Ho, Ho, Whoa? No.

Some people have been complaining about Christmas creep for years. They object to the subliminal messages compelling us to be merry, freewheeling, and free spending that assault society earlier every year.  I am not one of those people.

I love Christmas. Many people who deal with loss and grief find the holidays particularly difficult.  I tend to take the opposite tact.  In the past, when my life was crumbling and my spirits were low, I seemed to be able to take a break from my sadness to focus on Christmas activities.  The sacred and secular Christmas joys gave me permission to lay my burdens aside and rest from my struggle. It was something like the famous Christmas truce in World War I.  For a brief, blessed time, I could call a ceasefire in my war with my own emotions.  The truce might only last long enough to sing Silent Night, but it has always been enough to heal a few cracks in my heart.

This year, with my mind buzzing with busy-ness and unquenchable desire for distraction since my mother’s death, I am finding the Christmas truce even more soothing than usual.  It isn’t that I don’t miss my mother.  My heart still dips down to my ankles, scrambling my stomach on its way, when I hit the sudden patches of sad turbulence that anyone who has experienced a loss understands.  Still, Christmas activities help me keep my balance when I hit those patches.

I get the concern, though.  Folks begin to suspect that the extended subliminal marketing of Christmas shifts the emphasis away from the holiday’s true meaning and specialness. When you start to panic about not being done with your Christmas shopping in October, it isn’t a good thing.  When you realize that you have been humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” along with the elevator music in October, you may start to feel a little manipulated.  When you can no longer buy Christmas wrapping paper at Costco in November because they started selling it in August and ran out by the end of September, it can take a little holly out of your jolly.

On the other hand, the Christmas season does provide more opportunities for people to spread a little goodwill.  Of course, it is possible and desirable for people to give to charity, cherish their loved ones, and embrace kindness throughout the whole year.  Sometimes, though, our day-to-day hustle and bustle takes our focus away from the loving way we truly want to live.  Special holiday charity projects, dedicated time with family, Christmas shows and pageants, and even presents can be the catalyst that help us to remember and, at least for a time, shift our focus back to where we truly want it to be.  Even the advertising that can seem manipulative can actually be motivating. Yes, the people who make the commercials that show a child inviting a curmudgeonly neighbor to Christmas dinner are hoping that you will buy more greeting cards or groceries or whatever they are advertising.  That doesn’t mean the commercials don’t also help us remember the goodness and light that should come with Christmas.

Also, Christmas reminds us of the coming of Jesus into the world.  More people attend religious services than at most times of the year.  People who consider themselves “culturally Christian” may participate in church events at Christmas, even if they do not attend the rest of the year.  I believe you never know when that participation might foment into a more vibrant relationship with God.   Even people who are not believers celebrate a secular sort of Christmas.  They understand, in at least some tangential way, that the genesis of their celebration is the story of a Baby born to bring all the world’s people eternal life, love, peace, and joy.  In any celebration of Christmas, there must be some germ of Christianity.  Whenever people let their minds come close to Christ, they open themselves, at least a little bit, to the possibility of feeling God’s love for them.

So, it is a question of emphasis.  If we dread the early onset of Christmas because of the commercialism, stress, and coveting, Christmas creep is a bad thing.  On the other hand, if we focus on the true meaning of Christmas and try to use that message to improve the way we live in this world, Christmas can start creeping on December 26th, as far as I am concerned!

What do you think?  Does Christmas creep bother you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a very merry day!

Terri 🙂

Belatedly Thankful

After my mother suffered her stroke, I subscribed to all kinds of forums and discussion boards aimed at caregivers.  It was definitely helpful to hear other people’s perspectives on the issues I was encountering.  I learned some valuable, practical information.  Knowing that other people struggled with the same feelings helped me tolerate the conflicting emotions I had misfiring all throughout my sympathetic nervous system.  

There was one recurring theme that kept coming up in different posts that I just couldn’t get behind, however.  So often a participant would write to encourage someone in the throes of caregiving by saying that the day would come when the caregiver would be grateful for the experience.  While I was living it, I don’t know that I could ever really say I was grateful for the experience.  It wasn’t that I thought the well-intentioned commenters on the discussion boards were lying.  The term “Pollyanna” might have come to mind.  On the whole, I accepted that those people were being honest about their own experiences and their feelings of gratitude, but their experiences just didn’t seem to apply to me.  

People said that caregivers end up triumphing over the drudgery, exhaustion, and sadness.  They said that it is common to transcend the difficulties of the long struggle so that providing care becomes easier.  I didn’t see how that could happen with me, as inept as I was.  They said that the difficulties of caregiving take a backseat to the benefits the caregiver receives, like the satisfaction of providing for a parent’s comfort.  I didn’t see myself really providing for my mother’s comfort, just witnessing her decline.  They said that a caregiver can consider any additional time with the dying parent to be a gift.  I often felt like this gift came at too high a cost to both my mother and me. They said that, no matter how painful and difficult it is to walk with a parent on this final journey, the caregiver is rewarded by a closer, more intimate and loving relationship with the parent.  I didn’t see how this could be possible with my mother and me.  Our relationship has always been closer than that of any other mother and daughter I know.   

