Letting Go, Reflections, Retirement, Work

Bittersweet

Today was our annual Staff Day at work – my last.  All of the libraries were closed so that we could bring the entire staff together for training and fellowship.  The staff team that volunteered to plan the day outdid themselves with a great mix of team-building and learning opportunities, not to mention excellent food and our first staff Bake Off featuring an amazing array of gourmet treats.

They had me in tears after lunch when they showed a photo montage from my 14 years at the library district, including photos of too many people who are now deceased, then presented me with an album of photos of almost every employee, Board members, and volunteers with a hand written note from each.

The day ended with the obligatory team photo –

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, tree, crowd, shoes, outdoor and nature

We have certainly had our challenges over the years, but it has been a huge privilege to work with this creative, talented, and hardworking group of people.  As much as I am looking forward to retirement I know that I will miss them very much.

Truly a bittersweet day….

Acceptance, Expectations, Letting Go, Reflections

There isn’t a way things should be…

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was a best-selling English author who died in 2015 of early-onset Alzheimer’s, so he knew first hand about the futility of thinking that things “should” be a certain way…but it is a lesson that I am still struggling with.

Yesterday’s Valentine’s celebrations, or in our case lack thereof, demonstrated that despite lesson after lesson, I have yet to learn the futility of having unrealistic expectations that my life will somehow mimic a Hallmark commercial.

After 30 years of marriage I know full well that celebrations like Valentine’s Day have never been my husband’s strong suit, and his recent cognitive challenges have only made things harder for him in this regard as for so much else.  I also know that, despite the Hallmark commercials  and the abundance of Facebook posts and Instagram photos showcasing Valentines celebrations, there isn’t a way Valentines “should be”  and that sometimes just being together is enough.

I tried hard to remember all of this yesterday, and to focus on all of the good things in my life and my marriage, but I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of disappointment, resentment, and sadness that the holiday didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations.  It is true that there were things that Don did, and didn’t do, regarding the holiday that I was rightly sad about,  but it is also true that how I reacted that colored what could have been a nice, low-key, day of togetherness even if there weren’t hearts and flowers and Hallmark cards.

It feels as if over the past couple of years the universe has been trying to teach me what Terry Pratchett said so clearly.   I know that if I don’t learn to give up my expectations  of how things “should” be, the coming years will be so much harder than they need to be, and yet I stumble time and time again.  Yesterday was no exception.

The process is painful, but each time this happens it feels as if there is another crack in the hard shell of my expectations, opening me to greater acceptance of the reality of whatever situation I am in and a more compassionate, grounded, and accepting response.

 

Aging, Change, Grief, Letting Go, Love

Letting go of expectations

After a holiday break that was both restful and productive I have had a tough re-entry to work…but it is not the job itself that has been tough.  The holiday lull in professional activity has lingered longer than usual, there aren’t any big issues to be dealt with, and overall things are running really smoothly…and yet I’ve been stressed and out of sorts.

Some of it is just that I really am ready to move on to the next phase of my life, so being at work feels a bit like wearing clothes that don’t quite fit any more.

A bigger part is that I am feeling really torn between work and my responsibilities at home.  Don’s overall health and attitude have been good, but there is no denying that he has mild cognitive impairment and memory loss and that is shifting more responsibility to me.  I’ve always managed our finances, and done pretty much all of the planning activities (from meal planning to travel planning to retirement planning) since that has never been a strength.  He has done a lot of the cleaning, yard chores, and meal cleanup and he still does help with those things, but now I make a weekly and daily schedule and daily to do lists, remind him where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there, follow up on tasks to make sure they have been done and respond to multiple texts and calls each day when he needs has lost something and needs me to talk him through retracing his steps to find it, needs technical help with his devices, or just wants reassurances.  I also find myself redoing things he has done, putting things away that he has left out, hunting down things he has put in the wrong place, and answering the same question multiple times…not to mention being constantly interrupted.  It can be frustrating and exhausting.

I also find that increasingly, doing the things that I need to maintain my sanity (swimming, learning all I can about memory disorders and dementia so that I can prepare myself for what the future might hold, spending time alone, journalling, blogging, counselling) and even doing the things I need to maintain our household (grocery shopping, managing our finances, contacting tradespeople about home maintenance, going with Don to doctor’s appointments) are carved out of work time…and that makes me feel guilty and resentful on top of tired and exhausted.

