Retirement is a beautiful phase when you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Unfortunately, it is also accompanied by uncertainty, which can be stressful. Melissa Nazareth discovers the secrets to enjoying a holistic life, post 60.
A dead calm befell the house as Robert Braganza shut the door behind him. Just a while ago, his world had been so lively. His grandson was unwillingly getting ready for school, engrossed in the morning cartoons blaring from the television; his son was intently reading the newspaper while sipping hot tea from a cup; his daughter-in-law was frantically running in and out of the kitchen with lunch boxes for her husband, son and herself; his wife was merrily roasting hot chapattis, beating spatula to skillet. Braganza (name changed) looked around for a bit and then habitually picked up Page 3 of the Times of India. He sat on one end of the divan, his self-designated spot, perusing colourful photos of tinsel town and travel destinations; Braganza didn’t know how to read or write. Each time he came across a scantily clad model gracing newsprint, he contorted his face and turned a new leaf. Every now and then, he looked out the adjacent window and studied the tall tree bent over an old, plastered building. The view remained unchanged, but he continued to crane his neck in expectation. Maybe he imagined he would see a different sight at some point or maybe he simply waited for his children to return. Braganza had leafed through the supplement only for the first time that day; he would go through it several times again.
Isn’t this a common scene in most homes? Even if senior family members are well looked after by their children, like in this case, Braganza was, they usually experience loneliness and boredom. Can we blame the children? Not entirely, because they have their lives to get on with and may not be able to keep their elders company all the time. So, then what’s the solution? Most of us take it for granted that our lives will forever continue as they are now. Few anticipate the changes that accompany retired life. Unfortunately, even those who do, focus primarily on financial security while planning their retirement: a house to live in, a decent bank balance to sustain daily needs, and a medical insurance just in case sickness strikes. It’s not to say that financial planning is not important. In fact, all the individuals I spoke to for this story admitted that being financially stable held them in good stead. But do we plan beyond that? Do we consider equally important aspects like spirituality, emotional wellness and physical health? And if yes, do we ponder over these well in advance or only when we’re turning 60?
75-year old Adi Kalianiwala is a former business associate who worked in the export and packaging industry. He was introduced to spirituality 30 years ago when he attended a session by Swami A. Parthasarathy and read his book, Vedanta Treatise, which appealed to him. “I decided to go to Swamiji’s Vedanta Academy and study Vedanta formally,” he says. Adi has continued to learn valuable lessons in the eternal truths of life and living, under the guidance of Swami A. Parthasarathy, to this day. He conducts classes on Vedanta in Mumbai, where he lives. “Schools only teach us how to make a living,” he says, “Not how to live.” Adi has learned that at each stage of life, be it youth, middle age or old age, challenges will persist, but a problem will only arise when we become hostage to our minds, emotions, and impulses. “The idea is to anticipate these hurdles and inclinations well in advance and rein them in, using the power of our intellect. Vedanta advises that the ages between 12 and 18 are an ideal time to begin learning how to do this.”
“Retirement is seen negatively, like life is over,” says Adi, adding that this need not be the case. “When I go to the doctors today, they tell me I have the body of a 30-year old. And look at Swami A. Parthasarathy; though he is 90 years old, he is an avid cricketer and even travels across the world!”
Professor Vijay Joshi, living in Pune, also started planning his retirement early. “40 years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to work full-time post 60. I wanted to pursue a passion close to my heart. I had diverse interests like music, philosophy, and poetry. Coming from a middle-class family, I was advised to take up a government or bank job that would secure my life, but it didn’t interest me. I believe non-financial factors are as important as financial. I kept on changing jobs, following my inner voice, and my planning centred on fulfilling moderate financial needs of life and allowing time for self- exploration.”