So, all in all, I could not find much for which to be grateful while slogging through the tragedy of my mother’s last thirteen months of life.  I admit that I found the folks who posted about the “gift” of being a caregiver to be somewhat suspect.  When I read those posts, I remembered the saying, “If you can keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, perhaps you don’t understand the situation.”  In other words, if the posters who were touting the joys and benefits of being a caregiver were sincere, perhaps they didn’t really understand the situation.  I admit that this was probably a bit of misplaced anger on my part.  Still, I also knew that I was not finding caregiving to be a gift.  I felt that I was somehow fundamentally flawed because I couldn’t get past the pain to grasp the joy. 

Now that my mother is gone, I am beginning to understand a little better. I can look back and be grateful for the time we had together at the end of her life.  I was not a very talented caregiver, but I did learn a lot of the skills necessary.  I see that my mother did derive substantial comfort from my presence.  Yes, it was very difficult for me to observe my mother’s decline, but I do now appreciate the time I had with her in the last months.  Even though we have always been exceptionally close and our ability to communicate verbally all but disappeared in my mother’s last months, I feel our intimacy grew richer and stronger and more honest as we took this journey.  No, I never did get completely past the drudgery and exhaustion and sadness, but I do now see the gift.  The gift was loving my mother through it all and letting her love me.  Now I am thankful for it. 

Gratitude deferred is not gratitude denied.  Gratitude deferred is growth.

Have you ever had an experience that you hated while going through it, but came to appreciate it after it was over? Please join the conversation and tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a thankful day!

Terri 🙂

P.S. Special programming announcement…. I am going to be on a trip around the world (Disneyworld, that is) for a few days next week.  I’ll be posting on Thursday evening instead of Wednesday morning.  

Thanks To You

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to post a special shout-out to all of you readers and cyberfriends.  Friendship in any form should be cherished and I cherish you all.  You have helped me realize a lifelong dream.  I always wanted to write, but was always too scared of failing to translate the dream into reality.  Thanks in large part to your energy and validation, I have found the courage.  I have been writing this blog for nearly two years now.  

When I was teaching leadership classes, I used to tell my students, “Leaders have followers.  If you turn around and no one is following you, you aren’t leading.  You are just taking a walk.”  I think it might be kind of similar for writing.  I can write, but I’m kind of missing a key component of the process if no one is reading. I’m not communicating; I’m just recording my mutterings to myself.  I’m just memorializing the voices inside my head for my own posterity.   

I thank you for listening to my mutterings. I thank you for the confidence you gave me when I saw that people truly seemed to be reading.  I thank you for not thinking I was ridiculous for believing anything I have to say could possibly be meaningful to anyone else.   I thank you for helping me grow my little circle of blog besties by sharing my writing with others.  I thank you for your thoughtful comments. I thank you for your suggestions.  I thank you for the kind words of encouragement.  I thank you for turning my one-sided blogging into a rich, interesting conversation.  I thank you for the support and sympathy you showered on me while I was my mother’s traveling companion on her journey towards the end of life.  I thank you for your understanding and empathy when the blog became grief-heavy as I watched my mother struggle and die.   

All too often in life, we get caught up in our day-to-day existence and forget the miracles that bring joy to our lives. We are inclined to bemoan our struggles because they demand our attention.   It is hard to ignore the difficulties.  They always seem to be in our faces, commanding us to do something to halt the pain they cause us.  Even when we try to push them into the darkest corner of our minds and hope they stay there, the effort is time and energy consuming.  And, by the way, “hope” is not a strategy.  Those difficulties rarely stay put when we push them into the darkest corner of our minds, so we have to spend even more time and energy on them.   

On Thanksgiving, at least, we get the chance to stop and smell the miracles.  We take one beautiful day to be honestly, truly, deeply grateful for our blessings.   

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations, please know I am thinking of you and thanking you for the joy you have brought me.  Happy Thanksgiving!  You are a blessing in my life. 

What is your favorite thing about Thanksgiving?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirment@gmail.com.  

Have a blessed day!

Terri 🙂

Saint Dorothy

I scattered some of my mother’s ashes in my backyard on All-Saints Day.  My mother hated funerals. She didn’t get the whole “closure” and “gathering together” thing.  She thought of them as rather tacky and unnecessarily burdensome to the family.  