This morning I snapped.  We woke up to the sound of rain which meant we wouldn’t be able to take our usual 3 mile walk before breakfast, and I know that without that early morning exercise my whole day is usually off kilter.  I decided that instead of a long walk I would go to the gym on my way to work.  I told Don this and asked him to cut up our morning fruit and get the breakfast stuff out while I walked the dog around the block  so that I could grab breakfast and get going.  When I got back he was sitting on the john looking at his phone, and nothing had been prepared for breakfast except two eggs were sitting on the counter.

The trigger of Don’s slowness in preparing breakfast seems so insignificant, and yet it meant I would either have to leave without eating, or skip the morning workout because there was no way I could incur even a 15 minute delay and make it to work on time.

I flipped out, and then we were into our usual vicious cycle.  Don got flustered in the face of my anger, which made him even slower and more disorganized, and when I asked him to just go in the other room so I could cool down while cooking and eating breakfast he would not leave me alone but kept coming back to try to apologize or do things in the kitchen which just made me angrier, and my anger was exacerbated by his apparent refusal to listen to what I was asking of him.

In the end I left angry and upset, with myself as much as with him.  I was cranky all morning and knew I needed to do something to work out my stress, so I made plans to leave work after a lunchtime meeting so I could have a long swim, and then have some time to myself by working in a coffee shop for a couple of hours.  It was the right plan to make given my mental and emotional state and the lack of anything that really required my attention at work, and yet I feel guilty because it is another afternoon when I am not in the office and available for face time with my staff.

I also feel guilty for how I reacted to Don.  No matter how many times I tell myself that he can’t help that he has some kind of (as yet undiagnosed) brain disease and that I need to be understanding and patient and respond with love not anger, I still get triggered way too often.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why this is.  I’ve also been thinking about a question our therapist asked me last week when I got teary when talking about the weight of my responsibilities, which the more I think about it the more I realize is related to why I get triggered by Don’s lapses.  The question that got me thinking was whether the weight of my responsibilities is really any different than if I were single and living on my own.

The short but superficial answer is no, it isn’t much different.  If I were single I would be doing all of the financial management, cooking, cleaning, and household chores.

But the longer, more truthful answer is… I think it is a lot different.  If I were single I would only have myself to worry about and be responsible for.  I wouldn’t worry about getting a nourishing and balanced meal on the table every night and could just eat an egg on toast if I felt like it.  I wouldn’t be responsible for helping plan someone else’s days or weeks, for making schedules and to do lists for someone else, for scheduling medical appointments for someone else and then having to find time to go with them and to follow up afterwards.  I wouldn’t feel guilty for needing time to myself.  So yeah, it’s different and yeah, I often feel that it is unfair that I have to do so much more, which makes me both sad and sometimes angry.

The other reason thinking about all of the responsibilities I am shouldering makes me sad, and sometimes angry, comes down to that old bugaboo – expectations.  I got married because I wanted a partner.  Someone who would share the responsibilities of daily living, who would lift me up when I needed it as I would do for him, who would be my co-adventurer, who would participate in planning our lives and our adventures.

The reality has been somewhat different.  I love Don dearly, and he has been my co-adventurer and partner in fun and my best friend for over 30 years, but he has never really been an equal partner in planning and managing our lives.  His inability to meet my expectations in this area has a source of tension throughout our marriage…and secretly, I kept hoping that if I just nagged and noodged him enough, he would change.

 

I’ve always known in my head that trying to change someone else is a fool’s errand, but my heart kept hoping and I kept trying.  His cognitive impairment has made absolutely clear what my head has always known.  Not only is he not going to miraculously become a planner and organizer, he is almost certainly going to get worse in this area.

When I get sad about this it is because I am mourning the loss of a vision of life that only ever really existed in my head.  I need to let myself mourn…but I also need to remember that the life we do have and will have is pretty darned good.  Don is still able to travel and we have several trips on the horizon.  We live in a beautiful place, so when travel becomes too difficult we will enjoy our home, the beach and ocean, the ability be outside all year.  We have friends and family that will stand by us even when things get tough.  We still laugh together.  We still like spending time together.  We still desire each other.  As our therapist keeps telling us, it is obvious that we have a deep love for each other. We are blessed in so many ways, and these blessings will not disappear no matter what the future brings.

