Day Of / Day After

The final day of work was both happy, sad and awkward – all in one. Although I woke up with a feeling of exhilaration, it didn’t last long. Almost instantly, I felt a rising panic, and a bit of fear about the gauzy future and how it might pan out without anyone to talk to every day.

And then I got to work and the full combination of happy, sad and awkward began. I’m not good with goodbyes to people I haven’t spent much time with who not only stop by to say so long but bring gifts. That’s one of those moments when the reality of never coming in again sets in and, illogically, you wonder if you should’ve stayed because more waving-goodbyepeople appreciate you than you originally thought. Why a heightened sense of appreciation should make me want to continue to work I can’t really say. Maybe it’s just the subconscious grasping at reasons to continue the status quo.

The ones that are the hardest are either the ones you truly care about who keep stopping by and asking you if you’re sure you want to leave because what is their day going to look like now without the usual banter about The Voice or Survivor, or the ones who cry. Also, I’m not a big hugger and hugging seems to be required . . . with everyone who stops by. That’s acceptable with people I talk to every day but strange with people I see once in a blue moon and don’t have much of anything in common to discuss.

Then the hours ticked by and suddenly it was time to make an exit. There were people who sort of hung around in the vicinity of the office so they could see me off. I’d rather they hadn’t. It was just more of the awkward – lots of people saying it won’t be the same, they’d miss me and please come and visit. Yes, thanks and maybe/maybe not. I waited a few minutes until the coast seemed clear then tried to sneak around the corner and out the door without anyone else seeing me but wasn’t entirely successful. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of relief once I hit the elevator button and reached a different floor.

Then I was home, gifts in tow, and wondering what the next workday was going to feel like. It felt just like any other workday. I suppose it requires a little time for my internal clock to set a new pace and establish new schedules and rhythms but they’re not there yet. As determined as I was to not set an alarm and to refuse to get up in the dark, there I was at 4:30 in the morning feeding the cats and making coffee.

It’s only been three days and it still feels like an extended weekend, not a permanent thing. I’m looking toward establishing a good routine that will keep me off the couch for c4293e9f53f0f9de5f4d26ce25816ce5a nap every afternoon or out spending money I’ll no longer have just to get out of the house and see another human face. I have some things on my list I plan to tackle but haven’t initiated the routine changes yet. I plan on hitting the gym 3-4 days a week (I actually started developing that habit about 4 months ago so everything wouldn’t be new). I also changed up my diet at the same time, am cooking more and am down almost 20 pounds so that habit’s coming along nicely. I’ve taken an editor position for a quarterly journal that will begin the 1st of January but has already given me headaches trying to figure out the program the current editor uses to set up the document and to set some sort of schedule for rounding up announcements and articles from a bazillion different sources, and I’m trying not to couple that with a pattern of a daily Starbucks as that could get expensive when I can least afford it. However, my old pattern included weekends of writing at the Starbucks that’s about 5 minutes away. As difficult as it’s going to be, I need to establish a writing pattern at home without falling prey to distractions like doing the dishes, cleaning the windows or dusting the living room.

Although my mind hasn’t yet slowed to a more comfortable pace, having not realized that I don’t have to rush to do everything in one day, it will come. In the meantime, I have a list of goals I still want to pursue and fun things I want to try. I read a saying somewhere that I’ve paraphrased (adding my own age in the center) to suit my situation and it inspires me to move forward and do things I’ve always wanted to do and I think that if I do that, I’ll be OK. It goes like this:

Don’t live the same year 66 times and call it a life.

 

When Retirement Loses Its Luster

Even though I’ve had a few niggling misgivings about retirement – having enough to get by, isolation, inactivity – the column of positives has outweighed those concerns. But they’re back and this time it’s my brother’s situation that has triggered unease.

If you were lucky enough to grow up with an older sibling that you always got along with and who always looked out for you, it’s disconcerting to see the tables turn in old age and brother and sisterknow that you love them enough to look after them but they won’t allow it. Not only will they not allow it, but they’ve made so many bad decisions along the way, that this is the result and the problems have multiplied. It’s hard not to replay some of those situations and constantly think, “What if…,” “If you’d only…,” or “Why can’t you…?”

