On retirement

To everything there is a season …

Bette Davis hit the nail on the head for most of us when she said “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” We need to understand why she might have made this comment and what we might consider doing to ease us across the unknown terrain.

Reaching the season of our ageing isn’t something most of us give much thought to in the other seasons of our lives. The challenges of advancing age aren’t given much thought until directly pressed upon us.

To find ourselves entering a season of detachment from all that has preceded is beyond comprehension, but in fact, that is the reality that will confront us.

One of the first detaching moments occur at the time of our retirement and we awaken to the fact that things are never going to be quite the same. Many of us have pinned our identity on what we have done for a living, we see ourselves through no other lens.

Having reached the pinnacle of making our contribution to our community we might feel that the best of us is now behind us. In absentia, we are quickly detached from the loop of comradery and the sharing of lives previously enjoyed with our co-workers. With a release from the structure and security of employment, it isn’t easy for many to wake up and have no demand for our attention … the feeling can be one of isolation.

It can be frightening to wonder how we will etch out a life with some semblance of meaning. Although a common expression of retirees to those still in the trenches is that they “don’t have enough hours in the day”, that they “don’t know how they ever found time to work” doesn’t always offer the reassurance that this will apply to us.

If one can measure the season of ageing by what one hears in the coffee shops and along the byways of daily life, one can readily assume that from the minor to more major health issues, medical appointments and scans of all things organic will begin to occupy our conversations and a prominent place on everyone’s calendar. It is perplexing to realize that although the mind registers as forty, the body wants to emphasize the ripe age of seventy. The seeking of magic elixirs and repair of all things broken becomes the focus of us getting one more kick at the cat …  the one we thought would go on indefinitely.

We frequently hear of the activity of downsizing by retirees. This may entail moving more than once …  firstly, from larger family homes to a small bungalow, an apartment or condo and for some to the communal lifestyle found within a residential or long-term care facility. These moves often occur within a time of decline in energy levels and changes to functional ability. With moving recognized as one of the most stressful activities for all ages, it is no wonder that it is often considered a dreaded necessity during the years of our advancing age.

It is important to note that with each relocation we leave the familiarity of our neighbourhoods and neighbours. People we have bonded with throughout our lives, friendships that have seen us through thick and thin slowly slip away from us through the changing circumstances being experienced in each life. We soon start recognizing that our age group has risen to the top tier in the obituary section of the newspaper and we are reminded that we too are in the queue of that tier.

So what prevents us from bringing a defeatist perspective to the season of our ageing? What will allow us to feel that it is worth rising from our beds, putting both feet on the floor and stepping out into the day, as always?

I find it counterproductive to push the topic of ageing and mortality under a rug. Who really wants to recognize that life maybe isn’t going to be easy and last indefinitely. Life, more than likely, will offer enough instances along the way that stops us dead in our tracks, allowing us to regroup and connect with life’s reality … at least for the short term.

I find it helpful to take a moment and peruse the lives of forebearers and mentors and discover what we can emulate from how they traversed this time in their lives.

I found it helpful to not think of retirement as having a specific age and to transition from full time to casual until certain of my decision. To gain clarity on what some of the realities will be prior to retiring paves the way for significant life changes. Taking the time after retirement to let yourself “feel” the change, explore new possibilities and make the adjustment to an altered time clock are all helpful to letting go.

Maintaining contact with co-workers who share the retiree experience and old friendships, welcoming and nurturing new acquaintances …  all contacts are important to minimizing the feelings of isolation that can exist with retirement. With the good fortune of having my lifetime mate at my side, we continue to experience and share life’s opportunities together.

With newfound freedom, the empty spaces get filled with every imaginable activity. It is important to remember that ageing is another season for you to live in whatever way will best define “you” … there is no one size fits all. Allowing myself the mental space to feel uninhibited, I have discovered a real passion and love of moving words and sentences across the page. In an unexpected way, I find myself content in my retirement.

One Doctor refers to chronic health changes as the “new you”. With that, we strive to remain functional within the new parameters and live our lives with as much self-directed independence and quality that we can muster. Before retiring, I proactively had a chair lift installed so that we could continue to access our living area should stairs become an impediment to remaining in our own home. Within our means, we fill our days with pleasurable experiences that maintain a spirit of contentedness with our lot in life. We share our feelings, concerns about our ageing, health changes and our death … we traverse the terrain together.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies”, I would have to agree. There are days when one could feel downright sorry for oneself but what’s the alternative, not one we’d readily choose, I’d venture to guess?

So we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, do the best we can to minimize the impact of our losses and make the choice to find the joy, pleasures, beauty, and blessings that we have at our fingertips …  in other words we live it out til our dying breath with thankfulness for having had the opportunity to do so.

Karen Hirst