In 2000, Professor Joshi was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. “I had a medical insurance by that time, which greatly helped my wife and me. After I retired, I started researching on these sicknesses and came across Dr. Neal Barnard's interview on reversing diabetes. I conducted a few personal experiments with good results and later, under the guidance of Sharan India, a sanctuary for health and reconnection to animals and nature, successfully overcame my illnesses.” The former Dean and Professor at NMIMS in Mumbai, finally found his calling in the health industry, and went on to pursue a diploma and Fellowship in Applied Nutrition, besides a few online courses in diet and nutrition, after crossing 61. “My experience aroused my interest in the science of diet and nutrition, and in 2015, I started my own health consultancy, Yuktahar. Through it, I hope to facilitate others in their journey towards improving their lifestyles.”
Describing a typical day in his life, Professor Joshi says that he starts his day around 6.30am, and it includes a bit of exercise, music, and television among other things. “I don’t believe in following religious rituals,” he says, adding that he is constantly working towards bringing about ‘harmony’ in his life, which he defines as ‘equilibrium in social, spiritual, professional, emotional and intellectual aspects.’
A time to pursue passion
It’s not uncommon for individuals to find their true calling after retirement, like Professor Joshi did. In fact, many see retirement as an ideal time to pursue hobbies and get back to things they couldn’t devote much time to, when they were young and bogged down by life’s responsibilities.
Suma Varughese, the former Editor-in-chief of Life Positive, says that she does not see herself as having retired, but rather entering another phase of life, which she would like to call her ‘post-60 phase’. What she likes about this new phase is that since she is working just for herself; she can work as much or as little as she chooses to. She plans to design her new life in such a way that she strikes a fine balance between work and leisure, and hopes to make time for friends, family, as well as ticking off items on her bucket list. She also wants to realise some cherished dreams such as working for the underprivileged, learning Vedanta, and travelling. While she hopes to lead a beautiful and enriching life, the only thing she has planned are her writing courses called The Zen of Good Writing, which she intends to hold at least once a month. She hopes that life or God will fill up the rest of her platter with activities and work that call to her soul. “I am determined to do only that which I truly love, for the rest of my life,” she says firmly.
Sultan Nasikwala decided to retire a few years before 60. Winding up an established business, he moved to Hyderabad with his wife, where they live in their ancestral home; an old haveli with a huge garden, which they restored before they started living in it. “My daughter decided to pursue her higher education in the US and that’s when I decided to hang my boots,” he says. Sultan and his wife are fond of gardening and landscaping. Together, they began working on their garden, which gradually drew the attention of people in the neighbourhood. Today, they are sought after landscapers and take up small projects for schools and hospitals in Hyderabad, to supplement their income. “We don’t need too much money to lead a happy and comfortable life,” he says, adding that they manage well with their savings and what their daughter sends them.
Tholoor Thomas is a former finance professional and author living in Kerala, following 40 years of employment in Bahrain. He keeps travelling to Bahrain, where his daughter lives and to the US, where his son lives. When Thomas was planning his retirement, he was clear that he wanted to continue using his rich experience and expertise in investment and banking. Additionally, he wanted to relax and travel to countries he had not been to before. He did all of these things and even published two books: The Bull Run and Inside the Foreign Exchange Universe. Thomas has learned that while it’s important to plan, one must also be prepared to face unforeseen challenges. “Having lived in Bahrain for most part of my life, settling down in Kerala, my hometown, was difficult. Adjusting to a different geo-political environment was not easy either. I gently settled in, giving myself enough time to adapt, and each day, I am moving an inch closer to feeling at home in a new place.” Thomas lives a disciplined life, sleeping on time, and making prayers and a bit of jogging part of his routine.
Ignatius D’souza also finds adapting to a new place post retirement, difficult. “I had a spiritual inclination to retire about eight years back,” he says. “I was 56 and saw that my kids were settled. Besides, I didn’t want to work all my life and decided to move to Mumbai.” Having lived in Qatar for better part of their lives, Ignatius and his wife, Alice, anticipated some difficulty relocating to a new city and prepared for it. “It’s been six years since we shifted, and though we’ve quite settled in, we do miss our home in Qatar.” Ignatius believes that retiring has its perks too. “I am now able to do things I couldn’t do when I was working; physical fitness, for instance, is something I’ve been able to focus on better.”
