Updated: August 22, 2014 6:09AM
Regrets. You’ve had a few? Me too.
A new national survey shows that people age 60 and older are drowning in regrets about their life. Regrets over not saving money. Regrets over ruined relationships. Regrets over taking better care of their health.
These seem like no-brainers but, as we know, they’re easier planned than performed. How many times have we told ourselves to start saving more money for the future or retirement? How many times have we resolved to eat better and be more active? Or promised to be kinder to others, especially our loved ones?
Instead, we put these long-simmering plans on life’s back burner until they boil over into neglect, convenient forgetfulness and, in time, unshakable remorse.
Such regrets are painful memories that simply won’t wipe away, not even with booze, drugs or addictive rationalizations. Plus, they often come with better illustrations than memories — more vivid, more unforgettable.
With this wrinkled country getting grayer every year — the 65-plus population will nearly double by 2050 — regrets are becoming as commonplace as doctor visits. And “peace of mind” is the new war cry for baby boomers who are feeling more mortal than ever.
Looking back, their materialism was impressive. Their consumerism was fun. Their activism was noble. But there’s something enticing, even elusive, about peace of mind. It offers a sense of calm, a feeling of tranquility, and a life with much less drama for a change. Finally, a chance to exhale.
For instance, last week at a gas station I bumped into an old friend who’s turning 60. (I’m 52.)
“How are things?” I asked while pumping gas.
“Things are OK,” he replied from the other pump.
“I’ll take ‘OK’ these days,” I told him. “How about you?”
“Yeah,” he replied instantly. “I know exactly what you mean. OK is OK with me.”
“OK” seems to be a new benchmark, or barometer, for many people our age who’ve had their share of reckless ambition, raging relationships and crushing failures. Over time, such things can crystalize into hardened regrets. And, studies show, most regrets from people age 60 and over began occurring when they were in their 30s and 40s.
Allowed to fester over time, sometimes for decades, regrets can resemble a cancer by infecting a person’s psyche and contaminating their wellbeing. Mental depression manifests into physical illness. The cancer spreads. A chronic case of dis-ease.
As I write this, I can imagine other people my age and older nodding their heads in understanding. If not for them, then for someone they know. Maybe a spouse. Maybe a parent. Maybe that guy at church who blames God for his bad decisions.
A few months back, I chatted with a retired steelworker whose life didn’t have the fairytale ending he hoped for. Or even one that he meticulously planned for when he wore a younger man’s work boots.
In short, he missed his mill job as a respected and needed specialist. His wife died, breaking his heart. And his so-called friends, coworkers and church family forgot about him, breaking his Christian spirit. Or almost, anyway.
He was noticeably hurt, angry, bitter. Regrets were eating him alive, I thought.
“Sometimes, I don’t even want to get out of bed,” he told me, thanking me more than once for talking with him.
Fast-forward to this past week when I heard news that he died, unexpectedly, at least to his family. My first thought was of that bitterness he couldn’t conceal months ago. It seeped out like blood from a wound.
I immediately wondered if he found a reconciliation of sorts, with God, with his past, with his regrets.
“I believe he did,” one of his loved ones told me. “I believe he found peace.”
There’s that coveted “peace of mind” again, something so meaningless in our younger days. Back when we were climbing ladders, rolling the dice and conquering the world.
That national survey, in part, served as a “cautionary tale about aging in our rapidly changing society.” But who’s listening besides those of us who already knew the answers?
Will the survey’s results change the actions of younger generations, including many of us who are still young enough to change our fate in old age? I doubt it. As the old adage goes, youth is wasted on the young.
For those of us old enough to know better, maybe we can learn to forget or, if we’re strong enough, to forgive. And to move on. As the poet, Thoreau, wrote, “Make the most of your regrets… to regret deeply is to live afresh.”
High school reunions warning
To continue on today’s theme of aging in an aging country, I offer a word of warning to anyone attending their high school reunion this summer: Be prepared to view yourself through the sobering mirror of reality-based interpretation.
In other words, brace yourself.
When I attended my 30-year Wirt High School reunion, I received a not-so-gentle reminder that three long decades had past.
It’s easy, if not alluring, to dance around this little fact as you age, pretending that you’re still 38, 28 or, heck, even 18 on some days. But when you see a few hundred people from your high school, with familiar faces and similar ages, at the same place, it’s not always a pretty sight.
Or one high school pal aptly noted, “Everyone looks so OLD here.”
He was right. You’ve been warned. You may even regret your decision.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.