When my father died, we took the ashes out to an Indian casino after the requiem mass.  We left my mother on a seat at a slot machine because watching us scatter my father’s ashes was the last thing in the world she wanted to do.  My brother and a couple of cousins and I drove out into the desert a ways to scatter the ashes.  My father loved the desert.  He also maintained, throughout his life, that he was part Native American despite the complete absence of any confirming evidence.  It was a nice idea, but we were clearly inept at scattering ashes.  It is harder than you think.  It is windy in the desert.  There are kind of a lot of ashes.  As I tried to release my father, body and soul, to the Great Spirit, my brother kept yelling that I was getting dad all over me.  None of the attendees was sure how I was going to go back and face my mother at the casino with a thin veneer of my father’s cremains all over me.  Let’s just say that event did nothing to change my mom’s opinion of funerals.   

Even though she didn’t like funerals, I knew my mother would have had no objection to her family having a service for her if we felt it would be helpful for us.  I always thought I didn’t care whether we had a service or not.  My brother didn’t want a service.  I figured that I would take her ashes back to California and we could scatter them near where we scattered my father’s ashes.  Still, after she died, I did ask the cremation services company to divide her ashes into several smaller quantities on the off chance that I decided to do something different.  A few weeks later, it suddenly, for no discernable reason, seemed important to me to scatter a portion of her ashes behind my house.  Theologically and symbolically, I believe my mother is a saint in Heaven now, so I decided to do it on the evening of All Saints Day. 

I picked out a passage from The Book of Wisdom in the Bible.  If you have never heard of The Book of Wisdom and can’t find it in your Bible, please don’t think I made it up.  It is one of those books that appear in Catholic and Episcopal Bibles, but is not part of the canon in many Protestant churches.  It struck me as strange that, as I am exploring a change in church, I found the very words I wanted in a version of the Bible that a lot of Christians don’t even include.  Still, I found comfort in Wisdom:3, which refers to everlasting life.  The passage I picked reminded me that it is foolish to think my mother is really dead.  She lives in joy in Heaven and I will see her again one day.  As I walked up and down the back yard scattering the ashes, I sang the Irish Blessing.  I sang that song to her every day for the last two weeks of her life.  It sort of became “our song” during that last season of good-bye.  When I got to the last line of the song, “And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand,” I began sobbing.  It was the first time I have really broken down since before her death. I feel like I’ve been remarkably calm and composed, especially for me. 

I think I know why the blessing song triggered this outpouring of emotion.  The song works both ways. The song told my mother that I knew God was holding her in the hollow of His hand in Heaven now. The song also was also telling me that my mother is waiting for me.  She is trusting in God to hold me in the hollow of His hand until the day we are reunited forever.   

I feel kind of empty since my impromptu funeral.  I think some of the grief that poured out of me with the tears left a space inside me that isn’t quite filled up with acceptance and contentment yet.  I don’t really feel like me, but I can’t say what I do feel.  What is kind of weird is that, maybe for the first time in my whole life, I feel okay living in whatever is.  As odd and uncharacteristic as it seems, I am content to float along and experience the life that I am living without feeling a mad compulsion to make that life what I think it should be.   

Maybe Saint Dorothy is pushing me into the hollow of God’s hand.

Different people have different thoughts and traditions around death and funerals.  Have you ever experienced a ritual that brought you a little “good grief,” as my song to my mother brought me?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

May God hold YOU in the hollow of His hand today!

Terri

 

The Turkey Vultures And I

I used to have a secretary who believed I lived under a sky-blue-pink cloud of oddness and absurdity.  She swore that there was no one else on earth who could end up in the weird and strange situations I perpetually encountered.   

For instance, one Monday morning she asked me about my weekend.  I told her about my Sunday morning.  I was taking my dog out for her early morning walk.  Since I had just rolled out of bed, I was shuffling along in a bit of haze. I was not wearing my glasses.  As my dog snuffled around, I happened to look up and noticed a man running towards me.  The first thing that went through my brain was not, oddly enough, that he was stark naked… which he was.  Without my glasses, what I first noticed was that he appeared to sporting long, grey dreadlocks.  As he came closer, I realized he had a grey sweatshirt on his head and the “dreadlocks” were actually sleeves flopping over his shoulders. 

It was only then that I realized that the sweatshirt on his head was the only article of clothing the man was wearing.  There was something besides the sweatshirt sleeves flopping around.  Again oddly enough, it didn’t register with me that naked running guy was heading directly towards me and that he could be dangerous.  Instead, my inexplicable initial reaction was to think, “isn’t it cold for him to be running around naked?” 

When I told my tale, my secretary looked at me with way less amazement than I believed my story warranted.  Her response?  “Naked running guy?  Terri, it had to be you.  It could only happen to you.”   

