You could say Don Cochrane started his professional life a little backwards.
Wanting to go into medicine, he instead went into the funeral business because his family didn’t have the money to send him to university.
The youngest graduate from the Canadian School of Embalming in Toronto in 1953, Cochrane spent 12 years directing people’s funerals.
“That gave me an incredible start,” he said, for a couple reasons. “You are in the midst of one of the greatest crises — that’s where the counselling begins.”
Cochrane would eventually become a counsellor, but not before running an ambulance service, a flower shop and an insurance agency. Now, in retirement, he’s an author, with five books published.
But he said it was his job as funeral director that may have helped the most in writing his latest book – To “L” With Aging.
Written primarily for would-be and current retirees, Cochrane discusses his 10 L’s, which outline ways to age “gracefully” as a senior and continue to enjoy life, gleaned from his own experiences.
Some of the L’s you might recognize, like “Live,” “Laugh” and “Love,” but others like “Learn” and “Loss” offer some sobering realities, as well as helpful considerations, he said.
“Everything is pretty well loss (as you get older),” he said. “Your health, your friends. It’s how you act towards that (that matters).”
That’s not to say there’s not fun to be had. Go golfing, go on cruises, he said, but don’t consider retirement as a vacation. “It’s the next part of your life… and then there is a point where your health takes over, and everything revolves around that. I always say when people our age get together, the first 30 minutes is comparing doctor’s reports,” he said with a laugh.
Cochrane finishes that particular chapter with a quote from Winnie-the-Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
As for the chapter called “Learn,” the message is as much about un-learning and re-learning. Part of that is figuring out your own identity, said Cochrane.
He estimates he’s had about six identities in his life, and who he is in retirement is another one. While being a parent or your job may have given you an identity, retirement often requires re-discovery of your own interests, and a redefinition of who you are, because saying, “I’m retired,” often isn’t enough of an identity.
There’s also a need to keep up with society and technology, he said.
That’s another way his time as a funeral director gave him a leg-up, he said.
There are many ways to honour the dead, and Cochrane oversaw many of them. “You had to have an open mind… to listen and not judge (is how you learn),” he said.
Learning to write and publish books is one of Cochrane’s newer skills, and “author is now a part of his identity in retirement.
It also dovetails into another L: “Legacy.”
“You live as long as the last person to remember you,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I started writing books.”
He’s hoping this latest book will help people both deal with and enjoy retirement more.
For more information and to order the book, visit online at www.donscochrane.com.