Young at heart, Rohini Sunderam, a Canadian author of Indian origin, kind of always knew she wouldn’t want to be fully retired. “If I don’t have a job to do as in a specific task, I feel like I’m at a loose end,” she says. A freelancer, she does active, volunteer work with the Bahrain Writer’s Circle and is currently editing two books. The semi-retired advertising copywriter’s published works include Corpoetry, Desert Flower and Five Lives, and One Day in Bahrain, among other co-authored titles.
Dr. Coomi Vevaina, who recently retired as the Head of the Department of English, University of Mumbai, is now a part time teacher at the University. She believes she is free to pursue her passions after 60. She found her calling in the teaching profession a long time ago. “I remember asking Santa for chalks and a board, year in and year out, after the age of three,” she says, adding that she had resolved at that early age to become a teacher or nothing. Coomi was introduced to connecting with the world of angels in 2009 and, since then, as both a Doreen Virtue and Diana Cooper Foundation- certified teacher, has also been hosting spiritual workshops in addition to teaching, training teachers and parents, and conducting storytelling workshops. A lover of literature, psychology and education, she combines her knowledge and experience in both, spirituality and science, at her workshops and one-on-one sessions with children, corporate institutions and adults. Coomi believes that life is about being alive to and accepting the present moment. She also emphasises the need to maintain a healthy balance, no matter what one does. “I have a practical approach to life which is why I decided to continue teaching; not only is it a joyful experience for me but it also helps me pay my bills.” That said, this nature lover balances her work with other important aspects like maintaining her physical fitness and spiritual regime. She practices yoga and walks for four kms. every day, says her prayers for 20 minutes every morning, and truly lives in oneness with all of creation.
80-year old Janaki Swamy, a homemaker, lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Canada. She keeps travelling to Mumbai where some other members of her family live. She says, “A home-maker never retires! But in my case, my late husband was very conscientious about planning meticulously for both our retirements. He was an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Air India and ensured that he kept his passion for writing alive with many published articles to his credit. After his retirement, we collaborated in running a features syndicate that provided content to many national and international publications. That kept us both busy. He also published books, written after retirement, and I am glad I could support his work with my administrative skills. As for myself, thanks to my music and my passion for gardening and civic activism in my Mumbai neighbourhood, my post-retirement life has been quite active. We had been out of India for quite a while, due to my husband’s transfers and once we retired to India, we spent the first years happily re-acquainting ourselves with family and friends and fulfilling our community obligations. This eased the way for us into full-time and productive retirement.”
Embracing and honouring death
Like ageing, death too is an inevitable part of an individual’s life. And let’s accept, we fear it and are ill-prepared to meet it. Yet, aging forces us to look it in the eye. But instead of dreading it, it is possible to plan our passing in the most comfortable manner.
The late Louise Hay who passed away two months ago said, “We don’t have to become deathly ill. We don’t have to be hooked to machines. We don’t have to lie suffering in a nursing home in order to leave the planet. There is a tremendous amount of information available on how to stay healthy and live life to the fullest. Don’t put it off, do it now. Instead, when it is our time to leave, when we have accomplished what we came here to do, we can take a nap, or go to bed at night, and leave peacefully.”
She led an active, fruitful, and healthy life, even in her twilight years, and passed away in the exact manner she had wanted—peacefully in her sleep.
She crafted her death much like her life, through the power of positive thinking, believing and affirmations.
Many courageous couples develop a very refined understanding of this process of life and handle it quite pragmatically.
Janaki goes on to explain how her life in this new phase, after her husband passed away, is not something that’s happening out of the blue. “For the past year, our conversations always centred around the choices we had, were the other to pass away. After all he was past 85 and I am 80! I am deeply grateful for those conversations because it helped us both to prepare for the parting. I certainly felt the separation, but it failed to make a dent in my life, as our philosophical understanding was strong. Couples must always discuss and reflect upon death and one’s plans for life, after a loved one’s demise. That is as important as discussing life’s activities after retirement. If you are single, do so with loved ones and your circle of family and friends.”
Ignatius D’souza shares how he and his wife miss their children who are settled in Australia. “We feel insecure thinking about the possibility of something happening to us. We try to overcome this fear through prayer and deepening our faith in God, as well as positive thinking. I’ve always been a spiritual person. Moreover, our children’s support and guidance give us tremendous hope.”