My secretary was not amazed because odd things have always tended to happen to me. When I went on my “if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” package tour of Europe, the tour company paired me with a roommate who brought chocolate bars to distribute to the children of Rome and refused to come out of the hotel room the entire time we were in Paris because she knew French people hated Americans.   I lived with my parents and two basset hounds in a twenty-seven-foot travel trailer for a year.   When I reported the theft of my car’s license plate, the DMV told me it was my own fault because TINKRBL was just too cute to put on a personalized license plate.  The vet once selected my dog as “pet of the month” when he removed a bladder stone the size of a softball and the dog lived. There is just no way around it.  In my world “normal” equates to “weird” in most people’s dictionaries.   

Something happened recently that reminded me that I am still a weird magnet.  Our satellite television feed became possessed. 

Now, I do realize that there are many reasons satellite television signals can wobble.  Rain, falling branches, and even sun spots can all cause signal loss.  In fact, I have always listened smugly when sellers of other delivery methods warn about the unreliability of satellite.  Despite living through three Florida summers, with accompanying wackadoodle weather, we’ve experienced very little interruption. The satellite dish even survived the ravages of Hurricane Irma.  It seemed to me that satellite tv technology had progressed enough to mitigate the problems caused by weather. 

Nobody ever mentioned the turkey vultures, however. 

Some weeks ago, we began to notice signal interruption and problems connecting to high definition. Since we were experiencing thunderwowers just about every day, I didn’t think too much about it except to think I might have been wrong in my assessment of satellite tv’s progress on the reliability front.   

However, we soon realized that the television problems were not limited to stormy weather.  Our signals seemed really weak, corruptible, and just fouled up pretty much all the time, even on the exceedingly rare occasions when the sun was shining. In thinking about when the issue started, Max reminded me of the flock of turkey vultures on our roof a few weeks ago. We were in the car, getting ready to leave the house when we noticed about eight of them congregating up there.  They were obviously gorging themselves on some sort of revolting dead animal meal. The whole idea was just too disgusting to contemplate, so we backed the car out of the driveway and hoped they would be gone when we returned.   

Indeed, upon our return, we observed that the turkey vultures had vacated the property. We sighed with relief, pulled the car into the garage, and continued our uneventful, carrion-free existence. 

Now, I’m pretty sure those turkey vultures were practicing karate kicks on the satellite dish while they dined on their roof service.   

When I called the satellite company, the nice man tried all the normal things that customer service tries in order to restore service. I was pretty sure those things were going to fail.  They did. During our conversation, the nice man discovered that our satellite dish was badly mis-dithered, meaning that it wasn’t aligned properly to receive signals from key satellite feeds from satellite space.   

Suddenly spontaneously mis-dithered, after years of properly receiving signals? Color me skeptical. I blame the turkey vultures.  The nice man set up an appointment for a technician to come lay hands on our satellite dish and heal our reception.   

I told the nice man about the turkey vultures.  At least he had the good grace to be amazed.

Now it’s your turn!  Convince me that I am not the only person on earth who attracts weirdness.  What is your best “weird and strange” experience? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a bizarre day, in the best possible way!

Terri 🙂

A Total Eclipse Of The Brain

The media reported for weeks that a total eclipse of the sun was due to trip the light fantastic across the central Florida sky in the midafternoon on August 21, 2017.  There was a lot of hype.  Apparently, it was a big deal.  I didn’t pay much attention at first.  I had plans to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom that day with my cousin and his family who were vacationing from New York.  That had way more priority on my excitement agenda than some freak natural phenomenon.

Then, a friend mentioned that she had gone to Lowe’s to buy special eclipse-viewing, sun-filtering protective glasses.  I decided I should get in on the action.  I hauled myself to Lowe’s, only to find that there were no more oxymoronic sun-watching, sun-blocking glasses to be had.  The long-suffering Lowe’s employees must have tired of answering plaintive questions about them because someone had made a small cardboard sign, proclaiming “Glasses All Sold Out” scrawled in pencil. When I told my friend about my failure to obtain the all-important glasses, she looked pensive and then said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney actually has something for the eclipse.” I promised that, if Disney did not provide specially themed protective glasses, I would not stare into the sun and burn out my retinas.

When I got to Animal Kingdom, it turned out that Disney did, indeed, have something for the eclipse.  The “something” consisted of large signs posted throughout the park that said, in effect, “don’t look up.”

I’m not sure if the eclipse really had much of an effect.  For one thing, clouds are pretty much of an eclipse buzzkill.  Cloud-free afternoons in August in central Florida are about as rare as a solar eclipse itself.  August 21st was no exception.  The sun was pretty much eclipsed… by threatening rain clouds.  Between the clouds, the signs, and my own good sense, I did not scrutinize the sky to see if the sun looked any different.  On the other hand, the world under the sky may have looked somewhat different.  Usually, when the sun is obscured by clouds, the sky is dark, but I wouldn’t say the world looks particularly dark when I look around me.  My surroundings maybe don’t seem so bright and iridescent, but I think everything still looks sharp and clear.  During the eclipse, the world around me may have seemed a bit more beige and grainy.  It felt sort of like I was looking at the world through a really dirty window.

