Death Didn’t Take a Holiday

We had a death in the neighborhood yesterday. Actually, we aren’t sure when our neighbor died. It could have been yesterday, but more than likely he had been dead for several days – or more – before being discovered. The last time his neighbor across the street saw him alive was on Thanksgiving. She later became concerned after noticing that his garbage hadn’t been brought curb-side for pick-up and that a flyer hung on his door hadn’t been touched.

We live in a fairly tight-knit neighborhood. We pretty much know everyone up and down both sides of our long block. There are a lot of long-time residents; one or two are the original owners of their late 1950’s era homes. It’s almost impossible to walk from one end of the block to the other without stopping multiple times to chat. It is the type of neighborhood many people want to live in—friendly, sociable, supportive, and connected.

John’s mother was one of those original owners. Before Audrey passed away several years ago, she put the house and a sizable amount of money into a trust for her son. She did this because she knew that John wouldn’t be able to care for himself because of his mental illness. Despite his violent behavior towards her and others, and his pattern of eschewing medication for his bipolar disorder and instead feeding his meth habit, she decided that the best place for her son was in our neighborhood.

Most of the time, we were able to ignore John and his craziness. He could often be seen walking in the area wearing multiple layers of clothing (even in the summer) and large headphones, constantly talking to himself. Other than being odd, he was mostly harmless; he avoided us and we avoided him. Other times, though, he’d become enraged and verbally attacked those who lived around him. He was enough of a threat that a few neighbors took out restraining orders against him. It was not unusual to see several police cars in front of his house. We quickly learned, though, that it’s not possible to force a mentally ill person into treatment if he refuses. Even if he doesn’t have water or gas service because of unpaid bills. Even if it is obvious that his mental and physical health is deteriorating. Even if we think he could be a threat to himself or others. Even if.

John had a sister and two kids from an earlier marriage. All had been victims of his abuse and all had become estranged from him over the years. Once his mother died the only people who “cared” about him were those who could profit from him; the ones who took advantage of his mental state by crashing at his house, eating his food, or selling him drugs.

So, now John is dead and the neighborhood is breathing a sigh of relief. Whether he died of drugs or a heart attack; whether he had been dead one day or six before being found, we’ll probably never know.

What we do know is that he died alone and without a friend in the world. His kids – both now young adults and seemingly reasonably-adjusted – will live with a memory of a father they could never know. They also now have a house to dispose of- the inside of which is probably so disgusting a sane person wouldn’t live there. They have a lot of work ahead of them to get it in any shape to sell.

We are a neighborhood that looks out for one another. We help each other with house and car projects. We celebrate good times together and support each other when bad things happen. But, this one got away from us. We watched helplessly as John’s life careened out of control and spiraled down to its inevitable conclusion.

I admit that I wasn’t sad when I found out that John had died. His pain is over and his neighbors no longer need to be afraid of what he might do. I am sad that we can’t, as a society, do more to aid these tortured souls. Because of lack of funding and a few probably well-intentioned laws that had unintended consequences, we are often helpless to intervene.

I think we can do better.

The Last of the “Last Ofs”

With just over a month left before I retire, I find myself mentally checking off the last (insert here) that I will experience before I leave. On Friday, I gave my last work-related presentation before a large audience. Tomorrow, I will go on the last of many, many business trips I’ve taken over the years. Pretty soon, I’ll submit my last expense report, then I’ll make the last drive to and from work, and, soon after that, I’ll receive my last regular paycheck.

Cocoon1

I look forward to checking off some of these “last ofs,” but others are more bittersweet. Happiness mixed with sadness, excitement mixed with unease. I’ve changed jobs many times over my working life, but I was always transitioning from one cocoon to the next. I left behind the comfort of a familiar social circle and known responsibilities, but I knew that soon I would bond with my new co-workers and ease into a new routine.

Synonyms for “routine” are “monotonous,” “dull,” “tedious,” and “mundane,” but routines can also be positive and comforting. I begin each day with a cup of French-pressed coffee and end it by reading a bit before turning out the lights and going to sleep. Some routines won’t change when I’m retired, but others that lend a comfortable consistency to my work week will be gone. There will be a last team meeting, the last seminar I host, and my final walk through the door when the workday is done.

Of course, there will be many “last ofs” that I won’t know are the last until they are gone: the last shared laugh with a colleague about some work-related absurdity, the final time a co-worker offers to help me with a task, the last of many, many kindnesses I’ve been shown over the years by the people I work with. It’s the people that I will miss the most (although. I admit, the paycheck is a close second).

