Tales of Retirement
Ann worked as an early childhood educator and university lecturer until 1985. She also, at various stages of her life, volunteered with the following organizations: local schools, school board committees, a service dog training group, Al-Anon, and various parenting groups (parent discussion, baby group, life support parenting, older child adoption, and parent support for parenting children with FASD). She moved into a retirement community in 2013 at the age of 66.
“This is it,” I thought. “Now I’m definitely old.” It was 2013.
“Good luck, dearie.” The nice lady behind the post office desk at the back of the drug store had looked at me kindly after explaining where I had to go to file my next change of address form. My brain was full of the last five months of decisions and changes and she could see I was having trouble processing directions like “across the street.”
Retirement is more like a stagger toward living one day at a time than it is like summer vacation. I’ve retired a lot – once from paid work, and at least nine times from major volunteer and support groups.
Each time, I saw the choices I was making as positive ones, which would make room for other experiences I wanted in my life. And each time, I expected to have a feeling of a luxurious abundance of time, a decrease of the stress of having more things to do than I would be comfortable with.
Ha! That didn’t happen. Unsurprisingly, after leaving my teaching responsibilities at the university, I didn’t have a lot of extra time and space as I anticipated a third child.
But this recurring evidence didn’t stop me from thinking that when we sold our empty nest of a house and moved into a smaller house in a retirement community, I would somehow create that abundance of time I had been pursuing since maybe middle childhood.
What I have learned
From this, and many similar ‘retirements,’ I think I have finally learned some things:
- My general feeling of having lots of things I’d like to do is something I carry with me wherever I go. It seems to be part of me, and I need to remember this about myself. It’s a little like having a cat in a bag – hard to hold onto, hard to let go of, and interfering with my serenity in a big way!
Having these feelings of busy-ness, having too many options, not having enough time to do everything I want to do – these mental and physical lists – is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just who I am.
- Each of my parents left me with a strong belief about the value of engaging with life.
My mother, when she was turning 70, said, “I think it’s going to be so interesting to find out what it’s like to be seventy!”
My dad, a week before he died at the age of 93, said, “I’m grateful I never ran out of interesting things to do.”
Although my parents were, in many ways, polar opposites, and their marriage did not survive some of the differences between them, they both valued being engaged in life.
- I have consciously chosen to regret almost nothing, and to be aware that any plan involving tomorrow or after may be changed. I can accept that the day will come when I won’t want to go all the way to the cottage, and that it’s not today.
- A friend’s husband’s death three years ago gave me a look, from my relatively safe space, into her experience of profound grief. Of course, this reminded me that bad things happen, we all die, and someone else I know and care about may well die before I do.
- I also learned to recognize and appreciate griefs over other losses: the loss I still experience following a concussion from a fall at the cottage years ago; my husband’s stroke, which took some of his health permanently; his heart attack, two weeks after we signed the purchase of our new little retirement house, giving some desperation to the choices for bathroom tiles in the new place, in between drives three times a week to rehab.
What I am loving
So, am I contented in my retirement? Not particularly. ‘Contentment’ for me conveys a rather static condition. Unless I’m in a committed funk, I choose dynamic over static. Am I interested in what there is to do in my life today? Absolutely!
I love having overlapping groups of friends that share an interest in spending time together. I make them a priority often enough that they remain part of my life, so much so that, at the age of about 18, my older daughter said to a friend, in my hearing, “my mom loves groups.”
I enjoy having a teeny-tiny 5-pound Yorkshire terrier who almost scoffs at what I say to him, likes to have his tummy rubbed, and never asks me for money.
I love being married – l love the ups and the downs of living with my husband. He has known me all of my adult life and is still part of my life every day. We understand and agree about most things, have made a truce about the rest, and occasionally skirmish anyway.
There are changes I am glad to have made. I look for people who can help me dig up the hedge in the garden instead of first trying to do it myself. I can sometimes decide an item on my list is not worth the stress of doing it, and leave it off the next list!
I am also enjoying both new and familiar activities:
- Learning to play a mountain dulcimer in a new group in the community where we now live – building on my childhood piano lessons and filling a gap I used to regret in my middle years
- Community politics, in which I can go to a meeting, feel interested in the topic or people, and not end up in charge of anything. I’ve learned not to volunteer to do anything unless I really mean it, and I’ve also learned that, very often, someone else would be better for the job!
About the time we were preparing to move to this retirement community, and dealing with losses in health, thinking about deaths and griefs of different kinds, a wise woman said to me, “there’s lots of letting go” in this stage of life. And there is.
I also believe that for me, every day holds the possibility of something interesting – something to do, someone to talk to, something happening, something fun, some emotional investment or divestment. And yes, there are days I don’t feel that way; but after a while, that changes.
Some days, in my retirement, I still feel ‘too busy.’ But more and more, I recognize that I can ‘pivot,’ as news anchors do when not following the script. I try to stay aware that I have a choice about what I do with my next moment, with my next breath, with my own next list of expectations. Then I do feel I have an abundance of time.