Notice I say “may” have looked somewhat different and “may” have seemed a bit more beige and grainy.  It is hard for me to be definitive about the whole thing.  While I was pondering the effects of the eclipse, it struck me that I am truly not that certain if the look of the world changes in the same way when there are just clouds and shadows.  I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped to observe and consider the idea on a normal, cloudy day.  I’m not sure if the differences I noticed were truly effects of the eclipse or if it was just that I was being more attentive and noticing things that are always there, eclipse or not.  It may be simply that there was no discernable difference.  The eclipse may just have jolted me from my tedium and blotted out what I think I know about the world around me.  The condition and event of the eclipse just forced me to stop and take mindful notice of my surroundings.  Maybe the clouds always make it look like there is a veil of grime swathing the world and I just never stopped to notice.

I think most of us go through life with a pretty firm belief that we have a sound empirical and sensory knowledge of our surroundings, but I also think that we would be surprised at how we might change or supplement that knowledge if we challenged ourselves to observe with fresh eyes.  People say that it is important to stop and smell the roses.  I’m sure there are hundreds or thousands of fascinating, poetic details in our world that go unnoticed every day until some major event like an eclipse motivates us to truly experience our natural world.  Maybe the eclipse changed nothing but my perception.

Maybe there were changes related to the total eclipse of the sun itself, but maybe there were more changes related to the total eclipse of the brain.

My apologies that this post is pretty much “old news” by now.  I wrote it in late August, but my mom’s death and Hurricane Irma pushed it to the back burner.  For those of you who actually still remember the solar eclipse, what do you think?  Did anything truly look different?  Or did you just notice details that are probably there all the time but we just don’t notice them?

Have a sunshine-y day!

Terri 🙂

P.S.  But wait, there’s more!  No, I am not selling ginzu knives.  I just wanted to let you know that you can have an extra helping of Terri this week.  The nice people at www.retirementandgoodliving.com asked me to guest post on their site.  You can go to www.retirementandgoodliving.com and hit the blog button if you want to check it out. 

 

Boo!

The jack o’ lanterns are grinning maniacally.  The ghosts are keening.  The witches are flying on broomsticks against the harvest moon.  Costumed freeloaders will soon be knocking on our doors demanding candy and threatening mischief if none is forthcoming.  At least that would be happening if we didn’t live in an age restricted community of oldsters in central Florida.  Halloween is just around the corner.  Maybe we should talk about zombies, werewolves, and vampires today.  Or maybe we should talk about something that is really scary…. Five common fears people often face when thinking about retirement.

So…. Turn down the lights and get ready to do some ghost-busting!

  1. I will not have enough money to live as I wish in retirement.

It is difficult not to feel anxious about money when you are facing a rather substantial decrease in income upon retirement.  Most people have a sort of intuitive feeling about how much money they can spend without having to think about it too much.  We live at a certain standard of spending, based on what is often a fairly stable work income.  We buy things we have always bought because we have always been able to afford them.  We have a “set point” in our minds about discretionary spending. We have a sense of some dollar amount at which a non-recurring payment stops being an impulse buy and starts being an expenditure requiring deliberate decision-making.  When we retire and cut our income 30-50%, that “set point” may change.  In fact, our whole intuitive sense of what standard of living we can afford becomes murky.  We don’t have any empirical practice at what living on this lesser income feels like when it comes to buying stuff.

One way to mitigate this dilemma is to “practice” living on a lesser income while still working.  This helps show us that we can live the way we want to, even on a smaller income.  It also helps train our financial muscles to work differently.  It hones that intuitive sense of what we can afford.  For more information on how to “practice” living on retirement income, you can review my blog post, “The Elephant In The Room. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/02/the-elephant-in-the-room/ 

It is also important to remember that you don’t have to stop earning income completely when you retire.  Earning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.  Presumably, you don’t need to earn as much money as you did while working full-time.  Maybe, though, you find you need some amount of additional income to shore up your retirement lifestyle.  You can probably find a part-time job to fill the gap.  You might even decide to start a small business to share your skills.  Maybe you can babysit.  Maybe you can do light caretaking, like running errands or doing housecleaning or laundry for elderly or disabled neighbors.  Maybe you have a skill from your working life or a hobby that you can monetize. It may help you embrace retirement with financial confidence if you know that you have a back-up plan.

  1. I’ll start gaining weight or….

Smoking too much, spending too much money, drinking too much, getting depressed over a failed relationship, or…. insert your bad habit of choice.

When I retired, I was worried about eating too much and gaining weight because I would be home more and have more time to consume food.  When I was working, the amount of time I had available to eat was so restricted, it seemed like it shouldn’t be all that hard to minimize my caloric intake.  Once I could reach for a snack from my own kitchen cabinet or refrigerator any time of the day, I was afraid that there would be no external circumstances to limit my grazing.  I had friends who had the same concerns about being able to smoke without having to wait for a moment to run outside the office for a smoke break.  I am sure it is the same with any unhealthy habit.  It can feel like the freedom retirement brings may also take away the work-related limits on bad habits.

