Retired, active and…trapped. For some, life after work is not the Promised Land.

I always thought the move to retirement would be one more happy transition on life’s journey. Pastures new would offer freedom to travel, indulge the grandchildren and, in every way, enjoy a new phase of life.

If only!

Now I’m wondering how many others are feeling trapped rather than released; burdened rather than freed. Because, for my wife and I, instead of enjoying a world of choice we are faced with life-restricting and choice-robbing limitations – at least for the time being.

I’ve discovered I’m one of the many who, far from being free to ‘make plans’, has a responsibility for four generations.

First there’s the responsibility to meet our own needs.

After many years of self-employment and, to be honest, insufficient preparation for the financial side of retirement, clocking off at 65 was not a realistic option. On the positive side, I love what I do but the need for additional income means a significant limit on choices.

Then there’s the responsibility of our three adult children. Though they are well and truly adults, that doesn’t end the parent child relationship and concern to care for them. And like many of their peers, the road has been much harder for them than it was for us at their age.

Our elder daughter has chosen to invest her time raising her son during his pre-school days rather than return to work. That means she and her husband are in no position to buy a home and do not have a car. As a result, we are needed and help where we can.

Our son, due to the shortage of affordable accommodation, lives with us. As a shift-worker he sometimes sleeps in the day or evening, so limiting our opportunities to offer hospitality.

Then there’s the responsibility for our grandchildren – a delight of course. I just love being involved in their lives. But there’s more to it than that.

Our younger daughter and husband live near us but their jobs are at a distance with an early start. For the past year our granddaughter has been dropped off at 6.30 am each weekday so we can take her to school.

Then there’s the responsibility for my parents, now in their nineties. Having supported us through each phase of our lives, they are increasingly dependent on us.

Mum, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years ago, now has little capacity to remember events of even ten minutes ago though has strong memories of her Welsh childhood.

Dad, diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, also has a condition requiring regular blood transfusions. My sister and I take turns sitting with Mum while Dad is taken to hospital for his treatment. Neither Mum nor Dad are now very mobile.

Because of their age and lack of family living close by, Mum and Dad have almost no social circle – making frequent visits vital.

And then there is the responsibility for emergencies.

Recently Dad phoned in desperation. The fridge freezer had broken down – they had no food. I drove the four hour round-trip to take basic groceries, picking up a hot meal on the way and have been with them almost daily ever since.

On a recent visit I found an ambulance outside their home. Mum had fallen getting out of bed. Dad lacked the strength to help her up. He called an ambulance but the paramedics could not get into the house as my dad is profoundly deaf and did not hear the doorbell. He’d even accidentally left the phone off the hook so they could not phone him.

Putting it all together – and knowing I’m not alone in this – I’m finding retirement to be far from the ‘Promised Land’ I’d anticipated.

It leaves me asking how a church could and should support those in similar situations. Those like us, seeming to be coping on the outside and presumed to be enjoying their new freedom. But, in reality, retired, active and trapped.

Our own experience of church in this respect has been largely positive. But are churches in general and their leaders always aware? Do they factor this into their pastoral care? Do they recognise the need for practical support? Do they help those in similar situations ‘find each other’ for mutual support and to compare notes?

More than that, how do they help those of retirement age balance their desire to remain active in the church with the often unseen tensions of family and finance?

We are all living at a time when life expectancy is increasing and support from Social Services and the NHS is stretched to the limit. A time when there are unprecedented pressures on successive generations.

This is surely a time for churches to reach out with support for those of retirement age doing their best to hold it all together.

Chris Gander

Chris Gander is a freelance graphic designer, married to Mary, with three adult children and two grandchildren. He’s a keen photographer and an occasional blogger at Sauceforthegander.

The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife