Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

The other day, a friend of mine from work called.  She was questioning whether she wanted to keep working or retire.  Her will to work was starting to wear down, but she was concerned about the impact her leaving would have on the organization.  I encouraged her to decide based on what was best for her. I assured her that the government would find a way to soldier on without her.  She agreed and remarked bitterly, “I know all these people who seem so fond of me right now won’t give me a second thought once I’ve walked out the door.”

Her comment reminded me that one of my biggest concerns about retirement and moving cross country was that I would lose friends.

I’ve often said that I have a rather faulty emotional transmission.  It takes me a long time to connect with people.  Because I am shy, I often hang back when a new group of people is forming.  When everyone else is getting to know each other and forging relationships, I am still wrestling with my nerves and trying to calm the qualms in my gut.  It takes me even longer to disengage.  By the time I’m feeling comfortable and warmly clicking away on all cylinders with my new friends, other people are getting ready to move on.

When I started my first entry-level job with the government, I was hired with a whole group of new young college graduates.  We bonded over our new experiences and similarities.  It took me some time to weave myself into the group, but I reveled in this new comradery.  A couple of years later, I got the opportunity to take a career-enhancing job in another office.  I worked on an alternative schedule and had every other Friday off.  I hesitated about taking the new job because I couldn’t imagine leaving my friends, but a mentor told me that it was better to go away and leave everyone than to have everyone go away and leave you.  I ended up taking the job, but I didn’t really “go away and leave everyone.”  Every off Friday, I got up early and rode a freakin’ bus for over an hour round trip to visit my colleagues in my old office. I kept up my little pilgrimage for close to a year, even as other folks in my original cohort left the office.

Given my difficulty in shifting relationship gears, I could absolutely empathize with my friend’s concerns about leaving her work relationships.  I told her that I knew from my own experience that such fears don’t have to come true. 

I have always heard that some people come into our lives for a season, some people come into our lives for a reason, and some people come into our lives for a lifetime.  That is exactly what I experienced when I retired.  Retirement has shown me, quite clearly, that some people were part of my working life simply for that time in my life.  Some people were in relationship with me for a reason that was tied up with our work experience.  Retirement also teaches me, though, that there are definitely people I met through work that will grace me with their friendship throughout my lifetime.

I have had several surprises about who would fit into each category.  There are some people who I thought would be friends long after my work life ended who have actually turned out to be friends of the season or the reason.  On the other hand, there are people I expected to drift away when I retired who are still in touch and are still keeping my heart company.  There are actually more of the relationships that survived my retirement and move cross country than those that have faltered.  I am blessed with such faithful forever friends. 

I keep friends by being a friend.  I recognize that everyone is busy.  Having said that, I also realize that my time is probably more flexible than that of my still employed friends.  I bend to their schedules as much as possible. With technology that makes transcontinental communication less costly than it was when my family moved across country in 1965, it is relatively easy to stay in touch. I never mind that I am usually the one who reaches out first.  Friendship is such a valuable commodity, I guard it and grow it as much as I can. Maybe I can invest the time raising the priority and level of friendship-tending precisely because I am retired. Maybe relationships, rather than dwindling away because of retirement, can actually grow because of the increased time we have for them.

In thinking about this recent conversation I had with my friend about what retirement would do to her work relationships, another thought also occurred to me. Is there really anything intrinsically wrong with relationships that turn out to be based only on a season or a reason?  Those people that have meandered out of my life since I retired were no less valuable to me nor were the relationships less sweet because our connections were limited to my work life.  Our time together was precious.  Our relationships enriched my life and contributed to who I am today.

Also, you never know.  People who wandered out of my life may one day wander back.

What do you do to tend work-related friendships after retirement?  Have you been successful in finding your “forever friends?” Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terrirretirement@gmail.com.

Happy New Year!

Terri 🙂

The Sweetest Days

Max retired almost three years before I did.  I have to admit to a smidgeon of resentment when he retired and I could not.  It made no sense, as he is older than I am, was older when he retired than I would be on my planned retirement date, and he basically took over all the work of running the household after he retired.  It was pretty irrational.  I had no reason in the world to feel annoyed about it.  I was 52 years old, bringing in a tidy paycheck, and coming home to a clean, maintained house, freshly laundered clothes, and a fully stocked refrigerator.  Still, a part of me was really ticked off when I awoke violently in the middle of yesterday when the alarm clock went off and I knew he was still in bed.  Sometimes I’m not a very nice person.