I think I am ready to start letting go of my expectations of what my life should be like.  What I need to work on is accepting the life I have and not letting Don’s every lapse trigger my hurt and anger.  I can’t have another morning like this morning…and the ball is in my court.

 

 

Letting Go, Retirement, Uncategorized

No more Sunday blues

I follow a lot of personal finance and early retirement blogs, and recently discovered Our Next Life, which is written by a couple that is quite a bit younger than me but  has been travelling a somewhat similar path to early retirement…although their’s will be much “earlier” than mine!

For the past few months I have followed Tanja and Mark’s journey as they have checked and rechecked their finances, plotted how they will spend their days, and thoughtfully planned how they will exit their careers.  I’ve empathized with their fears and uncertainty, and learned from them how I might approach my own transition in a few months time.

At the end of this week Tanja and Mark will be retiring, and today they posted about what the “last Monday” feels like:

Intellectually, we know this: the last Monday means no more Sunday blues, no more worrying that we didn’t catch up on enough sleep over the weekend and are starting  another week tired, no more of that feeling of enjoying our work and appreciating our colleagues and clients but still wondering how we’ll survive another week with all its demands.

The last few months have brought a number of things into stark relief: how much we’ll miss a lot about our work, how grateful we are to have spent our careers surrounded with people we admire and are inspired by, how lucky we’ve been to do work that makes us proud. But also what a toll doing that work has taken on our health, and the knowledge that we’ll have many of these health challenges well after we leave the work behind.”

Their comments really resonated with me, as when I retire in June I too will be leaving a job that has been more than just a job and that has allowed me “to experience something real and special with great people” and to feel that I have made a difference.  There is much that I will miss… and yet my body and my soul are crying out for a life with no more squeezing my “real life” into the rare evenings and weekends without work commitments, a life with no more Sunday blues, no more starting the week tired and wondering how I will survive whatever the week will throw at me.

I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that my impending retirement doesn’t create anxiety – about whether my financial plans are adequate to support a long life without work, whether my vision of how I will spend my days is sufficient, whether the people who think I am crazy for leaving the workforce so early are right.

I hope, and I believe, that when June 2018 rolls around I will feel what Tanja and Mark are feeling today as they walk the last few steps of their journey to a new life –

“We feel sure this is the right choice for us, we feel confident in our preparation and backup plans, and we have a vision for what’s next. And that feels kind of amazing. It makes the thousands of words here, the hours and hours of planning and replanning, and all the emotions along the way feel worthwhile.”

Congratulations Tanja and Mark…you’ve been great role models for me, and I look forward to continuing to learn from your experiences.

 

 

 

Letting Go, Reflections, travel

Keeping the “Greek Magic” alive

We got back from Greece on Friday evening after a 3:30 am wake up call, nearly 24 hours of travel from door to door, and a Zurich airport adventure tracking down a carry on bag we accidentally left on the plane from Athens.  We did get the bag back, but it took 5,000 steps, four trips through passport control, and a $50 fee to do it!  Jet lag has us waking up in the wee small hours of the morning, but other than that it has been a pretty smooth transition back to the reality of our daily lives.

It was a great trip and a wonderful experience.  We saw beautiful places, enjoyed delicious food, and had a nice mix of group tours and time on our own, and of activities and down time.  Most importantly we reconnected and rekindled the loving relationship that had gotten buried in the stress and anxiety of all of the challenges and changes in our lives.  Don’s physical and cognitive symptoms even noticeably improved while we were away.

We’ve been talking about how we can keep this “Greek magic” alive now that we are home.

Managing stress is certainly one important factor, as was having the time and space to really talk, but I also think that I can take some of the credit for managing my own expectations and reactions.  When Don puts something away in the wrong place, or misplaces something, or asks the same question five times in the space of 30 minutes I’ve been working hard on just taking a deep breath and letting it go rather than correcting him, or nagging him, or getting exasperated.  It takes just seconds to move something to the right spot, or two answer a question, and usually the thing that is misplaced is just as easily replaced if we really can’t find it.

I’ve also been working on receiving his love when he demonstrates it in the ways that are natural and meaningful for him.  Instead of expecting him to show me love in the way I would do it and getting upset when he doesn’t, I try to remember that just because he doesn’t always show love in the ways that I want (like giving me gifts) doesn’t make it any less heartfelt.