My brother and I had a sort of bond against the world growing up. Our parents had a volatile relationship when my father was drinking (he eventually quit) and my brother, six years older, was quick to make sure I wasn’t being dragged into their fights – and by fights, I mean when my mother was yelling at my father (nothing physical). There was one incident shortly after he’d gone off to college when she was yelling at him and I’d slunk into my room and closed the door, turning up the television to avoid hearing them. Nevertheless, I heard my name being called. I stepped tentatively into the hallway to see them both standing in their bedroom doorway and my mother demanded of me, “Tell him. Tell him who loves you more.” What can you say to that? The moment they saw my face, the fight ended. I, however, relayed the incident to my brother and only found out years and years later that he called them and read them the riot act for putting me in the middle. He was my protector.

So yes, my brother and I have always had a bond. And now, it seems, when the tables have turned and he needs my help, I’m unable to pull my weight.

Over the years, his life took some hard turns and he lost sight of his dreams and goals and eventually gave up and retired. Not much of a money manager, when things would get rough, he’d abandon everything and just move. It never occurred to him that he was making his financial situation worse every time he did that and his money grew tighter and tighter. It’s finally reached the point where he has cancelled his Medicare because he needs the money for food. He hasn’t been able to afford any medical, dental or vision care and his health is beginning to deteriorate.

So here we are: me on the verge of retirement, hoping to spend some time taking him to dinner to make sure he eats decent meals and maybe catching a movie or two to get him out of his apartment. He, however, has decided he can’t even afford the low-rent Problems quoteapartment he’s in and is planning to abandon everything once again and head to Nicaragua so he can afford a decent apartment and food without having to ask for my assistance.

I help him out financially as often as I can and yet still feel guilty that I don’t just cash out my 401K and give him enough for the medical care I know he needs but is avoiding. I struggle with wanting to make his life easier but also protect my own. It’s made retirement scary for me. I want what’s best for both of us and I want him to live to be 100!

You’d think that, working in hospice, I’d be able to talk about death with him but I find that I can’t. The thought of losing him because he refuses to go to a doctor, makes me physically sick. More than anything, I want to be there to take care of him and I’m afraid part of his rationale for going to El Salvador is not only to save money but to keep me from watching his decline. I don’t know which is worse: being there to watch his decline or not being there and allowing him o cope by himself.

Neither choice is ideal but it’s made my view of the benefits of retirement slightly skewed because my future portends loss.

Why Aren’t We Born with Good Sense?

 

 

human body

It’s taken me 65 years to learn how intricate the body is and how interconnected all the parts are. If you damage one, you may very well be damaging the whole. But I didn’t see that in my youth. I saw disparate parts, each deserving its own focus and attention and, of course, wholly repairable if my latest fad didn’t work to my advantage.

Up until I left for college, I was pleasantly thin and never worried about what went into my mouth. As a kid I remember going through a butter phase where I would cut off a piece and eat it while I watched television with my parents. I recall my mother laughingly telling my aunt that she thought it was strange but how could a little butter hurt me?

Then I got to college, put on some weight and decided to try some very interesting diets. I started drinking Tab (horrid stuff even then), with a metallic aftertaste that was probably my digestive tract turning to lead. I realized I couldn’t live with Tab long-term and somehow a diet drink didn’t cancel out the crushed oreo covered ice cream I’d have for dessert at the dorm. But then I read about a terrific diet that I knew would be easy to follow – the sherbet diet. That’s all you ate. Yep – sherbet. As much as I love sweets, even I couldn’t stick with that one for long. Who knew I could actually crave a green bean or a spinach leave after a few days of nothing but sherbet?

I’m pretty sure at some point I’ve tried every diet known to mankind. And in my dancing days, I was fixated on the latest trend for improving health – a boatload of vitamins and minerals based on iridology. That would be great if the person “prescribing” the plethora of pills had any medical training, but no, he did not, and yes, I bought close to 15 different products that were going to give me the energy I already possessed as a thirty-year-old and extend my life (which we’ve yet to prove but I hope is accurate). It was the nausea from the handful of pills that finally convinced me to stop.

I’ve learned a lot by working in the medical field and listening to how, as the song goes, “the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone…” The more I hear, the more I understand the complexity of the body and how one small change can have enormous effects up and down the line. It’s no wonder that so many people are loathe to take medications because even though many are great short-term, many are dangerous (even lethal) long-term. In my own case, once I reached perimenopause, my gynecologist decided I needed to get on a low-dose hormone pill. My problems started showing up after about 3-4 months and over the next year got worse and worse. I told our hospice pharmacist that my hips hurt and it felt muscular. He’d never heard of that side effect. I noticed that I couldn’t stand up straight when I got out of bed in the morning and it got so bad that I couldn’t pick up my feet. I would shuffle around the bed to turn off my alarm and then into the bathroom. Oddly, after about half an hour, I would be able to stand up straight. I finally found a doctor who had heard of these drastic symptoms and she agreed I should stop taking this medication. Who would’ve thought that a medication seemingly meant to help me was slowly fusing my joints (my description, because that’s what it felt like).