Within two months of my retiring, we moved 3000 miles across the country.  We had not even really settled into a new retirement routine.  I was still toodling around town, celebrating with one batch of friends or another.  There was Thanksgiving and some early, pre-move Christmas preparations.  I didn’t have time to figure out what our life was going to be once we were both retired, much less what the impact would be on our relationship.  During the time I was still working after Max retired, it felt like “retirement life” was a reality, but “on hold” while we waited for me to reach the magic age of 55.  I wasn’t sure the routines and activities Max had in his retirement would continue after I would be around all day.  I wasn’t sure what sort of routines and activities I would do.  And I really didn’t know how his life and mine would intersect.  We were always very good about sharing time and fun while we were forced into a structure by our work lives.  How would we accomplish that sharing once the artificial timeframes of our work lives were gone?

Once we moved, it became pretty clear that both of us were experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  At least, in retrospect, it is clear that we were both experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  I have to confess that, at the time, I just thought Max was being compulsive and annoying and I am sure that Max thought I had turned into a lazy, irresponsible grasshopper version of the industrious little ant he had known for almost twenty years. 

The problem, I think, was that we learned that we both deal with stress in very different ways.  I was wrong to think that Max believed that the move and all the changes were no big deal.  He most definitely did find all the transition to be a big deal.  It is just that Max deals with stress by trying to control the heck out of it.  He tries to think of every possible problem, action, or task that could conceivably be an issue in any universe and believes in attacking each one immediately and simultaneously.  If you think of everything and do everything to solve/prevent problems as soon as they enter your head, you are unlikely to be unpleasantly surprised by disaster.  On the other hand, you might be exhausted, which, to me, was a disaster in itself after 33 years of working for a living and being chronically exhausted.  My way of dealing with problems is to let them sit for a little bit, brainstorm some possible options to deal with them, research those options, and then decide on a plan of action.  That plan of action will involve dealing with one problem at a time, celebrating the resolution of that problem, and then resting between rounds, as it were.  My way means some things may never get done.  Max’s way means we are constantly on hyper-alert and busy doing stuff that may never need to get done. 

The other issue involved the way we make decisions.  Both of us obsess in the decision-making process.  We research, weigh every possible factor, and simmer in our own juices for way too long before actually settling on a decision.  Often, we settle into paralysis by analysis.  However, for me, the obsession does not stop when the decision is finally made.  I second guess myself and mourn the road not taken with almost as much intensity as I mustered to make the decision in the first place.  On the other hand, Max never looks back.  Once he has made and implemented a decision, he tells himself and anyone who will listen that it the unquestionably correct one.  This became a problem whenever I voiced any possible downsides of our decision or mentioned that I missed something about our old home.  Max would immediately start reciting the litany of all the reasons our decision to move was the only one a rational person could possibly make.  To him, I think entertaining any possible regrets felt as if the whole thing was a catastrophe.  To me, not acknowledging the difficulties and the disappointments felt dismissive. 

For the first six months or so after the move, the difference in our two styles was an irritant to both of us.  It was uncomfortable to be at odds with one another, as we have so little practice at it.  We had seldom disagreed in our twenty year relationship before this move across country.  It made me kind of depressed to know that there were times when Max was not pleased with my approach or decision.  I’m sure it also frustrated Max no end when what he perceived as his “rational convincing” to do something (and I perceived as “nagging”) did not move me to his way of thinking and I really could not explain why.  I started snapping at him fairly regularly and he started just assuming I agreed with him about things.  I guess that is a chicken and egg conundrum.  I don’t really know which came first.

Then something happened.    I’m not sure when or why.  I think Max probably started it.  We became gentler and more tender with each other.  Instead of being frightened or irritated by the disconnects, we started to be more accepting of each other.  We started being more visibly appreciative of what each of us brings to the relationship and what we do for each other.  We started reminding each other of how much we loved each other.  Our lives became more about each other again and less about the complications around us- the house, the lawn, my mother, finances, etc.  There is a new easiness to the relationship- something like the joy we had when we were new to each other, but deeper and warmer and softer. 

In a few weeks, Max and I will celebrate twenty years together.  During that time, we have shared the death of three of our four parents, the growing up and growing old of our little mutant Welsh corgi dog, many vacations, many wonderful entertainments, health problems, career challenges, home renovation, caregiving of my mother, two retirements, and many, many other experiences I can’t even begin to name. With all that, the relationship has truly grown richer. It is sort of like warming up spaghetti sauce.  It is good the first day, but it gets better as it simmers when you warm and rewarm it.  There may have been times when each of us privately wondered if our “we” was going to withstand whatever was going on at the time.  I think maybe our new chapter is about being more secure that, whatever ingredients the future adds to our mix, our relationship will be okay because the base of the recipe is love and respect and admiration.  For me, the best place in the world to be is snuggled in his arms.  He makes me feel the warmth and wholeness that comes from being truly cherished.  For Max, I think being with me makes his spirit a little lighter and more joyful. 

So, my darling Max, Happy Anniversary.  There is no question that the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you.

How did your relationship change when you retired?  Were there challenges you had to overcome? How have you navigated choppy waters?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂

Growing Up

My relationship with my mother has changed since we all moved. 

