The Third Third

Fear of Retirement

In a word association test, if you say “Retirement,” I say “Fear.” I doubt that I’m alone. And the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach doesn’t go away when I read the literature addressed to all of us who are, chronologically-speaking, supposed to be getting ready to retire. You know the stories – about your income (declining), your health (declining), and the joys of gardening (because it’s, literally, dirt cheap). This is not a path I’ve ever taken – and there’s a reason: I didn’t want to. Why would the mere onset of another decade make me change my mind? At least those marketing to us – and they are myriad – have changed out some of the pictures in their materials – not everyone has gray or blue-gray hair anymore. But the women are still shown wearing pull-on polyester pants and Keds, and the men are in their golf clothes. Pulleese! One piece of advice I read the other day suggested we “adjust” to the reduced cash flow of retirement by (1) moving to a smaller home which is more economical to operate and to a city which taxes at a lower rate; and (2) getting rid of one of the cars. I almost threw up. I mean, where do I begin? Talk about loss of control, not to mention loss of community – just pick up and move, leaving friends, family, churches, clubs, activities, interests, and everything familiar behind – this smacks of everything I understand you’re not supposed to do to maintain your mental and physical health. And then take one set of wheels away so that wherever we go anywhere and whenever we go, we act in tandem – either one of us driving the other or one of us negotiating with the other to get to go alone to, say, the drug store. Not in my lifetime. Uh-huh. Again, this runs counter to the mental and physical strength inherent in an individual life well-lived. These are not small concerns. They may seem merely materialistic – and on my more selfish days, they may *be* merely materialistic. (Another thing we have yet to negotiate on the household line-item expenses budget is my clothing allowance. But that’s another story.) These lifestyle dicta, however, bother me more because they suggest that my wants and needs suddenly – simply because of some arbitrary age or my husband’s necessarily unilateral decision to retire from his profession -- don’t count so much anymore, that someone thinks I no longer have the need to act independently. I, and perhaps we, are dispensable, ready to be dismissed, somehow significantly less important in the overall scheme of things. This just doesn’t feel right. I realize that simply because I read this stuff doesn’t mean I have to accept it, or follow the advice, but the steady drumbeat of this kind of message is depressing. As one who’s always lived up to expectations, I don’t want to start living down to any – and these are pervasive. That’s the fear: that in my becoming whatever I am at 60, I will be influenced, suffocated, diminished, constrained, or defeated by woefully out of date images and expectations of Retirement Reality. What I feel, instead, on the good days, is a rich and exciting sense of potential. There will be freedom from the day-to-day of parenting and liberation from the caretaking of a stressed out lawyer-husband; I’ll have access to my creative energies, and outlets for what I produce. I’ll have no excuses for not trying something new (downhill skiing, here I come!). And I can focus on translating our many blessings (chief among them, our health and our family’s health) into more good for more people. I realized recently that I am becoming a rabid environmentalist. Embarrassingly enough, it took me a while, but I’m getting there. And for me, that’s the Battle Cry: I’m not done yet!! Don’t turn my switch to “off.” Don’t even set a timer to turn me off at some later date down the road. I am so on.
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