Life After Death, Boomer-style

Ruth D Benincasa

Mom in better times

My mother just died.

She was 92, in quickly deteriorating health, and didn’t see the inside of her home again during the final six months of her life – she needed far too much, and round-the-clock, skilled care – best handled in a Skilled Nursing Facility (aka, “nursing home”).  We found her the best available facilities in this woods’ neck, stayed on top of her care daily to ensure it was highest quality (aka “squeaky wheel”), visited her daily, and, I hope, helped her to leave this world with as little suffering as her body would allow.

I’m sad.  Sad that her body was so broken in the end; sad that given my own disability I couldn’t do more for her myself; sad that there will be no more visits and dinner outings with her; sad that I’m now an orphan (daddy died in 2009).

John H Benincasa Sr

Daddy in his final year

In that I’m a wee too old to be upset that I have no parents now, I’m realizing that this is a Boomer phenomena – we take the loss of our parents harder than our parents did the loss of theirs.

Why is that?

Here’s my theory.

I believe our parents were, well, a bit more adult adults than we are as we live our dream of perpetual youth.  We’ve depended on our parents far more than they did theirs, remaining “children” far longer.  Too many of us depend upon our inheritance as our retirement plan, having spent up and borrowed away what we earned.  Even those of us who became, and will become, our parents’ caretakers in the end as was I, and therefore took on a type of “parenting” role with and of them, do so in a way different than our parents did theirs; some of us doing it from afar and therefore, frankly, less effectively by necessity, some petulantly (annoyed that an ailing elder is interrupting their daily routine), most of us lovingly but perhaps with a tinge of shock that we must sacrifice in ways to which we’re unaccustomed.

Their “greatest generation” moniker came from lives of sacrifice, stoic determination, toughened by the need to take on great responsibility at an early age (some right after high school, many before even completing it) thus being better prepared for such significant loss.

Our at times aptly coined “me” generation came from being more coddled, cared for through college and for some beyond, we had/have lives of greater comfort than they; we are softer.

They felt like grown-ups who understood the loss of their parents as another part of life to rise above.  We feel like….orphans.

My mother and father, I realize now, lived up to their generation’s sensibilities, something I didn’t appreciate enough when they were alive.  I will try to emulate them now.

Mom, Dad, I think I’ve finally learned what you tried to teach us all along – the ideals of humility, thrift, strength to face and conquer adversity with dignity (eg without losing stride…) that your generation tried to teach ours but we cast aside as too “old fashioned” – now that you’re gone, I’ve finally grown up.

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How Boomers Will Choose a Retirement Locale: Weather? Taxes? Or One Other Key Factor…

retireesWhen our parents got down to choosing where to live out their years of retirement bliss, they based that decision, generally, on the following criteria:

  • warm climate
  • lower taxes (particularly for those in the Northeast)
  • affordable, senior-friendly communities
  • golf (or other favorite sport like boating)

Not in that order particularly; perhaps even equal in importance.

Then came Boomers’ turn to choose retirement Eden, and I predict – or hope, or both – we will include one key factor; for some of us, it may even trump one or two of the others on our list:

  • political & cultural climate

That portion of our youth, activism and strong political/social views, just might influence where we finally settle down to live out our last 30+ years.  After all, that’s almost 1/3 of our life, so we’re wanting more than early-bird specials and Jai-Alai.

As the country becomes ever more polarized (thanks to us…we started out polarized and remain so in our current dual roles as powerful voting block/generation in charge both legislatively & industrially), we will want to live in a place that shares our views governmentally & socially, from gun rights to health care.  Boomers who lean left politically will choose states like New Mexico and California. Boomers who lean right to far-right will love places like Arizona & Florida run by the Tea Party and the NRA, where their views are embraced by the populace and the leaders they choose.

The importance of these factors as we determine our retirement move is driven by the role cultural & political comfort plays for us (far more than it did for our parents): Culturally we care greatly about such things as quality elder care for our parents and then us, a supportive environment for mid-age & older workers/entrepreneurs as we pursue our “second act,” affordable health-care options (as we live longer and more active lives than our parents did), and 55+ communities’ emphasis on healthy lifestyles; politically we are not comfortable in a place where we would be surrounded & governed by those whose world view is the opposite of ours – and if we can’t move to a state that meets the criteria, we will at minimum find safe haven in a city/county that does.

So, states wanting to woo us, play this socio-political ace in your deck to attract our lucrative generation to your shores.

Boomers, pay close attention to this key ingredient when you make this very important decision.  I can tell you from personal experience; living in a state far removed from your cultural/political sensibilities is very painful indeed.

Like Your Life? Thank a Boomer…

Baby Boomers peace and flower powerWe Boomers have experienced a steep increase in negative public opinion about our generation over the past few years, a growing chorus to our terrible societal stewardship; we’re responsible for every conceivable ill from everyone’s bad marriage to the national debt.

As I mumbled to myself “…if I hear or read one more piece about how the world sucks and Boomers are to blame, I’ll (fill in with some sort of impure thought)” …. I stopped in my tracks… “Hey, are we to blame for all that’s gone wrong over the past 40 or so years?”

The answer, of course, is “sort of…”  We have stumbled in the ways we’ve conducted ourselves as adults, as parents, as leaders.

But there’s a flip side to all the finger-pointing at our generation, that entails gleefully ignoring all that we accomplished to make life far easier for the following generations, things that are so taken for granted today that they go unnoticed, and vastly underappreciated.   And it’s up to us to disabuse (verbiage by design) of this notion all who wish to believe we’re “the worst generation” – from the media to our own children. Continue reading

Boomer Celebrity Spokespeople… Please find some different products…

Better not "break a leg" says Blythe DannerBlythe Danner (not officially a Boomer, but close enough) won’t say “break a leg” anymore because she’s afraid her poor old frail bones will really break… that’s after Sally Field spent years telling us how frail we’re becoming…

Tommy Lee Jones seems to care only about his retirement finances…after all, what else do we old coots have to think about?

