Do you remember the first time anyone ever said or offered to do something for you that made you feel “old’? At age forty I was taking an evening graduate class at a local university. The campus was a large and crowded one. I was standing at a busy intersection awaiting a traffic light change. A young man of maybe 18-20 years in age was standing next to me. As the light changed, he looked at me, smiled, and said quite politely, “Do you need some help crossing the street, Sir?” I didn’t immediately reply because I assumed he was talking to someone behind me. I turned. There was no one behind me. I looked at him and replied, “Are you talking to me?” Immediately the line from the motion picture, ‘Taxi Driver”, came to mind. Instead of giving him my best Robert DeNiro, I watched as he nodded, affirming his offer of assistance. “That’s very kind of you to offer “, I replied, “But I’m fine, Thank you.” As he crossed the intersection I stood still, transfixed on all that the comment brought to my age-clouded mind. Do I LOOK like I need assistance? Was it the way I was standing? Was it my graying hair? Was it my tired look after a long day at work while thinking about the next two hours I would spend taking notes and trying to stay awake in the graduate class? Heaven forbid, but did I actually look, OLD?
In my subconscious mind, I kept thinking this was going to play out differently. Was someone going to come out, shout “PRANK!”, and ask me to sign a release form to have this play on “America’s Funniest Home Videos”? None of that happened. Instead, the light changed, I was stuck at the curb, and late for class. I sat there for the next two hours feeling older than I ever had before in my life. It was an incident I would never forget, that in time, turned from one of dismay and shock to a smiling awareness of me stepping toward the vulnerability of “old age”.
I would work another twenty-five years beyond that point. I aged as gracefully as we all do. The body changes were discouraging. I gained weight, moved a little slower, bought new titanium knees, and needed glasses. I kept my thick hair, but it turned white. I matured mentally and emotionally as life was at times uplifting, and at other times painfully burdensome. I was blessed to be in a profession working with great, caring and dedicated, talented people. Most enjoyable, I was working daily with children. As a school teacher and later administrator, I was presented almost daily with birthday cookies and hugs. I was even fortunate enough to be in a school attended by my own grandchildren that I got to see daily as I made school rounds. Between family, work, daughters, and grandchildren, I was very busy and loved almost every minute of it for forty-two years in my career. Then it happened. I retired.
I had reservations and fears about retiring. That is ironic because most people count the number of years and days left they will be required to work before they can retire. Most people are anxious to retire and excited at the thought of it. I knew there would be emotional changes. I knew there would be dramatic routine changes. Still, I tend to be flexible and had spent all my life dealing with events in a progression of ongoing “change”. Now, here I was facing retirement. Congratulatory dinner behind me, with gifts galore, after cleaning out my office, surrendering my work keys, and with all my retirement paperwork behind me and filed, I was launching out on the sea of unlimited freedom I had always wanted and looked forward to. Soon I was to learn that retirement is akin to living out the Spaghetti Western, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.
My wife was still working when I retired. She envied my retirement. I saw that envy in her eyes each morning as she would wish me a great day and head out the door going to work. I think me lounging on the couch that first week watching TV and channel surfing may have been a little disconcerting for her. But she concealed her simmering envy well and chose not to ask me many questions about my plans for the day. I worked through my initial “Things to Do” list pretty quickly. Then, the shadow of boredom started creeping in. There were lots of things I could do. But many of the things I wanted to do involved me spending money. You know, The “Guy Things”, like car and motorcycle shopping, major home updates, trip planning and the like. I paced, I drove around. I ate out. I visited the wife at work. I even thought about getting a part-time job. Then it happened. Like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, I returned for a visit to my workplace. I was warmly welcomed and enjoyed seeing old friends. The problem was that they were working, and I was not. Though I loved their warm welcome, I was a distraction to their work. They didn’t say it. I sensed it and politely withdrew amid a flood of invitations to return at any time I wanted. I have, but rarely. Returning just wasn’t the same. I had to cope with that.
I did look forward to receiving the mail every day. The mailman and I became acquaintances after decades of me being no more than a house, street address, and mailbox number to him. Sometimes I actually waited for him. Sometimes it was instead a “her” who made the loop at the end of the cul-de-sac to stop at my mailbox and say hello to me, PERSONALLY. But a huge surprise was the nature of the mail I was receiving. It was changing.
The bulk mail flyers always went in the trash as usual. But envelopes and offerings started to appear that I had never seen before. Everyone wanted to invest my retirement money. They even offered me free steak dinners just for me to come and listen to them tell me how they were going to handle and invest my money. As I neared age 65 to be eligible for Social Security, the mailings about supplemental health insurance began. They were soon followed by telephone telemarketer and sales calls with complete strangers addressing me by my first name as if lifelong friends, though we had never met. Did these calls always come in, even while I was working and just not available to answer them? Many of the sales people calling spoke only broken English. When I asked where they were calling from, the Philippines were where I found most call centers to be located. Initially, I was polite to callers, until they started to hang up on me abruptly. Then, about five seconds into their comments, as soon as I realized it was a sales call, my demeanor changed, and my reply became, “Thanks for calling but I’m not interested. Please take me off your call list.” Apparently, old age was making me impatient and cranky with telemarketers.
