Tammie looked over at me from behind the steering wheel. She asked, “So, Mom, when are you going to retire?”
Without thinking, I laughed and said, “Me? I’m not old enough to retire. That’s at least two or three years away yet.” In the silence that followed, I looked out the passenger window at the fields, ponds and houses we were passing on highway 41. As our car crested a small rise and a whole new vista opened to us, I acknowledged to myself that maybe it was time for me to start thinking about retirement. I’d be sixty five in less than a year and a half.
Throughout most of the thirty seven years that Arnie and I were married, my husband frequently said, “We’re going to work it out so that you can quit working at the hospital.” That never happened, probably because my job provided our family with health insurance. All was good, I liked what I did and I worked only four days a week.
When Arnie and I were fifty-six years old, Arnie died suddenly. After that I had no more thoughts about quitting work.
Full retirement for people born in 1950 is age 66, but employees at my hospital are encouraged to begin drawing their pension at age 65, the same age that a person becomes eligible to use Medicare. The possibility of retirement for me was looking more and more likely.
My plans to retire solidified a few months later after a doctor’s office visit. The doctor told me, “Your feet are in bad shape. Every joint is arthritic. Some of the joints are bone-on-bone.”
I thought, “Thank-you. Now I have a valid reason to hang-up my work shoes.”
When I told a group of friends that I would be retiring soon, they excitedly responded, “I’m so happy for you! “You’re going to love it!” ”Don’t expect boredom, you’ll be busier than ever!”
I feel excited about this new change, but also a little scared. Ever since I was five years old, my time has been constantly scheduled with school assignments, work schedules, child care and household duties. Every time I wanted to do anything extra, it seemed like I needed a shoe spoon to wedge it into my day.
I fear retirement will take away my identity. For 46 years I have been a certified nursing assistant. My title and role in life has given me pride and confidence that what I did mattered. When I quit working I won’t have that anymore. Who will I be then? Will I still matter in this world?
A few weeks ago someone said, “Once you retire your body goes to pot.”
I’d actually worried about that myself, but I responded, “Your body can go to pot while still working. At least if you’re retired when it happens, you don’t have to call in sick.”
Sometimes people die a few days before their last day of work, or a few days after. News stories about this jump out at me frequently in the last few months. Each time, I think, “Thanks a lot. I already feel like a part of my life is coming to an end.”
Through the years my co-workers and I celebrated “Over the Hill’ parties as we turned forty-years of age. The joke being that everything is down hill thereafter. No wonder I have such mixed feelings about the end of my work life.
The more I think about it, the mental image of going over a hill into retirement is fitting. What lies beyond the hill is a mystery. My next great adventure will be to go there and make the place mine. I’m now on the crest of that hill and a grand new vista is opening up to me.