Did my children with children of their own think I’d always be available to give them a hand? I love my children and adore their children but I wasn’t planning on trading in full-time paid work for full-time childcare either. Helping when I’m free … of course. Joining my daughter in Iqaluit for a week to take care of her children while she worked in the hospital there … gladly. Helping with moves from one place to another … happy to bring pizza and beer but no heavy lifting please. Going to see grandchildren play baseball, dance on a stage, drum their hearts out … can’t resist. Hopping on a plane and flying to Japan for a week to meet my newest grandson … you bet. But not full time and not instead of living my own life.
Then there were the more evasive issues. Not meaning to imply that anyone’s life is defined on a 2.5” x 3” piece of paper, I was apprehensive about how would I answer people who asked what I did for a living when I could no longer pass them my business card. If I answered “Oh, I’m retired” it sounded like I had once had a life and now I was on permanent sabbatical, and besides it sounded like the equivalent of “I’m old now and not doing much.” I may be out of the business of business, but I’m certainly not out of the business of life. Still muddling over what the future might bring, I printed calling cards with my name and the logo For The First Time on it because I realized – with both a sense of thrill and a sense of doom – that I could choose just what I wanted to be doing/being now. I just had to figure out what that was.
First I spent my days sleeping late and watching lots and lots of TV; I think I did that to the point of risking my brain functionality. Then I volunteered in about half a dozen places to be sure that I had something on my calendar every day just as I had for years and years before. That seemed wise since the question I was asked most often was “what are you doing to keep busy”? I finally got around to starting a major closet cleanup, something I’d been saying I’d do when I had the time. As an aside, 8 years later most of the closets aren’t in much better condition than they were before my cleanup.
By the time the first year of retirement ended I had given up much of the TV and most of the volunteering, and was instead spending a lot of time taking long walks and thinking about why I was so discontent with my life. In my 20s I had given up my dream of becoming a physician, opting instead to go to Teacher’s College so that I could quickly establish myself in a career that would provide the financial security to take my young children and leave a very bad marriage. It’s a choice that I haven’t regretted because, as it turned out, I love teaching. Still, in my career years I’d often had to back away from many beliefs I’d held passionately in my younger years – a rather left-leaning idealism – to “fit in” with my professional world. Now I had options of abandoning those compromises that left me squirming all too often. Two years after retiring I was no longer married and I was still searching for “the right fit”.
When I worked I was known as “the queen of charts”; my specialty was taking large, complex projects and mapping them onto a simple-to-understand chart. I decided to do this for myself: after all, retirement was in many ways my personal and very big project. Here’s an idea of what the outline looked like:
|My Passions||Past involvement||How could I be involved now?||Next steps?|
|Cooking||As required||For fun||?|
This process, after numerous revisions, helped me to narrow down what I wanted to be doing. I joined a choir again. I began volunteering in the kitchen of an Out Of The Cold program to feed homeless people. I took on a contract with The Learning Partnership to try to figure out why boys from Afghanistan attending schools in Toronto weren’t doing well and how we could better help them to succeed. I turned my blog into a book and started doing retirement workshops, travelling as far away as Cambridge, England. I met a man I’d sung with in a choir 18 years earlier and we became close friends and a year later we traveled to Tuscany together where Venice worked its magic and we became partners – loving together but living apart (stay tuned … there’s another book coming). I was busy … enough. I was happy … enough. I was contributing and making a difference. There, I’d figured it out.
Not so fast! What I hadn’t factored into my planning was that we don’t retire when we’re young, we retire when we’re becoming older … and that process can overtake anything else we’ve been doing. A massive, inexplicable sub-arachnoid brain hemorrhage laid me low for many months and left me feeling much more vulnerable. Then, a year and a half later just as I was really getting back on my feet – sort of – I had a skating accident. While working on my quad-klutz I fell and demolished my right arm, leaving big bones broken and my elbow in shards. 8 months later, as my arm was finally healing after a number of surgeries, we were read-ended on the highway and my arm broke again. I’ve visited the OR twice since then, done countless hours of physiotherapy, and as I sit here on the train writing I still have a long way to go before my arm stops screaming at me. Falling apart – from head to arm – was not on my chart. Spending months in bed recovering was not on my chart. A calendar chockablock with doctor’s appointments, trips to the hospital, physiotherapy … that wasn’t in the plan at all.