Having spent the last decade in elder law, it is easy to begin to wonder where is the “gold” in the “golden years.” Or is it just fool’s gold?
Day after day, I see seniors and their families frustrated that they spent a lifetime saving up a nest egg that is not ultimately spent on a travel or recreation, but instead on health care and nursing home bills.
But I took a trip last week that renewed my belief in the promise of the golden years. I visited my Aunt Natalie and Uncle Don at their Active Retirement Community in Fort Myers, Florida. Their condo is not a fancy ocean-front property. But it is lovely unit in a building that sits on a golf course. Eight other similar buildings neighbor it in the same gated community.
Steps away they have access to golf, tennis, pickle ball, swimming pools, wood-working, ceramics, stone-carving, billiards, poker games, bridge tournaments, Zumba, yoga, and a very large dance hall. And here is the kicker- the residents actually use the facilities.
Uncle Don couldn’t join Natalie and me for our 7:00 am tee-time because it would interrupt his 8:30 am three sets of tennis. Oh, and he’s 86. One of Nat’s friends who did play with us, insisted on starting early because she didn’t want to be late for her Zumba class. I shook hands with a 94 year old golfer on the back nine whose palms were soft as my wife’s. As I toured the facility, I met a man in the woodworking shop sanding down his latest creation, and a man in the lapidary room who was carving coasters.
They meet for cocktail hour every night, leave their doors and windows unlocked, and pop into one another’s condos unannounced throughout the day. It’s like being in college without all the studying. In short, I’ve never been around a happier group of people in my life.
It would be easy to write off Natalie and Don’s happy existence to the advantages of the warm weather and Florida sun. But as I flew home, I realized that this couple leads a very similar life when they are back home in Northern Kentucky. Their schedule is extremely busy with golf and Zumba and tennis and bridge and table tennis. The only difference is the activities are not outside their door. They make a commitment to get there.
And that’s the key – the commitment. It is so easy for all of us, of any age, to fall into a habit of staying at home on the couch. It’s safe and comfortable, but is it happy? There is a big world out there of activities that may pique your interest, and people to share those passions with you. You just have to commit to getting yourself out of the house and discover them. If you are anything like Uncle Don and Aunt Natalie you’ll also find that you are happier, healthier, and anything but a fool for putting the gold into your golden years.