Alert : This reflection has morbid moments.
I hear comments like ‘There’s no point in starting this as I doubt that I’ll live to see it through’ or ‘I only have a few years left’ or ‘The end is closer than the beginning’. Sadly, for some dear people these predictions have come true. Keeping all that in mind, I still can’t look upon what lies ahead as the beginning of the end but rather as a new phase with so much to look forward to.
I received the sacrament of Extreme Unction when I was nineteen. That was in the seventies when, for most Catholics, it was a final blessing that meant that I was deemed ready to check out of this world. The medical professionals had given up on me. It was my amazing, Catholic mother who decided that she wasn’t ready to hand me over to whatever comes next without a fight. With her determination and dedication and a dollop of luck, I’m still here so many years later.
I bring up that old story because I’ve heard time and again that unless I prepare for a fulfilling and planned retirement I could find myself just biding time till the end is upon me. I can’t accept that notion because I don’t have to be 69 to anticipate the end. It could happen at any age – like 19, for instance.
I’ve decided to embrace this stage of life as completely as possible. I’m making changes and taking chances that I was hesitant to try before. There is a lot to be said for an age when other people’s opinions of you are not nearly as earth shaking as they used to be. I recognize that there are certain limitations that come with advanced years but they don’t have to be insurmountable. Rather than marking time till I die I prefer to get going with so much that I’ve put on hold because, for me, the going is definitely still good.
My first step in the process was to stop dyeing my hair. I’ve stopped wearing high-heeled shoes, except when it suits me to do so. I’ve added vibrant colours to my shades of black-white-gray wardrobe. I’ve decided on bright lipstick and sparkly eyeliner. I’m enjoying wearing my chunky, creative jewelry to go to the grocery store and not just for special outings.
The strangest thing has happened – I feel more energetic and vibrant in spite of the gray hair , the flat shoes, the wrinkles – – – – . Moving forward, I would like my role to be that of classy elder who is thoroughly enjoying the stage she’s at. I believe the going can be good at any st(age).
While pondering the concern uppermost in my mind I slipped and broke a rib. This created an immediate and forced stop to physical activity while my mind could now work double time.
How does one deal with or prepare for the possibility of diminished physical capacity in retirement? The majority of retirees are usually not young. The reality of physical limitations should probably be addressed. In my current state, I’ve found that while I can’t cough, sneeze or laugh with ease I can plunge wholeheartedly into those books that are piling up on my shelves. I can pry open the pristine packaging on those LPs and CDs and enjoy them for hours on end. An aside: with a broken rib you may not be able to boogie to the music but gentle swaying as absolutely OK.
As my kind and caring doctor gently suggested – “at your age” recovery could take six to eight weeks or longer. That’s a daunting thought for the likes of me. The very thought of slowing down because of a little pain is – well, it’s unthinkable. My doctor’s advice on how to manage my pain and encourage healing was corroborated by the crew of super-hero health professionals that I’m blessed to have as colleagues. I’ve received equal parts of advice and nagging so I’m well on the way to recovery.
What this has taught me is that ( if the physical setback is not too severe ) : 1. You can walk and dance with care or maybe a cane – 2. You can venture outdoors – just not in freezing rain – 3. You can cook and clean – just ask for assistance as needed – 4. You can read, write, paint, sew – just create supports for your neck or knees or back or hips etc. etc. – 5. You can meditate and exercise gently while seated or even lying down.
Diminished capacity in retirement doesn’t have to be depressing or scary. I’ve had a preview and I know it can be just fine with all the assistance provided by family, friends, and medication.
Very optimistic, Venetia.
P.S. I’m told that bone density scans are advisable for people of my vintage.
I have the good fortune of living in the country and on this bitterly cold Canadian winter morning I look out and see the most beautiful sight. The snow frosted trees, the pristine snow covered landscape broken only by the footprints of a deer or two, the snow topped roofs of the houses in the distance with the early morning lights twinkling in the windows, the large snowflakes drifting down !!!!!