I found that it was actually easier to maintain and even lose weight once I retired.  Yes, I had more time to eat.  Yes, I probably do eat more than I did when I was working.  However, what I eat is very different.  Since I am eating from my own kitchen, my choices are limited to the pretty healthy stuff I’ve put there. I am no longer wolfing down a candy bar at 2:00pm because I could get it at the vending machine and it is the only food I have had time to acquire since I ate breakfast at 5:00am.  I don’t feel as compelled to soothe myself with high fat and high carbohydrate comfort foods because I am not as stressed.  In short, I am eating more, but the more I am eating is higher quality, more nutritionally dense foods.  The other element is exercise.  Because I am retired and have much more flexibility in my schedule, I walk over six miles a day and do water aerobics once or twice a week.  The exercise has many benefits, including helping to manage my weight despite not eating perfectly.

The additional time you find in retirement can result in the expansion of unhealthy habits, but it all depends on how you look at it and what you decide to do with that time.  That time can also provide you with the opportunity to explore, at your own pace, why you built those unhealthy habits in the first place. Rather than gaining weight (or bankruptcy, lung cancer, liver disease, another dysfunctional relationship, or some other consequence of an unhealthy habit), retirement can be the time when you gain happiness.

  1. I’ll lose my friends.

Most of us have a social network that we establish through our jobs.  Most of my friends were my work colleagues.  Having these wonderful people in my life certainly enriched and sweetened my working years.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope if those relationships withered when I left the workplace.  Guess what?  I never had to cope because those relationships never withered.

It is probably naïve to think that all your work friendships will endure after you retire.  It is also counter-productive to think that the relationships that do endure will be exactly the same.  However, it is defeatist thinking to assume you will lose your whole work-related social network.  I found that, for the most part, the people I cherished from my working years are still closely in my heart’s orbit today.  For more information about maintaining friendships after retirement, you can review my blog post, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/12/should-auld-acquaintance-be-forgot/

It might also be helpful to “practice” a new social network before retirement.  If you are worried about not being connected to your work friends any more, perhaps it would be good to start expanding your circle of friends to other areas- church groups, civic organizations, neighbors, etc.

  1. People retire and then they die.

Many of us know people who worked their whole lives in relative good health and dropped dead soon after retiring.  There are enough of these stories circulating that we can get a little superstitious about entering the retired ranks. I think the logical fallacy of “because something happens after an event, it must have been caused by the event” is at play in those superstitions.

It is probably true that some people are so connected to their work that they get bored and lose their spark when they retire. I suppose that could contribute to a premature death.  However, I don’t think most people die after retirement because they are so depressed they lose the will to live and just fade away.   There may be a period of confusion and depression, but most of us find our way through that time and find our new lives.  If a person does die shortly after retirement, seemingly for no reason, I think there is likely some reason.  That reason may have actually been present before the retirement, but the person may just not have wanted people to know about it.  The condition may have presented itself after retirement, but would have reared its ugly head at the same time, whether the person was working or retired.

  1. If I retire, I’ll lack purpose in my life.

Most people think that their purpose in life is what they do. In reality, the opposite should be true.  We should do what is our purpose in life.  Unfortunately, for many of us, the work that we do to make our living isn’t what truly makes us feel whole and the best version of ourselves.  We may find it satisfying and interesting and reasonably lucrative in providing for our wants and needs, but it probably isn’t what makes our hearts sing and our souls expand.  Even though what we do for work probably isn’t truly our purpose and driving force, it’s easy to get in the habit of thinking that it is over many years of a career.  Partly this happens because we just don’t have any time for much else while we are working.  Partly it happens because it is much easier for us to measure progress and success towards “purpose” by keeping our focus on a career than it is to explore where our true purpose lies. After all, no one gives you a raise or a promotion for self-actualization.

If you are one of the lucky people whose “career” purpose and “self” purpose intersect, it is likely that you can find a way to live out that purpose passionately in retirement.  You may be able to work part time or volunteer to follow your heart.  If you can’t physically do the work that is your purpose, you can probably still consult, mentor, teach, or write to share your skills with others.

For more information about finding your new life, you can review my post Get a Life. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/09/get-a-life/

So maybe the shadows of retirement are not so scary after all.  Now that we’ve pushed these skeletons back into the closet, how about some candy?  Trick or treat, anybody?

Now it’s your turn!  What were your fears about retirement?  Do you think those fears were well-founded? How did you overcome them? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you an email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Haunting!