Henry Winkler touts reverse mortgages….see Tommy Lee Jones above.

Whoopi Goldberg can now happily miss one of those frequent trips to the ladies’ room as the spokesperson for Poise Pads…no bladder control in our generation…

Geeez, are we 47-65… or 98??

I’ve said so many times that it’s up to us to end the final, big societal “ism” that still runs strong: Ageism.  Boomer celebrities showing us a group of pants-wetting, retirement worrying, bone-breakers is not helping – at all.

Others, like Andie MacDowell for L’Oreal and Kim Catrall for Olay, are on a far better track.  We’re beautiful at our age…and we know it.

Hey, BC’s, how about doing ads for computers, cars, clothing, jewelry, vacations, and the plethora of other products and services that make up Boomerdom – that are far more emblematic of who we are than bladder control pads?

That’s something you can do to put an end to ageism from your neck of the woods.

Why are Boomers so Cranky?!

  • On a beautiful Florida day, at a spring training baseball game, I approached my row and apologized for inconveniencing everyone who had to stand to let me in.  The very large Boomer taking up the end seat responded: “If you want to get to your seat, why don’t you just say so!” and wouldn’t get up to let me in until I threatened to sit on his lap..
  • I placed an upbeat comment to a Huffington Post article about Boomers doing more volunteer work, to which a fellow Boomer responded “You’ve been hitting the bottle too much…”
  • Of all the age groups, from our kids to our parents, we seem to have the lowest threshold for civil discussions, particularly around issues facing the nation/politics; too many of us become quickly “enraged” “appalled” – blaming and unwilling to listen let alone speak calmly to anyone who doesn’t full agree with us.

angry boomerWow, what happened to us?  Are we really that unhappy, disenfranchised, pessimistic?

Yep.

But this is not new.  Boomers were a pessimistic lot even in our “flower power” groovy youth.  It wasn’t optimism, but pessimism that drove our protests, sit-ins, and marches; we didn’t trust “the man” or anyone over 30 for that matter; we believed the earth was being polluted beyond repair; our young women were fed up with “male domination”…

Now, 40 years later, add the stressors of career, paying off the kids’ college loans, tanked 401K’s, and aching joints, and you have a bunch of over the top grouchiness.

Plus, extremism is one of our generational characteristics (think “latch-key” kids on the top of the age-range of Boomer parenting, “helicopter parenting” on the younger end – different approaches, both approaches extremes).  So when we do something, we take it to the max.  Our generational rebellion included extremes like:

  • refusing to “dress up” like our parents did so we became the first generation to go to church or out to dinner in jeans & t-shirts;
  • refusing to accept authority to the point of feeling justified in being rude;
  • living the “better life” our parents raised us to believe we were owed via spending beyond our means, procuring “McMansions” for a family of 3 and ever more “things” (including excessively expensive cars) to show our worth.

Put these two dynamics together, pessimism + extremism, and you get a volatile brew.

This matters greatly because, beyond our sheer numbers (we are 26% of the US population), we are this country’s leaders:

  • 58% of the US Senate & 79% of the US House of Representatives are Boomers,
  • 82% of US Governors are Boomers,
  • as are about 59% of Corporate America’s CEO’s.

This means that how we act determines social outcomes (as it did in our youth), what we feel dictates the mood of the nation.  Which at this juncture is…well, quite peevish, a tad intolerant, and reliant on extremes to:

solve what we perceive as social ills that are only ills because we no longer engage in them (a majority of those against medical use of marijuana or needle exchange programs to curb the spread of HIV, are Boomers who loved the snow and weed as youth);

balance budgets by decimating services we no longer need ourselves (“Support birth control clinics that prevent the spread of STD’s and unwanted pregnancies?  I don’t think so!  You go out and have unprotected sex, that’s your problem!” – we were the biggest users of these clinics, for those exact reasons, in our own youth) while preserving those that only we need (in a recent Pew poll, 63% of Boomers opposed raising the age at which we’d qualify for full SS benefits).

Ah…but there’s more.  Two extremely (had to say it…) essential elements that tie our testiness up in a beautiful bow of justification for bad behavior:

  1. we’re frightened, discouraged, disappointed – things aren’t turning out as we’d planned and we’re in trouble, particularly financially – at middle age that’s admittedly tough to handle, and perhaps too many of us don’t have the healthy coping skills to handle these feelings with even a modicum of grace;
  2. we’ve fallen into what numerous studies have shown to be an increasing tendency for Americans (and moreso older Americans) to refuse to fall prey to logic – even when faced with raw facts that dispute what we want to believe, we simply refuse to believe the facts so we can feel comfortable holding onto our position no matter how wrong it might be.

angry boomer manSo…. Must we be so irascible?  Can we possibly change our generational ways at this stage in our lives after so many decades of testiness gone wild?  Is our crankiness etched in indelible ink?

Well, as the old and very bad joke goes: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?  None…it has to want to change…

Imagine how much better this country would be, how much calmer and enjoyable to live in, how much more we could get accomplished, if we as a generation decided to discontinue the vitriol, talk with instead of at each other, operated from “us” rather than “me”….

I believe we can do it.  Call me an optimist.

(here’s a link to a pew research/census gathering of statistics on “why Boomers are so Bummed…” posted on the show’s website)