Retiring gracefully by farmers is difficult because most farmers retire only when they have to or want to, and usually regardless of the advice they receive.
I’m among them.
My determination to continue managing our land and trying to improve the behavioral well-being of people engaged in agriculture doesn’t mean Marilyn and I don’t pursue plans for our futures, or to help our children and grandchildren, and to undertake spontaneous exploits that look like fun.
We also “sleep in” when we feel like it.
Most farmers don’t like retiring because it suggests declining into life’s final stages. However, many farmers, including myself, view retirement as a new phase of life that capitalizes on our learnings, which can lead to even more accomplishments that make positive differences for us now, for our successors, and to life in general.
Seventy-five is currently the average retirement age of American farmers. Health plays a big part in most farmers’ decisions to retire.
Several insightful and highly capable people helped me develop understanding
Many older and current farmers I have counseled in the past and count as friends, faced retirement feeling apprehensive and sometimes depressed. Some worried about having enough resources to live satisfactorily themselves and with their partners, or to assist other dependents in their remaining years.
They sought to know how to feel useful, and sometimes what to expect during the final moments/weeks/years or whatever was in the cards they were
Uncertainty about what lies ahead is consternating for the majority of us and can be especially troubling for people advancing toward the end of life.
What we don’t know scares us.
We may fear we will not be able to take care of ourselves and our partners, to enjoy hobbies like traveling, and that we will become burdens rather than helpers to our children,
The end-stage worries many people. Giving themselves permission to die and getting approval from their loved ones can make passing more comfortable for all, something I learned from people who asked me to visit them as they faced imminent death.
When we dealt with their uncertainties, we usually confirmed a newfound final purpose they took comfort in: They could demonstrate how to say goodbye gracefully as a final objective.
My maternal grandmother was my best teacher about this matter. Some 25 years ago, this petite woman who weighed about 85 pounds laid in her bed in the nursing home where she had resided for many years. She had survived her husband serving in WWI, a complicated birth of my mother while her husband was overseas, and the Great Depression.
Grandma became a treasured essayist in my county during her later years. She would raise her right index finger skyward as she issued the phrase, “When I was younger,” and then would relate moving and meaningful observations.
Having endured numerous bladder infections and now at 98 years old, she wanted to join her deceased husband in her afterlife, which she firmly believed would occur.
The last time I saw Grandma alive, she was different. When I entered her nursing home room that winter day, empty of visitors except me, she was huddled under mounds of blankets and barely breathing.
When I reached under the covers to grasp her hand, it was cold. I knew what was happening.
“You might not have much longer to live Grandma.”
She moved her lips as if trying to say something, but she was unable.
“Grandma, if you can, just blink your eyes if you hear me.”
She blinked affirmatively.
“Are you ready to leave this life and go to what follows?” I asked.
“Are you worried about the rest of us, like my mother and your family?”
Grandma blinked again.
“You can help us more in our lives here when you get to your next life,” I suggested. “You can show us how.”
Grandma’s face relaxed. “Would you like to pray Grandma?”
Her eyes parted and shut again.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…,” I intoned. “Please give Grandma safe passing.”
Minutes later her breathing was barely discernible. I asked, “Are you ready to go now?”
Grandma’s eyelids barely moved and calmly creased shut.
Photo by George W. Ackerman (1884-1962)
“Farmer reading The Progressive Farmer” Coryell County, Texas, September 1931. 1998 print from the original negative.
Records of the Extension Service.