Retirement with a capital R

Is the big R word entering your vocabulary a little more often these days?

Is it causing you a bit of apprehension, or maybe even abject terror if truth be told, when your friends start talking about their big R parties? Do you sometimes get those yucky, down-in-the-gut kind of nauseous feelings about those gold watch exit staff meetings and the looming prospect of packing it all in after 35 years of a passion filled, driven career that took you to the pinnacle of your chosen field?

That big R word is not ‘Raise’, nor is it ‘Rest’ or ‘Relaxation’ The big R word is Retirement. And if you are a professional over 50 years old in Ottawa, it may soon be appearing on your life GPS. Luckily, there are many retirement plans available, so you don't have to bear with your retirement financial situation alone. For example, retirement investments are a great way to manage your money effectively. Don't be afraid to ask for professional help when it comes to your financial decisions in this stage of your life.

You are likely beginning to get material from your union or professional association to review the status of your pension. It might be informing you of the requirement to marry your partner before your R date so she can get your survivor’s benefits when you pass. They are probably sending you information about how you should get your will in order or that there are some great discounts with certain businesses for a prearranged and prepaid funeral. They might even have advertisements in your professional retirement literature about the best two room accommodation bargain in town at a local retirement home for only $4200 a month or where to get the best deal in town on ‘Depends’ or ‘Hurry Canes’.

You are also likely starting to talk about that big R word among your friends and neighbours who have already passed that milestone. You are getting excited, are you not, when they tell you that there are chair exercise programs through the city at the nearby community centre, and that you can play cribbage five afternoons a week in the United church basement? You are filled with anxious anticipation, are you not, about those six months in a Florida mobile home park, holed up in a one bedroom trailer placed six feet away from 90-something-year-old neighbours on either side of your abode while waiting for the ‘Early Bird Special’ at the Golden Corral, priced under $8, for all you can eat?

If I am striking a chord with you let not your heart be troubled. I have an out for you. Two routes which you might want to check out before setting out on that rutted road to the Pearly Gates.

My father told me about route one from his rocking chair in a Bells Corner retirement home at age 87. He was a wise man of few words. He cut to the executive summary on the subject one day when he simply said:

Never retire.

Many in my family took this route.

Aunt Mary left the government service as a senior health care professional manager at age 65, and tried the big R life for less than one year. That abysmal experience was enough to convince her to sign up for the Nursing Refresher Course the following year at Algonquin College. She reignited her passion for learning and easily graduated at the top of her class. She subsequently got a front line nursing job immediately with an insurance company, which she maintained until age 78 when she quit to care for her beloved 60-year-old baby sister in California. She nursed Aunt Theresa, to her untimely passing within a year.

Upon return to Ottawa, Aunt Mary started volunteer work at a Bank Street youth drop in centre where, much to the surprise of everyone there, she made the adolescents fancy sandwiches with the crusts cut off and served them standing up artistically on napkins.The youth came to chat with her about life. They came to love her and they came to call her Grandma. At the same time she took another volunteer job at a Salvation Army Thrift store weekly dusting and sorting shoes, telling the proprietors should would do anything for them as long as she did not deal with money. She babysat her granddaughter regularly, cared for another ailing sister who lived with her until placed in a long term care home, travelled often around the world, entertained with home prepared 12-person dinner parties almost weekly, handled the gardening in her own tiny yard, baked scrumptious goodies, decorated her own home including painting, and spent countless pleasurable hours at her three bedroom winter ski chalet with friends and family.

At the age of 85 she sold her modest bungalow in a single day, gave away almost everything she had and downsized to a one bedroom apartment which she hated because in her opinion, she had nothing to do. She quickly got herself into a large busy retirement residence on a well travelled central street where she could catch a bus to anywhere. There she attended every worship service regardless of faith or denomination, every entertainment offering going and told the staff that if the residence bus was destined for somewhere that day she wanted to be on it. Daily she dressed in her pretty office dresses, put on makeup and jazzy earrings, and preferred to wear high heels to flats, almost until the last two years of her life. Always a character, always a kind heart, always ahead of her time!

How I loved my amazing Aunt Mary who lived her life full tilt until 90-plus years of age!

My older brother Glenn, was a workaholic physician whose passion in his lifetime from age 19 or 20 was medicine. He lived and breathed it every day of his life. It was his raison d’être, the lifeblood of his time on earth, his singular focus for career, for study, and for service to others. He held off as long as he thought possible and retired, I know rather reluctantly, at age 76, almost 20 years later than many colleagues. At 79 he still loves learning new things about medicine, reading about cutting-edge advancements in the field and talking to friends and loved ones about health care.

While my brother has finally taken that huge leap into the big R life, I sometimes find it regrettable that he spends much of his time pruning the roses, trapping the bunnies and taking the brush from his property down to the dump. In my view he still has so much to give and the number of years he celebrates on his birthday is only a number. He is not typical of his peer group in many ways and could still be a contributing, outstanding physician working in some capacity using his phenomenal knowledge base. I have suggested to him that he might enjoy working a few days a week with a charity, serving at a homeless shelter or perhaps doing a stint in an underdeveloped country. What a resource he would be.