All I can focus on is my commute to work. The wintery conditions will double my time on the road. Sadly, I’m right. It was a typical winter commute. My drive in was long and arduous but nowhere near as miserable as my drive home in the evening. I focused on taking deep breaths. I tried to consider it a Zen experience teaching me to calm my nerves. The last straw was when my good companion CBC radio got on my nerves and I had to resort to silence.
A definite “pro” for retirement – I won’t miss the daily commute. My drive to work should only take 35 minutes as it does on weekends and off-peak hours. However, rush hour traffic easily doubles or triples that time in good or bad weather. I’m glad I have a definite date for retirement in mind.
But if I retire, can I handle the lack of workplace routine? The feeling of making a difference? The special brand of camaraderie to which I have grown accustomed? Doesn’t all that compensate for the traffic troubles and the early mornings? Workplace validation is a definite “con” against retirement. After all, it isn’t every day that we have horrible weather or crazy traffic.
It’s that quandary again. I’ve grown accustomed to committing wholeheartedly to my work and enjoy overcoming challenges and creating positive outcomes. It’s been a quantifiable give and take, effort and reward, challenge and victory. I’m trying to visualize life in retirement without this gratifying sensation.
However, I don’t want to replace my current work environment with a similar alternate. I’m told by my retired friends that volunteer work is rewarding and requires commitment and becomes pretty much ‘a job’. I want retirement to be different. I want validation for my existence but without being involved in routine commitments. I can dream, can’t I?
Is my retirement dream possible? I realize I don’t want a repeat or continuation of my past. I want my move forward to be productive but not driven. I want to slow down without stopping altogether. I want to consciously take time to smell the roses. That should be validation enough. It will be an adjustment.
Still confused but seeing some of the fog drift away.
It’s bred in the bone – don’t be selfish, put others before
yourself, you will reap the rewards of
your actions. How? When? Does it matter?
I was 15 when I first came across Ayn Rand’s notion that
selfishness is not all bad and selflessness is not all good. It was a
wonderfully disconcerting idea to present to my parents. They were trying to
raise a child to be a good human being and selflessness was a requirement.
Fifty years later I truly believe that it’s possible to be selfish and good at the
I’ve spent most of my life trying hard not to be selfish and
sometimes I wasn’t happy being selfless. Sometimes I volunteered grumpily
because I couldn’t permit myself to back out of a commitment even when it was
quite understandable to do so. And I found fault with myself for what I
considered my bad attitude. It’s bred in the bone after all – put on a happy
face no matter what and do what’s expected.
Looking back can be enlightening but helps very little with
the decisions I must make now. I find that close study of my current situation
is more pertinent to planning my retirement. It is now not a philosophical
exercise of whether self-interest is the equivalent of selfishness. It is now a
matter of just how self-focused I want to be in deciding what’s good for my future,
on my terms. I don’t want to exchange one set of pre-arranged
regulations for another. I truly want to experience and understand “Freedom 55
or 65 or 70”! For me it’s going to be “Freedom 69”!
I’m still trying to figure out what freedom means to
me. Will I quit a job that pays me to
work with great colleagues? Will I replace it with hours of work around the
house that definitely needs doing and has been put on hold – you know, the
unpaid variety? Will I be quite selfish and indulge in all the interests that
I’ve put on hold for so long? Will I only do the chores in my left over time, rather
than the other way around? If I don’t choose my own path forward there’s only
one person to blame.
I’ve set a date for my retirement. It’s a significant one
for me – May 02, 2019. It will be exactly 50 years since I met my husband. It
seems appropriate to make another life altering decision on the anniversary of
that date! After all it’s a decision that will affect my partner as well. I could
potentially be around at least 8 extra hours EVERY day. Can we both be selfish
and indulge in self-care while caring for each other? That is not bred in the bone but needs consideration and
partnership. I think it can be done.