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Senior Citizen's Guide

Life After Retirement

My great aunt loved to tell the story of the day we were all seated around the dinner table and she asked me to say grace. I did; I said the word "grace". I don't remember the incident. Maybe I was trying to be funny or just didn't know that "grace" meant a dinner prayer. Or perhaps my husband is correct and I was just unaccustomed to speaking directly to God. But what does he know?

I thought about this incident the other day as I visited and had lunch with an elderly friend. She very quietly and calmly bowed her head and said a whispered prayer before and after her meal. I don't know if anyone else around the table noticed or not. She didn't make a big thing of it. She just did it, I suppose, as she had all her life.

My friend is 92 years old. During our private conversation she asked me if I had a clue as to why she was still living. I suggested that maybe it was in order to teach me to pray.

This brought my mother-in-law to mind. Betty lived to be 96 years old, and she would often ask me that same question. She seemed frustrated at times, almost as if she was not entitled to the longevity, especially when she would learn of a young person's death.

For the last 10 years of Betty's life she could not walk. She had no savings and her social security benefits were under $500 a month. So what could she accomplish?

She was the taker of the bingo money on Tuesday night at her senior hi-rise apartment building. Her friend, Anna, would push her wheelchair to the bingo room, and Betty would collect the money as people came to play - even though she couldn't play herself because macular degeneration had taken away her ability to see the numbers. She didn't tell her friends about this.

If you invited Betty to a movie or dinner out she said "yes" without hesitation. "It's too cold," I heard her friend, Jane, say once when Betty said yes to a movie in the middle of winter.

"I'll be in a car," Betty replied. It was a Steven Segal movie. The one where they beat Steven senseless and he is near death when he gets up from the operating table to fight his way out of the hospital to conquer the bad guys (actually that's every Segal movie).

Not exactly a movie most people would imagine a 90 year- old person going to see. I particularly remember this movie because we almost forgot the popcorn. She reminded us.

When she was very ill with pneumonia, her doctor told us to stay overnight at the hospital. He didn't think she would make it. I watched her staring at the ceiling and said, "Betty, what's on your mind?" I figured her thoughts were of the next world.

"I'm thinking that if I am going to live to be 100, I don't want that awful brown sofa anymore."

And sure enough, 3 weeks later we were at the furniture store, and she bought her new sofa, a beautiful modern sofa with built-in cushions.

Scrabble was her game. Her granddaughters hated to play the game with her. She was too good. She told me once that all the words and spelling were in her head, and she didn't know how or why. She had been a great speller in school. Crosswords were her passion. With the degeneration of her eyesight, she struggled with this game she liked so much. We outlined the letters with a black magic marker. She continued to play Scrabble either with someone or alone as a crosswords exercise until the day of her death. She believed it kept her mind in shape.

Betty was a giver of gifts. She was the card lady, always remembering birthdays and holidays. However, her biggest gift was on the day she died. As we left her hospital bedside to get a cup of coffee, she called out to her son, "I love you." When we returned some fifteen minutes later, she had gone on to her new life.

One of the stories she liked to tell was about the house she grew up in on Punta Gorda Street in East McKeesport. She would tell us about the lilacs that grew toward the alley in her old back yard. She described the wooden mantle her father had carved that graced the living room and of the pass from the kitchen to the dining room. The pass-through was a big deal. Her mother would cook the meal and set it on the pass-through counter, and the kids would set it on the table.

In 1994, we asked Betty what she wanted for Mother's Day. "I want to see my old house," she replied. With cameras in hand her son, daughter, three granddaughters, and I drove out to find this house. We drove into East McKeesport and past Ice Cutters Hill where she used to go sled riding as a girl and onto the next street and then onto Punta Gorda.

"That was Uncle Jim's house," she pointed as we began up the hill. "There it is, there it is. It has a new porch. But its the same house."

We parked and I walked over to the house to see if anyone was home. A lady in her 70s answered. I explained our mission and asked if we could just walk through her yard. She agreed. The lilacs were in bloom. I don't think there was a dry eye as we walked about that yard. Seeing we were harmless, our hostess invited us into the house.

We carried Betty in the wheelchair up the front steps, onto the porch and into the house. The parlor was on the left. The fireplace mantle was still there as Betty remembered it. Down the hall was the dining room and off to its left was the kitchen. The rooms were very small. Much smaller than the memory Betty had created in all our minds. The pass-through was a small 14 inch square opening between the dining room and kitchen. Some of us smart alecks made a joke about how Betty and her mother could have simply reached around the corner without the pass through. Yet, we took pictures of that pass-through and of everything else.

What about life after retirement? Do you have to have a few million bucks set aside to enjoy it? Does the physical condition of your body keep you from enjoying your days? Does where you live, or what you lost, or what you thought you should have deter you from happiness?

I personally believe there is richness of life after retirement. But then, I have had some very good teachers!

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