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Thriving After 55: Your Guide to Fully Living the Rest of Your Life

By Henry C. Simmons and E. Craig MacBean
Prime. 2000. 232 pp. Pb. $24.95. ISBN 0-9668813-1-1

Reviewed by Richard Lyon Morgan
Morganton, N.C.


Not a week passes that someone doesn't ask me about some of the issues discussed in this book. Older persons wonder, "Where will I live when I can no longer stay in my own home?" or "How can I handle the spiraling cost of home health care or long-term care?" Adult children ask, "What will our parents do when they can no longer manage by themselves?" or "Isn't there some way to get our parents to make their own decisions about later life now?"

Aging happens. With that simple, yet oft-denied statement Henry E. Simmons and E. Craig MacBean set the tone for a book that everyone should read. As people are living longer into the 21st century, planning a future in which one can “thrive in body, mind and spirit” is an imperative, not a luxury. The last third of life may well involve a time of frailty, and to ignore this reality brings serious consequences.

Simmons, director of the Center on Aging at Union Seminary-PSCE in Richmond, Va., is a pioneer in the field of religion and aging. MacBean is a national authority on the financial realities of increased longevity. They wisely point out that “Former generations worried about the possibility of dying young and leaving economic dependents. This generation is concerned with departing in slow motion and becoming an economic and emotional burden on their children and society.”

The authors counsel everyone to move beyond denial of aging and casting age in either all positive or negative terms. Only as we all accept the reality that we are aging every day, and confront the inevitable issues of frailty, can we have the courage and wisdom to embrace these extended years with exuberance.

Simmons and MacBean’s model distinguishes three stable periods of aging, each followed by a transition. Extended Middle Age, with few changes from middle age, ends with dramatic changes or loss of health or spouse, which they call Ready or Not.

A New Me is a stage in which a new identity must be built. This means living creatively within our limits and past our losses, and ends with the onset of frailty and dependence, which they call Like It or Not.

Older persons then settle into the last stable phase, Rest of Life, which is characterized by major losses, and yet new beginnings. Death is the final transition.

Three major questions consume most of the rest of this book: Where will I live? How will I pay for it? and How will I live? The authors suggest five possible options for where one will live, and the pros and cons of each are explored. They offer sage counsel on financial issues in a society where frailty care costs $4,000 a month and Medicare is a “false hope,” as is Medicaid, unless acute care or poverty care is needed.

One wishes that they had given more attention to the third question, “How will I live?” (Only 28 pages devoted to this question). The myth is dispelled that the last years of life need to be spent in isolation, discomfort and loneliness. Many older people do thrive despite the reality that life has shrunk, and our bodies waste away. How, then, may our winged spirits transcend our boundaries, and our spirits be renewed?

Growing old is the greatest challenge we have to face in our lifetime. Simmons and MacBean show us how to thrive and fully live with a body that is no longer the body of youth, but with a spirit that remains eternally young.

This is a book that needs to be read by everyone; we all age!