As a younger man I envisioned retirement as receiving a gold watch and eating cake at a farewell dinner. One day you are at the top of your game and the next, your grateful employer hands you a large check, gives you a slap on the back – exclaiming to the gathered crowd how great you were. Then you ride off in a golf cart to a senior community to enjoy a well-deserved, fully funded respite.
The reality is, retirement happens in stages, each caused by physical or mental events. They happen whether you are ready or not, with no consideration of personal goals, savings accounts or a completed mortgage payoff.
It happened for my father after a heart attack at age 55, followed by quadruple bypass at 60 which limited his ability to crawl under a snowplow to perform his job as a mechanic. It was not a joyous occasion, just a depressing gathering of his tools and a walk out the side door. My mother lived a gypsy’s life on the road, commuting to tiny North Dakota & Minnesota school districts teaching English and Speech and gathering monthly paychecks to supplement my father’s hourly wage. Her final assignment occurred after she slid off an icy North Dakota highway, turning her car into a crumpled wreck, leaving her with broken bones and a crooked back.
Neither of their retirements was planned, they just happened, like the final chapter of a cheap detective novel, where the story lines were resolved with sudden impromptu revelations.
The fact I was still working at all at age 62 was a tribute to modern medicine and fortuitous timing. When I was in my forties I suffered a major stroke and was saved by a then experimental TPA injection (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) along with chemical blood thinners that cleared my choked arteries. In my fifties, genetics caught up to me and I went under the knife for a triple bypass. Thanks to a potent cocktail of 12 different prescriptions, I was able to maintain my job in marketing.
What finally took me down was a series of smaller slips, trips and silly slides, resulting in a painfully torn meniscus, followed by five centimeter tear in my rotator cup, rendering me one-handed. After six months of medical procedures, pain killers and continuous physical therapy I was effectively retired. As I recently told my doctor and my boss, “All I really want to do was dig a hole and crawl into it to heal!”
I left my job in marketing after nearly 25 years in the trenches answering phone calls, making sales and conducting seminars. I served on many advisory boards where I felt I had built a regional reputation that established me as a leader. I was known as a “go-to” source in the industry and my input was sought. So I was taken aback by how quickly I could vanish from my chosen field. One day I was on the job and the next I was gone. The silence of my departure was shocking.
I now spend my days, feeling guilty about sleeping in and missing a daily schedule. It doesn’t matter to me that I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift my arm to the side or carry any weight with it. I view myself a slacker. I feel that I should be pursuing a full schedule of travel and hobbies, and then checking off items on a lifelong bucket list. Instead I feel more and more like lumpy perch for my three cats.
I had spent years telling myself that there would be time later to catch up on my reading of the classics, that I would travel to exotic destinations and pursue long established dreams. Instead I’ve memorized the cable TV listings, including all known entries of Castle and Bones repeats. My mornings are devoted to endless cups of single serve coffee and online inspections of estate sales, which might offer me a chance to complete my collection of James Patterson novels at a remarkably reduced price. Then it’s off to the Amazon to inspect the “Deal of the Day” and marvel at the selection of KitchenAid mixers and wonder how they keep adding all those new colors.
I do feel as if I am slowly transitioning to a new reality, which might include new friends, new opportunities and challenges. I look forward to the journey and the new experiences they will offer. Just last week I marked off nine of the 15 most common Minnesota songbirds that have visited my neighbor’s feeder. I have driven through three State Parks located in my area, photographing wildflowers, and then identifying them with the colorful field guides that arrived via UPS from the friendly people at Amazon.
I have begun to organize my workshop, arraigning boxes of screws and nails by size and type, in newly leveled laminated shelves and dovetailed drawers. Yesterday I checked and charged my Sears cordless tool batteries and placed them on a shelf at the ready, in case a household screw needs tightening or a hole needs to be bored. Tomorrow I am considering sorting my collection of drill bits and sharpening the dull ones with my trusty “Drill Doctor”, to be stored by sizes in clear sandwich bags to prevent rust. I am also gathering up my collection of dull lawnmower blades to bring them to the hardware store for sharpening. (I read online that a professionally sharpened blade reduces thatch and produces a greener lawn.)
I am looking forward to visiting my local senior center to take part in a “55 Alive” course to reduce my auto insurance premiums. While I am sure the two day lecture will be entertaining, I am on pins and needles as to what type of bars and cookies will be available at the breaks. The senior coordinator mentioned to me that they could use another judge for the upcoming fall festival. I will have to check my schedule with my cats, it is filling up fast!