Retirement Reflections #1 – Transitions (63 years, 4 months)
Retirement is several years away for me, but it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. I’m thinking about it as I make my daily commute by bus and subway to work in Boston, a commute that should take exactly an hour, but that can drag out to an hour and a half when there’s heavy snow like there was earlier in the month, or when the MBTA’s Red Line slows—or comes to a complete standstill—because of a “disabled train” ahead. I’m thinking about it when my sore knee keeps me from running and I start to wonder if this time it won’t get better and I’ll be forced to give up what’s been the foundation of my fitness regimen for decades. I’m thinking about it as I witness transitions taking place around me that fill me with hope even as they speak to the one-way nature of our mortal lives.
All in the Family
Two of those transitions are taking place in my immediate family.
My sister—my younger (!) sister—retired at the end of December from her job as the manager of a county mental health clinic in the Pacific Northwest. She was a successful and innovative manager and, like many in our generation, is poised now to make her own contribution to reinventing retirement. No rocking chair or shuffleboard for her—she launched a political career with her election last year to a position in local government, and she’s laying the groundwork for taking private clients for couples and family therapy. She’s an inspiration to me and should be an inspiration to all of us as she embraces the next phase of her life with vigor and optimism.
Meanwhile, our 92-year-old father is undergoing his own transition. He and our mother live in an outstanding Continuing Care Retirement Community with a spectrum of services ranging from Independent Living to Skilled Nursing. (Everything for the end of life, I’ve been known morbidly to joke, but a graveyard out back.) His Parkinson’s Disease is advancing, his strength is declining, and my mother can no longer help him with with many of the basic tasks of daily life, so he’s moving out of their apartment and into Skilled Nursing. It’s a necessary step but sad nevertheless; my parents have been married for nearly 69 years and Dad is very emotionally dependent on Mom. My siblings and I have fingers crossed that they can adjust to this new normal.
So, you may be asking, where’s the “hope” in my father’s transition? First, I’m thankful he’s receiving such outstanding care. Second, and more selfishly, I’m grateful both of my parents are alive—I enjoy their company and they give me hope that I, too, will be blessed with relative health and longevity.
I won’t be 65 until 2019 and as an older father with two teenagers, one in college and one starting college in the fall, I’ll work for a while longer to pay tuition. Still, retirement feels just around the corner, and that’s exciting. My sister’s experience offers inspiration, and my father’s experience suggests that I’ll have a good long chunk of time to enjoy it. And what, specifically, am I excited about? These, for sure: Traveling more with a wife I’m madly in love with. Devoting more time to newly-discovered activities like genealogy and writing my family history. Making a decision about if, and where, to move. To the city for a while to enjoy great restaurants and cultural life? To the country, perhaps to a warmer spot further south, where there are trails for hiking and nature for peace and reflection? Somewhere else?
Maybe you’re on the same journey, and we can take it together. If you are, how are you thinking about and planning for retirement? If you’re retired already, what have you learned and what advice can you offer?