Reflections, Retirement

Lasts, and the road ahead

In August I publicly announced that I would be retiring at the end of June, 2018 when my current contract with my employer comes to an end.  Ten months is a long notice period, and June still feels like a very long way away, but as autumn slides into winter I can feel the time getting shorter and the “lasts” mounting up.

I’ve had my last performance evaluation, and experienced my last audit.  I just got back from what is probably my last professional conference, or at least the last that I will attend as a working professional.   I’ve been through  my last election cycle for my publicly elected governing board, and my last of a variety of recurring programs and activities. I am now replying to invitations to many work-related holiday parties and events that have become traditions over the past 14 years knowing they too will be my last.

Each of these lasts marks another step on the journey to a future that I have planned for, and dreamed, of for many years, so they are in that sense happy occasions.  But these lasts are also associated with people who I have come to know well and care about deeply but  may rarely (if ever) see once I retire, so each is also bittersweet.

I have many plans for the next phase of my life’s journey and long lists of projects I want to complete, trips I want to take, activities I want to explore, and books I want to read. After many years where my social life was inextricably intertwined with my work and professional live, I have successfully created a life outside of work, with friends who are not tied to my profession or my job.  I have worked hard to make sure our finances are in order, and am confident that we can sustain our lifestyle even when the inevitable economic downturns come.  In short,  as much as I think I can be, I am ready.

At the same time, I am acutely aware that there is much that I do not know about the road ahead…from “little” things like the specifics of how our days will unfold without the structure of my job, to how our relationship will fare with so much togetherness, to the big uncertainties about Don’s health (and mine!) and how the aging process will affect our lives.  I would be lying if I said that I was not more than a little anxious about these things.

A few weeks ago one of my favorite blogs, Rob Firchau’s The Hammock Papers, had a poem by David Whyte that I keep reading and re-reading –

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

David Whyte

At this time of “sorting this and leaving that” I am finding that David Whyte’s beautiful words are a great comfort…
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.