Mailings and calls for donations to any number of charities were ongoing. Then the “medical device” mail started appearing. Offerings for a variety of body braces, wheelchairs, motorized mobility scooters, deals on dentures, even adult diapers for Heaven’s sake. There were cures for smoking and weight loss tied to hypnosis presentations at local hotels. Investment opportunities in gold, survival supplies I could order for the coming apocalypse and offerings for me to become an ordained minister online as a tax break. How did I get on these mailing lists? Then it occurred to me. It was because of my AGE. Some database, somewhere, perhaps hundreds of them, had me in a sales and marketing “demographic “. I was being subliminally targeted and brainwashed to feel and accept being old!
My favorite mailings by far were the ones from funeral homes. There’s nothing equal to brightening up your day quite like being reminded of the pending termination of your life and what you want to be done with your “mortal remains “. It doesn’t take long to realize that try as they may, funeral homes and mortuaries can’t do much to make death terminology pleasant. I found out that I could be buried, cremated, and entombed, I could be decapitated and have my head be cryogenically saved to be brought back to life and be attached to another body in 2000 years or so when they figure out how to do that. I can be freeze-dried, pulverized to a powder, and encased in a vessel with tree seeds to be turned into a sprouting tree. I could even reserve a spot on a rocket to be shuttled out into space to tour the universe with thousands of other deceased strangers simulating a pseudo “Star Trek” mission. I even received information about the benefits and processes of donating my body to science for medical research. Some of the suggestions were appealing. Some were horrifying. But undeniably, I was thoroughly informed about the varied manners of disposing of my “mortal remains” after my death.
I also began doing much more reading in retirement. While in college and working professionally, all my reading was geared to degree work and getting trained and certified as a teacher and educational administrator. There was so much of it that I never really did any reading for “pleasure”. That shocks many of my friends who are avid readers. But reading and recreational research soon became the silver lining in my retirement cloud. There are two things that ALL educators have in common. Those two qualities are a love of children and a love of learning. Teachers never want to stop learning, EVER. And learning now is at everyone’s fingertips 24-7-365. I can access most any library in the world and research most any topic from home at my convenience.
A huge topic of research is and has long been, “Retirement”. When you “Google” the topic a virtual mountain of information becomes available to you for your study. One of the noted, important retirement requirements I repeatedly read about is the need for you NOT to live a sedentary lifestyle. Find your area of intellectual and physical interest and pursue it. Whether it be a hobby, a sport, travel, volunteer community and service work, taking coursework, whatever it is, identify it and embrace it. When you merge free time, you have with an interest, you generally exercise your mind and body. Exercising your mind and body is essential to good health and retirement happiness. For retirees, the old adage, “You’re only as old as you feel” is pretty much THE key to living a happy, beneficial retirement.
That said, I’m also a realist. Living your life and maintaining a lifestyle, whether you are employed or retired, takes MONEY. I used to tell students that I taught in high school that the decisions they were making then, were going to impact their lives long into the future. All decisions you make open and close doors of opportunity in your life. At any age, life is a series of choices and consequences. People can’t depend on luck. The odds of you winning and retiring from the lottery are minuscule. My hope is that your lifelong work ethic and efforts will provide you with a comfortable retirement to enjoy in your golden years. If not, you know all too well from your own life experiences and maturing what needs to be stressed to your children and grandchildren about preparing for the future. Sadly, many people live day-to-day with no concern about preparing for tomorrow. I also hope that your health is good and that unforeseen health costs on the far horizon, do not rob you of an enjoyable retirement to share with your loved ones.
I have friends ask me all the time how I like retirement. I am blessed in mine, as I hope you will be in yours. It’s a new adventure as you begin a new chapter in your like. I jokingly say to them, “There is a lot to be said for NOT working and getting paid for it.” Thing is, it’s not a joke! I love the freedom. I love the discovery opportunities. I love the extra time I can devote to being with and helping family. I love the fact that I seem to be even busier now than I was BEFORE I retired. I’ve heard that comment made by many of my other retired friends.
Maybe you are retired now and can relate to everything I’ve shared. Maybe your “demographic” places your years away from receiving funeral home brochures! Regardless, if you are at this Long-Term Care News website, you are thinking now about your retirement future. That puts you in a better position to have retirement be everything for you that you want it to be!
Congratulations on planning in advance for a new and important segment of your life! You are on the road to becoming a “Retirement Winner!"