the next generation plan for financial security when they will likely live 20 years longer than mine? What about family units - will we be able to stay connected as the gap between the oldest and youngest expands?
The speaker also touched on how different life will become for those who live longer lives; a greater portion of their lives will be post-employment. That period sometimes referred to as the third stage of life — going from the newness of found leisure time to developing a plan for what comes next.
When Social Security was developed, it was based on assumptions about how long we can expect to be productive, now with the retirement age remaining relatively unchanged, we find ourselves with a 30 to 40 year span ahead of us to use at our discretion.
Many of us who are already in the post retirement stage of our lives are finding that in many ways, retirement is as complicated as the lives we led when we were working and raising families.
Unless you are content with just sitting, and watching, retirees need to work hard to find ways to make life interesting and productive, and satisfying. Yes, you can opt to only participate in some of the planned senior activities that are available, but that can lead to isolation and disconnectedness with the rest of the world.
I believe that the challenge will be to create more opportunities for intergenerational activities through which everyone can be less sequestered and more able to enjoy the things that we have in common regardless of age. I like the idea of multi-generational housing developments in which younger and older can live together. I think of how much we can learn about life from those who have lived a good portion of it already.
Daisaku Ikeda, in his book “The Third Stage of Life: Aging in a Contemporary Society,” offers us this:
“I hope that everyone can experience a third stage of life that is like a ‘third youth.’ Youth is not something that fades with age. Our attitude toward life is what makes us young. As long as we have a forward-looking, positive attitude and spirit of challenge, we will gain depth as people and our lives will shine with a brilliance that is ours alone.”
Isn’t that a brilliant way to approach the rest of your life? Isn’t that a more positive view of our later years, not necessarily as a period of decline, but as an opportunity for growth and an appreciation of your wisdom?
I want to try to keep my life as interesting as possible keeping in mind the uncertainty of life when you reach a certain age. But it’s really something we should all be doing together; figuring out how we can coexist by understanding how much we can do for each other.