So here I am at 65, no longer turning my health over to someone else. I’m aware that I eat too many sweets but my cure for that will not be to take a medication; it will be to cut out the majority of the empty calories I eat. It’s taken me decades to listen when I hear people discussing the complexities of the body but it’s fascinating. There’s a ripple effect through the body and it no longer surprises me to find that a pain in my foot is connected to a problem in my eye (I’m making that up but you get the picture) or a muscle spasm in my back is associated with my liver. It’s all connected.

I have a relative who is very heavy . . . and a vegetarian. He has said he can’t understand how he can be so overweight when he eats pretty good meals. Okay, sometimes those “pretty good meals” include soups with a bazillion grams of fat or low-fat products with a bazillion grams of sugar. He’ll liberally salt his meals before he’s even tasted them and then say he can’t figure out why his feet swell.

anti-aging-skin-care-products

Bottom line? I don’t really care if I have wrinkles and grey hair but I do care about how I feel. I realize it’s far more important than I ever understood to know how everything that goes into the body affects all the parts. I figure if I’d had more sense about how complex the body is, how the smallest thing can make such a huge difference, and that some of the damage we cause in our youth is not reversible, I might’ve paid more attention to what I was swallowing a long, long time ago.

Or maybe not. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have listened because as kids, we know everything, right?

Revising the Dreams

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They say getting older is not for the faint of heart. It’s true. You discover that the things you dreamed about doing when you were young, things that you’ve carried over decade to decade, are suddenly no longer within your reach. So now what? Do you persist in going after them, do you give up on the dream entirely, or do you try to find a compromise so you’re still getting some of the experience even if it’s not all it was meant to be?

I find that I have a stubborn streak that holds on to the dream for months and months, reworking it in my mind a dozen times with tiny little concessions each time, so I can still pursue the basic dream. But somewhere along the line, I realize it’s time to let it go and then I start looking at ways to make some of it happen.

One of my dreams was to have a house with enough land to create a garden retreat, a place replete with trees, flowers, vines, grass, and at least one little nook where I could hang out with a good book and enjoy the view and the quiet – sort of like the picture I chose for this post.

Getting close to retirement, I refused to give up this dream and looked only at houses with spacious back yards. But little realities kept creeping in and I must say, they really annoyed me. I have a friend who pointed out that the cost alone of all the foliage would kill me. Then I’d probably have to initially employ a landscaper to till the soil and prepare the beds. Not being much of a horticulturist, I’d probably have to get professional advice on designing my perfect retreat. All of these costsĀ are difficult, if not impossible, when living on social security.

That was my first reality. Then there’s the annoyance of old age. At 65, I’m in relatively good health but my aches and pains have increased and I notice that they do so at an accelerated pace. Perhaps that’s the problem and everyone faces it: You go for decades being in tip-top form and think it will stay that way indefinitely and then one day you discover you need back surgery for the increasing difficulty you’ve been having with what you thought were pulled muscles that were just taking longer and longer to heal, or you have a strange bout of symptoms that mimic heart problems and find you need a medication for GERD, or bounding up the stairs two at a time becomes a slower progression on a daily basis, etc. To top it off, these new issues are not things that are going to return to that 20s physique; they are permanent and likely to get worse.

I didn’t bargain for that when I was younger and, stupidly, didn’t anticipate it, either. Although aware of the possibility, when I was younger I sort of figured they always happened to someone else or that I’d see them coming and make appropriate adjustments (although what those adjustments might have been is anybody’s guess). And now, it’s too late to back up and tackle that garden with the stamina and non-creaky joints of my 20 or 30-year-old self.

So, reluctantly, I’ve realized I would never be able to keep up with the daily maintenance of a garden of that size. That acceptance, oddly, happened almost overnight. I registered the growing list of problems I might encounter but stubbornly stuck to my original plan for months. Then one day, I woke up and instead of talking about buying a house, began talking about renting a condo or townhouse with a small space off a back patio or a balcony where I could put a few potted plants. Just like that, I’d come to terms with a new reality.

And just so you know, the hardest part of this whole thing is moving forward without looking back at the things I could have done, and should have done, when I had the time, the resources and the stamina. People tell you it’s never too late, but sometimes it is, and I hate that.