As we try to grapple with our many economic woes, one of the woe is us-es that burbles up to the Top Five of every Just How Bad Is It? list is the retiree question, especially with respect to the Baby Boomers (a.k.a., the BBs). This woe is a multi-part one, with sub-sections devoted to rage, recrimination, denial, self-flogging, duh and/or doh, when will they go, why don’t they stay, who will hire them, and, of course, how long will they live.
The idea of retirement is a relatively recent one, and, originally, planning for it was pretty much predicated on the assumption that workers would pack it in (work-wise), grump around for a couple of years, and pack it in (life-wise).
Then the Greatest Generation (a.k.a., the GGs) – most of whom had pensions of some type - and the non-descriptors who come between the GG’s the BB’s, started to defy the old
up and out out and up rule and live on for while.
Now there’s a fiercesome worry that the BBs – most of whom don’t have pensions of any type other than Social Security - are going to hang on ad whatever infinitum they can muster by harvesting organs, sopping up resources, and generally despoiling whatever opportunities that the rising generations might have for a decent life.
Personally, I really don’t believe that this is going to happen.
For one thing, I believe that us BBs were exposed to so much toxic, artificial whatever that we’re going to die off from it well before most of us get to send grinning photos of spry us into The Today Show in hopes of grabbing our .15 second’s worth of fame as one of the Smucker’s Centenarians of the Day.
Still, there are so many BBs that it’s pretty certain that there will be a lot more BB geezers around, in absolute terms, than there have been in the past.
So it’s worth thinking about what happens to old folks in Japan, holders of most longevity records like average life span and greatest percentage of people over 100.
Just what is their secret?
Heavy on the sushi and light on the Big Mac’s? Reverence for the elderly that keeps them involved as respected members of the family and the community?
Turns out it may be something else entirely.
As reported in The NY Times over the weekend – and elsewhere a while back: I know I’ve seen this somewhere recently – some proportion of their elderly population (authorities are trying to figure out just what proportion that might be) is MIA. Dead, but not necessarily buried. Gone, but not forgotten by the Japanese government that keeps writing them their pension checks.
In one instance:
…the police found the body of a man thought to be one of Japan’s oldest, at 111 years, mummified in his bed, dead for more than three decades. His daughter, now 81, hid his death to continue collecting his monthly pension payments.
Well, I suppose she deserves something for living with a Norman Bates-ian mummy of daddy all those years. Nonetheless…
Officials had gone to his house, by the way, to congratulate this fellow on becoming Tokyo’s oldest citizen.
They said his daughter gave conflicting excuses, saying at first that he did not want to meet them, and then that he was elsewhere in Japan giving Buddhist sermons. The police moved in after a granddaughter, who also shared the house, admitted that Mr. Kato had not emerged from his bedroom since about 1978.
Ah, yes, I had an inkling that something peculiar might be happening behind that door, but it was really none of my business to bother grandpapa by knocking.
Local governments are now on the hunt for other old-old folks, and more than a few are coming up missing. And lest you think that the situation above is one of isolated nutters:
To date, the authorities have been unable to find more than 281 Japanese who had been listed in records as 100 years old or older.
Okay. They’re not saying that they found 281 mummies in the spare room.
In a more typical case… relatives of a man listed as 103 years old said he had left home 38 years ago and never returned. The man’s son, now 73, told officials that he continued to collect his father’s pension “in case he returned one day.”
Dad always did like to take a long constitutional, so I thought nothing of it when he left one morning in his sturdy hiking shoes, using the walking staff we’d given him for his 65th birthday. My guess at the time was that he ran into a couple of old war buddies, and they got to swapping stories about Guadalcanal and one Banzai led to another. I knew he’d be mega-pissed if he came back and I hadn’t been collecting the pension.
Now, the government is trying to meet with everyone who’s 110 or older to make sure they’re still alive – the old mirror under the nostrils routine should work. They did find alive the 113 year old who’s supposedly the oldest person in Japan. Phew.
Okay, finding out that a couple hundred missing old folks are actually dead isn’t going to change the longevity stats for Japan. Still, all those old people who’ve disappeared is a bit perplexing.
It may be just as well that the younger folks here don’t read the newspapers. For those BBs who do make it into triple digits, we wouldn’t want to give their caretakers any ideas. I bet learning how to mummify is just a google away.