Terri 🙂

 

 

Happy Birthday To Me

A few weeks after my mother died, I had a birthday.  Birthdays have always been special to me.  My birthday is the only day in the whole year that I allow everything to be all about me.  Long ago, I stopped looking at my birthday as a commemoration of another year passing. Instead,  I look at it as a kind of holiday. It’s  Terri Day- the day the world (or at least any portion of the world that so desires) celebrates the unique wonder that is me!  That may sound conceited, but it isn’t really. I don’t limit my birthday philosophy to myself.  I think everybody’s birthday should be about celebrating that person’s individual, special awesomeness. What difference does it really make if you are another year older, when all is said and done?  On the other hand, what a wonderful difference it truly does make that the world is filled with awesome people who are amazing for so many different reasons!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel celebratory when, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t sharing my birthday with the woman who birthed me. I say that my birthday has always been “all about me.”  That isn’t entirely accurate.  Part of that “all” has been all about my mother and me.  That very first birthday was the beginning of the very special bond we’ve shared over the past 58 years. I’ve always bought my mother a present on my birthday. After all, my mother was the one who did all the work the day I was born.  All I did was show up.

I almost felt like skipping my birthday this year, but my current obsession with busy-ness and distraction forced me to find something special to do that day.  Max and I returned from a trip to Las Vegas on September 28 and we visited Disney Springs to celebrate my birthday on September 30.   Now, normally, I would not visit Disney Springs on a Saturday when hordes of people walk the earth, but I was pretty committed to celebrating on the actual anniversary of my birth.  Max made a few half-hearted attempts to convince me to juggle my birthday celebration to another, non-weekend day.  He soon realized that idea was a total non-starter.  He ultimately embraced the idea and set out to ensure I enjoyed a special birthday- different from all previous birthdays because my mother wasn’t with us, but special in a new way.

For several days before, during, and after my birthday, Max walked around calling me the “birt-day girl.”  He greeted me every morning by calling out, “Happy Birthday.” He sang to me on the gondola at the Venetian Casino during our vacation, which was amazing.  Max doesn’t really sing and lives in terror of standing out of the crowd in public. Yet, there he was, singing to me.  Without benefit of alcohol, even. The fact that he was singing to me in front of a gondolier and a couple of strangers and anyone who happened to be able to hear him in the fake Piazza San Marco truly demonstrated the extent of his effort to delight me.  It touched me deeply and I think I found a way, after knowing him for almost 22 years, to fall even more in love with him.

A few months ago, part of me realized that my mother was likely not going to be alive when my birthday came.  I purchased a necklace and paid for it from one of her accounts.  I gave it to Max to save so I’d have one last birthday present from my mother.  The morning of my birthday, he brought it out and fastened it around my neck.  The necklace is a diamond and silver butterfly.  The body of the butterfly consists of two interwoven open-heart designs.  I chose the butterfly motif because it reminds me that my mother, like a butterfly, is reborn to live in beauty and joy in Heaven. I chose the double open heart design because my mother is the one who taught me to live my life striving to love and to be loved. 

When we got to Disney Springs, we went to Starbucks and had a beverage accompanied by a pumpkin scone.  As we walked around the shops, I found a pair of earrings that fascinated me. Max surprised me by buying them for me.  We had a late lunch at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. My mother used to keep a stash of what she called her “hidey hole” money- about $400 in cash that she kept at home in case of emergency.  I took some of that money to pay for my birthday meal and the Sprinkles cupcake I bought to take home.  Later that evening at home, I put a candle in the cupcake and Max sang “Happy Birthday” to me. 

I also received beautiful cards, texts, and gifts from my brother and from friends all around the world.  It was as if the Universe knew that this was going to be a tough birthday for me and wanted to provide a little additional emotional padding against the buffeting my heart was likely to take.

You can see I ended up having a lovely birthday, even though I was kind of dreading it.  It was a special day, even if my mother wasn’t there to share it with me.  Then again, maybe she was.  And maybe she always will be.

How do you like to celebrate your birthday?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have an extra special day, whether it happens to be your birthday or not!

Terri 🙂

 

 

 

Busy-ness

Reader Neki commented that it sounded like my last year with my mother was extra special. When I read Neki’s comment, it caused me to reflect. While I was living that last year, I don’t know that I would have described it so. Living that year at my mom’s side was the most painful and most arduous thing I’ve done in my entire life. There were many times when I felt like the pressure of the grief and the stress were unbearable. In reality, though, Neki was absolutely right. That time with my mother was extra special.

As difficult as this past year has been, I would not have had it any other way. If my mother’s fate was to suffer a stroke and decline so heartbreakingly towards the end of her life, I wanted to travel that path with her. Whatever support I could give, I wanted to give. Whatever comfort I could provide, I wanted to provide. Whatever shared joy we could find, I wanted to find with her. The time and effort I spent with her in the past year was my gift to her, but it truly was also a gift to me.

Now that my mother is gone, I am a bit disoriented. The time I used to spend with her and taking care of her needs is now empty. I have a new-found and somewhat unwelcome freedom.