I knew about the phenomenon of role reversal that many adult children experience with their parents.  As the parent ages, the adult child becomes the caregiver.  The parent becomes more and more dependent on his or her child.  I have seen that happening gradually in my own relationship with my mother since my father died suddenly about twenty years ago.  The velocity of that role reversal has certainly increased since our move.  In our old home, my mother needed a lot of help with even simple physical tasks, but was very independent and competent when it came to arranging her own life and making decisions.  She always made her own medical appointments, decided on her own purchases, and even untangled problems like a glitch in her credit card billing on her own.  Up until a year before we moved, she was even preparing her own tax returns.  Since our move, she has had something of a crisis of confidence.  She is still perfectly capable of making her own decisions and arrangements, but seems reluctant to do so.  I am making her doctors’ appointments, overseeing her home improvements, monitoring her health insurance coverage, and, at her insistence, reviewing any research she does prior to making any decision. 

 At first, I was a bit disconcerted with this, as I thought it meant that her move across country had somehow triggered a decline in her general ability to cope.  After all, if she was doing all these things on her own and working full time for several months a year and doing substantial volunteer work while she was in her old home, why could she suddenly not trust herself to decide on a medical insurance plan once she moved across the country?  Then, a friend of mine suggested that it was very possible that my mother was managing all the routine tasks of her life the best she could simply because she had to do it herself.  My friend was absolutely correct.  My mother might not have been comfortable or confident in what she was doing, but didn’t feel she could ask for help because I was working fulltime at a very stressful job and lived 70 miles away from her.  Once I retired and we were living 15 miles from each other, she felt freer to show her vulnerability.  In reality, she has not declined.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  She is feeling well and her blood pressure is under control, even without medication.  She admits to feeling happier and less stressed.  Now, my challenge is finding the balance between helping her continue to feel well and making sure she retains her sense of independence and competency.

 So, the real change in the relationship is not the role reversal.  It is more related to that living 15 miles from each other thing. 

 When I was living 75 miles from my mother, it was easy to seem like a supportive, compliant daughter.  I talked to my mom on the phone a couple of times a week and saw her every three weeks or so. I’m sure she thought I was pretty close to perfect.   If I made a mistake or did something of which I thought my mother would disapprove, it was easy to just not mention it.  Once we started seeing each other four or five times a week, it was more difficult to keep things from her.  She knows when I buy something she thinks is frivolous.  She knows when I give a homeless person money just because I don’t want to deal with his annoyance if I refuse.  She knows when I agree to something that Max thinks we should do just because I’m tired of arguing.  She also sees me get snappish and sarcastic when I am tired or hungry.  I am pretty sure she knows now that I am nowhere near perfect.  Even though she only voices her opinions gently and occasionally, I know her well enough to know when she disapproves.  If I basked in the sunshine of her approval for 55 years before our move, I fear I am now in danger of sinking into the mire of her disapproval.  And I care way too much about that.

 It has been an uncomfortable transition.  When I first noticed the shift, I felt sad and empty.  I mourned that, in trying to do a good thing by taking on my mother’s caretaking, I seemed to have lost my relationship with her.  I knew my mother still loved me and appreciated who I am and who I try to be.  She probably has a much better grasp than I do on the fact that it is perfectly okay that she disagrees with some of my decisions. Still, I tended to become overcome by anxiety by the fact that my mother might not always agree with me. 

If I am not the “easy” daughter who is never a cause for concern, do I cease to be lovable?

Of course not.

As more time passed, I remembered that love is a verb.  And so, in some weird non-grammatical way, is “relationship.”  It moves and changes and grows.  As I went about my regular routine of helping my mother and trying to maximize the joy in her life, I realized that I was starting to enjoy the same closeness I used to share with her.  As my mom and I “relationshiped,” we surfed through the turbulence.  While we may not always pull in absolute tandem, we do respect where each other wants to go. 

I learned that parental disagreement, even disapproval, is not a catastrophe.  Growing up should teach a child that it is safe to disconnect from a parent and live her own life without losing the love of the parent.  This education happens to everyone.  It is just that, for most people, it happens at around age 15 or 16.  It took me until I was 56.

 As my mom and I continue to come face-to-face with disagreements and no catastrophe happens, I think our relationship is becoming more authentic again.  Perhaps even more authentic than it used to be.  We are both coming to terms with the fact that we are each complicated, real people and not just our respective roles- perfect daughter and perfect mother.  Or more likely, we are just redefining what our “perfect” means. 

So what do you think?  Have you taken on additional caretaking responsibilities?  Has it changed your relationship with your loved one?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

As a side note, we had a bit of a “power surge” of new visitors this past week.  Welcome to all! I hope you enjoy enough to continue visiting, reading, and sharing.  I have been posting every Wednesday.  If you would like to be notified when there is new content, please send me an email at terriretirrement@gmail.com. 

Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