The result is that he is less anxious,  I am less on edge, and we both feel more loved and more loving.

All of this was relatively easy for me when we were in the vacation bubble, but the trick will be keeping it up when I am stressed out by work, too many commitments, and not enough alone time or down time – especially as we head into the crazy holiday season.

This morning during my jog I listened to one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists – Between Heaven and Here by Kris Kristofferson and realized that it could have been written for me.  It has some great lines that go to the heart of the changes I need to sustain if I want our Greek magic to continue – I think half my battle to stop “wasting my feelings on something that so little matters” and the other half is remembering that “Maybe the secret is making believe when it matters.”  I’m going to listen to the song daily to remind me what I need to do…

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Aging, Letting Go, Reflections

Learning to let go of control

I am a planner and a list-maker.

I set goals (annual, monthly, and daily), and have created spreadsheets with detailed retirement plans and budgets based on multiple scenarios, and multi-year home maintenance and improvement plans.  Each month I create a master meal plan, which is refined into a weekly plan as the month unfolds.

I also use a web-based tool (ToodleDo) for my master “to do” list.  It synchronizes my master list across all of my computers and devices, allows me to forward emails to it for conversion into tasks,  allows me to create recurring tasks of varying frequencies, and averages between 90 and 100 items at any point in time.

This master to do list is supplemented by a multitude of other lists, among them weekly shopping lists, a daily task list at work, a pre-trip planning checklist that I store on my computer and update each time I travel, a holiday gift list to track what I’ve bought and spent on Christmas gifts each year, and a daily “honey do” list for Don.

The Notes app on my iPad and iPhone contain lists of meal and menu ideas, and of books I want to read and movies/tv shows I want to watch.

My “bullet journal” has lists of books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched, blog post ideas, projects I want to complete, activities I want to pursue in retirement, places I want to visit, my “bucket list,” and a “habit tracker” where I record progress on fitness and other goals.

I sometimes half-joke that my devotion to plans and lists is a sickness, and according to this article there may be some truth to that!

I get great pleasure out of seeing goals achieved, plans executed, and items checked off a list, and the more stressful, chaotic, and busy my life and the world get the more I cling to my plans and lists – almost as if they are a security blanket.

Don, on the other hand is (as our therapist has noted!), a live in the moment, go with the flow kind of guy.  He is certainly capable of making a plan when pushed to do so, but he does need to be pushed and he does find it a struggle.  He’s made various attempts at mastering to do lists over the years, from carrying a small notebook that he labelled “Don’s Brain” to apps on his phone, but hasn’t been able to stick with any of them.

More than not being able to stick with them, he actually seems to think that if he needs to rely on lists and reminders there is something wrong with him.  Since he retired, and in light of his short-term memory issues, I create a weekly schedule and daily “honey do” lists that we leave on the counter that serves as the central hub of our house.  He has been really good about reviewing them every day, doing what they say, and checking things off as they are completed and has even come to rely on them…but when he tells others about this reliance it’s almost as if this is something to be ashamed of.

One consequence of this fundamental difference in our make ups is that over the years (as you can see above)  I have assumed pretty much all of the “planning” duties from financial and retirement planning to vacation planning to smaller things like making dinner reservations.  Mostly I’m fine with this because it also feeds my need for control, but I also feel the weight of responsibility and it gets very tiring sometimes.

Not surprisingly, this has been a source of tension throughout our marriage.

Given his stage of life and his cognitive challenges, and the insights I am gaining from therapy, I am realizing that any hope I might have had that he would take on some of the planning work is both unrealistic and unfair to him.

I’m also realizing the extent to which all of my planning and lists are really a manifestation of my need for control, and that this could be a real problem as we ride the waves of change that aging and health/cognitive issues are bringing to our shore.

If I am going to survive the coming months and years, I need to learn how to loosen up on the reins.  If I don’t I can see that I will make life miserable for myself, and for Don too.  I need to find the balance between planning and preparing for the future and making sure that everything that is essential to the smooth functioning of our lives gets taken care of, and going with the flow of what is happening in the moment even when it is something different from what I planned for.

Wish me luck….I suspect that this might be one of the biggest challenges the future holds for me.