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new life condition. I feel a bit tender and tentative, as if I am dipping my toe into the water of the part of my life that is all about me. In the days since my mother death, I grasp wildly for activity. I’ve started the processes to finalize my mom’s administrative matters. I’ve gone through most of her possessions. I’ve sent thank you notes to people who sent cards and flowers. My house is cleaner than it has ever been. I plunged myself into a new life filled with new events, new people, and new thoughts. I initiated outings with friends. I began accepting every invitation offered me. I signed up to join a women’s group at the church. I began preparations to survive Hurricane Irma in a manic frenzy, despite my absolute certainty that I would die in the storm. Max and I took a trip to Las Vegas. I’ve been planning a trip to New England to see the fall foliage next autumn. I seem to flit from one activity to another without ever stopping to let my feet touch the ground… or to take a breath.

I do want to try new things now that I have some more free time, but I think this busy-ness is more about not wanting to sit still and feel than it is about expanding my horizons.

The truth is that the hole my mother left in my life is so huge that I am afraid of falling into it. If I stop and stare at that hole, I am sure that it will suck me into its emptiness and I will never recover. My mother was all about light and happiness. Her absence leaves darkness and grief. If I am to honor her memory, it is important that I look beyond this present darkness and grief to find the love she left behind. I can use that love to live in a way that would bring her joy. I can and will be her legacy of light.

The thing is… I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I am still too vulnerable to the darkness to risk getting too close to that empty hole. After so much sadness for so long, my strength is depleted and needs rest to be replenished. So I keep moving and doing, propelling myself far away from the emptiness. I’m sure I will eventually be able to find a better balance between activity and introspection. When that happens, I know I’ll find a way to live more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever have because my mother showed me how. I’ll know my mom will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

In the meantime, I think I’ve earned a little distraction!

What do you think?  Does a whirlwind of activity help us heal after losing someone?  Or is it just a whirlwind of activity?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri 🙂

In Praise Of Chocolate Ice Cream

My mother always said that chocolate ice cream can solve pretty much any problem.  Or, if it doesn’t solve the problem, consuming chocolate ice cream will at least make you feel better about failing.  I have an abundance of ample curves in places that should be less curvy and more flat because I have spent a lifetime harkening to this advice. 

My mother was not too proud to offer her children chocolate ice cream to do her bidding. In fact, I first learned the meaning of the word “bribe” in conjunction with chocolate ice cream.  One day, my mother asked if she could bribe me with a fudgsicle to take out the trash.  I asked her what “bribe” meant.  After she explained, I told her I didn’t really want a fudgsicle, but would take the trash out anyway.  I’m sure my refusal of the fudgsicle left her wondering if we did, in fact, share the same DNA or if she had just found me under a cabbage leaf. When we were sick and refusing to eat, she would coax back our appetites by pulling a half-gallon carton of chilly chocolate out of the freezer.  Jimmy Buffett might have had his margaritas, but, in our house, the frozen concoction that helped us hang on was chocolate ice cream.   

Calories and curves aside, it is hard to argue with her position.  Chocolate ice cream is just awesome.  It is creamy and sumptuous and decadent.  It goes down softly and smoothly and with a sultriness that is almost tangible.  I can go up and down the counter at an ice cream parlor touting thirty-one flavors of ice cream, savoring the idea of each of the flashy flavors. Inevitably, I end up ordering chocolate.  I would live on chocolate ice cream if I could. 

Maybe it is possible to live on chocolate ice cream.  When I was a child, we always had waffles with chocolate ice cream for our birthday breakfasts. Don’t they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? 

At any rate, my mother’s chocolate ice cream cure ran into an ironic snag at the end of her life.  I guess she was testing the hypothesis that one can live on chocolate ice cream alone. During her last ten months, all she consumed was food based on chocolate ice cream.  She ate virtually nothing except Wendy’s chocolate frosties and McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes.  Sometimes, just to mix things up, I brought a thermal bag of ingredients and made her chocolate ice cream sodas.  I pulled out a small bottle of club soda, a jigger of half-and-half, a container of chocolate ice cream, a bottle of chocolate syrup and made the ice cream soda at her bedside.   I was the Benihana’s of the ice cream world. Her ice cream soda was dinner and a show.   

It is hard to imagine how it is possible to survive on chocolate ice cream alone, no matter how enamored with it you are. Day after day, I helped her drink her milkshake or ice cream soda.  It was really the only pleasure she could still enjoy. She continued to lose weight and to weaken.  She became more confused and restless.  She often punctuated short periods of wakefulness and connectedness with napping and detachment.   As I watched her fading away, little by little, I realized that it was not possible for her to survive on chocolate ice cream alone. 

I wonder if I will ever think of chocolate ice cream the same way again. 

What is your “guilty pleasure” in food?  What food would you live on if you could? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