Why do seniors commit suicide? That was the topic of a recent workshop I attended. They don’t attempt it more often, but their “completion rate” is much higher. “Completion” being the brave new world term for ‘success’ in suicide. Adolescents attempt 50 times/death, seniors 7 times/death. The senior statistics break down to 3/1 for men who tend to use guns or hanging and about 10/1 for women who tend to use pills.
Which brings me to the subject of retirement.
It will come as a surprise to no one, (though it was a little bit to me), that I got depressed after my retirement last summer. Nothing major, but a noticeable loss of interest in those activities that I had hoped to pursue after retirement. It lasted about three months and the ideas that accompanied it were the familiar litany of older people. A tiredness that my doctor assured me was the ‘most common complaint’ of people past seventy-five (he’s 82), and for the first time acknowledging the reality that it was downhill from here. This realization was hastened by the death or severe illness of a number of friends and neighbors. People who were energetic and quick-witted when I first knew them, but who became frail, and vulnerable before my eyes. At some point life changes from looking forward to, to hanging on as best one can. Hope for the future becomes a quiet dread of the future.
When I began my private practice, my whole life lay before me. Libby and I had our first child the following year (he’s 51 now). But it was not only the sense of looming losses, it was the losses I was already experiencing that influenced my decision. That and pride. I did not want to be forced to retire by a sudden illness in my wife or myself and I certainly did not want to die with an active caseload – I’ve been through that with older colleagues a number of times and it is very difficult for everyone involved. I also did not want to be someone who has ‘stayed past his time’. In short, I wanted to stop before my patients were taking care of me. (An all too common occurrence in our field.)
I didn’t want to ever retire, but more importantly, I wanted to leave when I was still more or less intact.
Howard Kogan is a psychotherapist and a former Executive Director of the Training Institute for Mental Health as well as one of its Trustees. He is also a published author and accomplished poet. He and his wife, Libby, live in the Taconic Mountains in rural Upstate New York. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, poetry journals and collections. Of A Chill in the Air, his third collection, Howard says, "readers familiar with my earlier publications will see some of the same themes continued: family and friends, the so-called real and imaginary world I inhabit, and increasingly as I age, poems about aging and death. I wrote these poems for you, to engage and seduce you, to draw you close so I would feel less alone."