Many public figures have taken this route as well. Jane Fonda, at 79, and Robert Redford, at 81, made the movie, 'Our Souls at Night.’ Queen Elizabeth ll, still reigns successfully at 93. Ruth Ginsberg, at 86, is still a judge in the Supreme Court in the USA. Vocalist Tony Bennett still performs at age 93. Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner, is still writing well into her 80’s. Winston Churchill left parliamentary service at the age of 89.

The second ‘out’ is to do retirement with a capital R. The capital R stands for an approach to retirement that involves Rebooting, Rebuilding and Reinventing your mind and body, your circle of friends and contacts and what you do with your life. Retirement with a capital R will not be the end of the road but the beginning of the open highway. You may retire from a job, but you will not be retiring from life!

Rebooting a healthy body, mind and supporting lifestyle is salient. When you drop the nine-to-five job, the routine of the daily workforce, common experiences are isolation, loneliness and depression. The antidote to those retirement experiences which lead to poor health and decline to the inevitable, is to choose good health given your genes, by avoiding alcohol, drugs and smoking, by committing yourself to a good weight management strategy, excellent nutrition and a disciplined daily exercise regime.

Consider joining an athletic facility or community centre program where you can do active things like swimming, dancing or using a gym, Get a trainer maybe or find some other retirees to take classes like zumba or belly dancing with. Start a walking club in your neighbourhood. Walk your dog at a ‘dog park’ or volunteer to walk someone else’s dog if you do not have one. ‘Exercise is Medicine’ is a huge movement which will teach you how to push back on all kinds of health problems. It can keep you active, independent and able to do almost anything you want. Without that health, the money and time you may have for an enjoyable retirement will be, 100 per cent guaranteed, next to useless.

Rebuilding a new social network is important and developing new interpersonal contacts that provide opportunity for stimulating interaction, conversation and laughter is important as well. Keeping a happy positive mental attitude, giving up sweating about the small stuff and letting yourself find humour in the world around you, will increase your enjoyment of retirement life and extend your personal shelf life. Sunny ways, a crazy laugh and an ability to make others smile and giggle will help you make new friends everywhere you go. People love funny, sunshiny people. They remember them. They want to be around them. By developing your sense of humour, you will not only enjoy your own life more but you will diminish the likelihood of being lonely, isolated and depressed.

We know from research that happiness levels are directly correlated with the number of social contacts one has in a day. So getting out there with all kinds of interesting people, doing all kinds of interesting things, will be a salient factor in enjoying retirement.

As well, If you find yourself alone at this stage of life, you can think about meeting a new special someone and enjoy all that a senior relationship has to offer with a high quality companion/ friend/ lover just like you! Traditional ways of meeting like minded friends such as joining clubs and groups that beckon you still work, as do reputable online dating sites for seniors.

Reinventing yourself, finding a satisfying purpose for your existence and activities that give meaning to your activities each and every day is especially important. Many retired people I know found this challenge the greatest after their high powered careers. When facing the big R day, they grimaced at their retired neighbours who no longer wanted to discuss things like the progress of democracy in Hong Kong but rather things like the best way to keep their dandelions under control. They cringed when they heard retired former colleagues talk about things like their deficiencies in chasing a small white ball around a golf green five times a week, or the bold new person who dared to take a seat at their table in the retirement home dining room that always was and always will be the chair for their friend John or Mary. They dreaded talking to certain retired folk in their network because they knew it would be one more episode in an unending series about a trip to their doctor or the side effects associated with their prescription for heartburn.

So here’s the deal on this.

Reinvent yourself with a new purpose. If you were bright enough to become a family doctor, a business manager, a high school teacher or a government economist, for example, you are capable of becoming a lot of things. Take a look at how you can develop dormant talents and interests and then do it. You will find happiness and fulfillment when you continue growing, stretching your gifts to new heights or when you find yourself in the service of others, until Saint Peter calls your name.

I knew a colleague who was taking her PHD at Ottawa University in her 80's and still doing private adoption home studies. I know a former high school teacher who is approaching 80, who has worked tirelessly to create the Barrhaven Seniors Council and is still meeting with politicians and group members to further the growth and activities the club can offer. I know a dynamic retired nurse who is still extremely active in advancing health care initiatives and advocates with politicians and government personnel. I personally retired recently at age 71, from a second career as a private adoption practitioner and have become involved in numerous volunteer and advocacy endeavours, travel extensively and am trying my hand at writing.

There you have it, those of you thinking about the big R word! Life after that discombobulated momentous marker in your life journey can be all downhill and pretty damn fast, just biding your time waiting for the Grim Reaper to pay a call at your house. Or it can be an exhilarating mind-blowing opportunity to get healthier, make new friends, and fill up the endless supply of previously unused file folders in your mind and share what you have in them, with others. It can start the wheels turning on a phenomenal adventure when you find up to the minute ways to develop yourself and to serve others. Remaining active, a full first-string player and involved in real life in this way, will bring you the emotional fulfillment and satisfaction that only learning new things and making a contribution, feeling useful and being of value to others can bring.

Lee M. Brown once wrote of retirement,

A thriving new beginning can be and should be a time for amazing engagement, growth, connections, contributions, and amazing possibilities”.

May Retirement with a capital R, be just that for you!