Monday, May 6, 2013

These October Year are not for sissies

You’ve seen the flashy commercials---the ones that urge us to imagine our sixties and seventies, that part of life I call the October Years, as a time of carefree relaxation, spiced by exotic travel and country club luxury. If your retirement is not on track for those enticing destinations, they'll be happy to show you the way---for a price.

I sincerely hope those glowing promises and seductive adjectives describe your future. If so, odds are you've earned it. Yet for even the financially fortunate ones, those autumn decades are apt to include the stressful reality of medical setbacks, loss of friends, and nagging loneliness.

It can be a hard thing, making our way in what often feels like an unfamiliar and unfriendly world, especially if we’ve spent a lifetime in a more hospitable place. Try as we might, some of us are bound to experience the harsh side of October life, when trusted partners and familiar landmarks are gone, leaving us to navigate on our own. Even those who are living out a storybook retirement will find there are times when it feels like the odds are stacked against them.

In my Tanner Chronicles I write relational stories about the October inhabitants of a place I call Tanner. Of course, my stories must keep the truth of their sometimes unfortunate circumstances in mind. If my oh-so-mature seekers, the ones looking for a late-life relationship, do manage to find each other, the life they build together will bear little resemblance to the televised romantic-comedies that flood our airwaves.

That’s not to say my October friends won’t share a laugh or two along the way. They certainly will. But I must take care to see that their humor is age appropriate---with a slightly sharper edge, honed by the certain reality of an uncertain future. And then, of course, there will be those times when there is simply no place for humor.

For instance, in Best Friends and Promises I address Leona Peck’s advancing dementia and Johnny Blanton’s medical vulnerability, focusing on how their distress magnifies Aaron Peck’s descent into disabling isolation. His wife and best friend are leaving the scene. The loneliness that engulfs him is a particularly sinister matter, especially at his stage of life---so real that it threatens his being. In time the pain of that loneliness will have him seeking comfort in ways he would never have considered in more normal times.

Aaron Peck’s dire situation is not likely to produce simple, Pollyannish answers. Instead, in the face of circumstances he cannot control, he has to move on toward his own future. In spite of the obstacles he must overcome I have insisted that he advance boldly, because those October Years are not a time to be timid. Getting the best and the most from our “golden years” is not for the faint of heart.

By actual count I rewrote the ending of Aaron’s story seven times before arriving at what seemed to me the right one. I guarantee you, he does not take the easy way out. I hope some of you will take the bold step of reading Aaron’s story for yourself. I’d like to hear what you think---about his unorthodox response to trying times, and perhaps your own “not for sissies" experience.”

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