Rohini Sunderam’s personal fears also revolve around losing her husband. “We have talked this over several times and my husband has given me a cheat sheet of who to contact—other than family of course—what to do, and how. And I have done the same.”
Speaking of her fear of death, retired home maker and successful tuition teacher, Prema Rao admits that sometimes she gets anxious about it, more so because she lives alone. She lost her husband few years ago and her children, who immensely support and visit her often, live out of India. “I always pray to God to give me grace and strength,” she says, “especially when I feel worried about life.” Prema wakes up at 5.30 every day and after her morning ablutions, goes for a walk. “I am regular with my walks and live a disciplined life” she says. How did she cope with the death of her husband? “My husband had been ill for a while before he passed away. All those years of holding the fort for both of us made me stronger than ever. I still remember, my husband once told me, ‘Prema, when I have you as my support, I don’t need anyone else.’”
Fear and insecurity are common emotions among retired individuals. Most choose not to think about death, let alone prepare for it because we are conditioned to believe that it is a bad thing. We approach death from a place of fear; fear of the unknown and a desire of not wanting to let go. Adi Kalianiwala has learned that fear stems from three things: fear of the unknown, fear of losing what we are attached to, and fear of consequences. Many retired individuals fear losing their partners because of their attachment to their partners. Once they realise this, they are in full control of their fear and can better decide how to deal with it. Again, fear of consequences creeps in when you know you’ve done something wrong and will have to face the outcome. For instance, if you’ve indulged in vices like smoking and alcohol when you were young, you fear it will affect your health when you grow older.
It’s important to change our perception and accept death as a part of life, to be honoured and revered as one of the most sacred elements of life. We can take a cue from nature for this. Kat Blais, co-founder of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, shares in a blog post, a retrospective account of the experience she and her colleagues had days before the death of their first rescue elephant, Barbara. A couple of weeks before her death, Barbara, who usually wandered to the far reaches of the sanctuary, stayed close to the other elephants. Each day, a different elephant from the group would remain alongside her, graze with her and walk quietly and delicately, as if it understood at what juncture she was. Blais even writes about the deaths of elephants who passed away after Barbara; how some of them seemed to wait, hang on until their friends were okay before they finally let go; how some seemed to have energy within that needed to be released, anxiety that needed to be processed, fear that had yet to be relinquished or love that needed to be shared. She believes every elephant that crossed over led them not only to honour death but embrace it as an integral part of life and one’s personal journey. Drawing parallels from this experience she concludes that losing a loved one is always painful. The challenge, however, is to realise that this sorrow, fear, and often, greed, is ours, not that of the dying. Our gift to them is to honour whatever it is that they need to pass; do they need to be alone or surrounded by family; do they carry unspoken feelings that need to be shared; do they simply need to know that those of us who will be left behind will be okay?
Victor E Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, talks about ‘Existential Vacuum’ which he states as the underlying cause of the crises of pensioners and aging people. He writes, “Let us consider, for instance, ‘Sunday neurosis.’ That kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest. Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them. This is also true of the crises of pensioners and aging people. Moreover, there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes, the frustrated will to meaning, is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure.” Frankl emphasises that in order to heal and avoid further relapses, one must find meaning or purpose to live.
Ten years ago, watching my maternal grandfather sitting on that couch and going through his tedious routine touched me deeply. I clearly remember 19-year-old me thinking that it’s so important to learn how to enjoy your own company and discover a passion or develop a hobby that can keep you busy. I even discussed this with my parents and urged them to learn how to spend time alone. Being 30 years shy of my official retirement, I have already started preparing; as a single child to working parents, and now a wife to a businessman who spends quality rather than quantity time with me, it’s been a touch easier than it would for most.
I told a friend, who is around 50 years old, about how we become less malleable as we grow older. He just looked at me and smiled, surprised that I could consider myself rigid and old at 30. He went on to say that though our physical bodies are prone to ageing, our minds are what we can and must empower, because we will only feel as young and flexible as we believe ourselves to be. Like Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
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