On May 17, I will begin a series of “first ofs” that being retired allows me to experience: the first of my weekends that won’t have a bunch of errands crammed in over two days, the first Monday morning that won’t require an alarm to get me up, the first Wednesday that’s not a “hump day” because there is no longer a hump to get over. Soon, my husband and I will take our first road trip that has a start date, but no set end date because we don’t have to meet anyone else’s schedule.

Many of the “last ofs” will be hard and I’m sure tears will be shed, but I am looking forward to the “first ofs,” and hope to add as many of them to my new life as possible.

Puzzling Together the Pieces

With only eight short weeks remaining before I leave the 8-5 work world and begin my next chapter, I am experiencing an array of emotions. Excitement and enthusiasm, yes, of course, but also… not quite fear… more like apprehension and just a little unease.

Barring a huge economic downturn (which we now know can happen), I feel in good shape financially. Health insurance—at least for now—is available and budgeted for. Because I have a pre-existing condition due to an illness many years ago, without the Affordable Care Act I’d be concerned about the possibility of not finding coverage.

My unease stems mostly from two questions that I can’t answer yet:

What if this is the wrong decision?
Although I could probably find another job if I discover that I absolutely hate not working full time (something I doubt very much), it would be hard to match what I do now – both in salary and in satisfaction. Because my intention to exit work has gone from concept to commitment, I am feeling the finality of my decision.

A part-time job could provide some structure without a major time commitment, but then I would lose the freedom to pick up and go anytime my husband and I wanted to. Consulting? Maybe, but I’d have to spend time marketing my services, which doesn’t sound like much fun.

How will I replace the social network that I’ve developed at work?
Knowing that this was one aspect of retirement that my husband had a hard time with, I’ve become acutely aware of the large and small interactions that occur throughout the work day. Even simple greetings and casual conversations add to my enjoyment and I know that I will miss the easy comradery of being a member of a well-functioning team.

Over the years, I have developed varying levels of friendships with co-workers. Some of them I see outside of work, and I hope that will continue, but most are those types of friendships that are based on our shared circumstance. I imagine that most of these relationships will fade away soon after we are no longer working together. Our intentions might be sincere, but it will really take an effort—most likely mostly on my part—to stay in touch. Because they will still have the constraints of a full-time job, it will be up to me to arrange get-togethers that fit around their schedules.

Bucket

I know that the most effective way to mitigate my concerns is to start putting in place several items on my “bucket list” of activities I want to enjoy in retirement; the ones that I find difficult to do now because of time constraints. A few that come to mind are:

Find—or start—a book club
I have “test-driven” several established book clubs over the years, but have yet to find one with the right combination of serious and social. Great books and stimulating conversation, enjoyed in a social atmosphere that includes shared food and wine… that is what I’ll be looking for.

Identify exercise buddies
Soon I will be able to go to the gym, power walk, ride my bike, take yoga, etc. anytime I want so I need to find others who are on a similar non-schedule. There are lots of things I like to do alone, but friends can make exercise more enjoyable and help maintain the motivation.

Sign up for some classes
After years of reading longingly about classes, workshops, lectures, etc. that I couldn’t participate in because of my work schedule, I can now attend! Although I expect that my desire to learn new things will be ongoing, I want to identify a few possibilities right away so that I am inspired to get up, get dressed, and get going.

Volunteer to usher for a local theater
There are a lot of worthwhile causes and organizations that need volunteers, and I hope to identify several to give my time to. By ushering for a theater company, I not only provide a valuable service, but I will see performances I might otherwise miss. Because these opportunities are seasonal, and most likely have waiting lists and specific training schedules, I want to be sure I don’t miss a deadline.

Old Globe

Between several of these activities, all the projects that need to be done around the house, and a couple of trips we have planned this year, I should be quite busy. I hope that soon whether I made the right decision and how I will create a new social network will no longer be in question.

Ten Things I Learned About Retirement from Downton Abbey

As I move towards retirement, I have gained wisdom and guidance from many sources. Books, blogs, articles, and especially friends who have gone before me, all have helped pave the way and have made me more comfortable with my coming transition.

Tonight, as I anticipate the start of Season 4 of Downton Abbey, I realized that even the Crawleys, along with their extended family and staff, can teach me a thing or two about the road ahead.

try new things

1) Don’t stay in a rut. Try new things – even if it involves wearing unattractive outfits.

entertain

2) Stay connected with friends and entertain often. Everyone loves a barbeque!

weekends

3) Don’t forget what a weekend is. It’s that thing at the end of those other days you’ll lose track of.

idle

4) Don’t be idle. There’s always something to do, even if it’s just getting lost in a good book.

still working

5) Don’t forget that others are still working. Be grateful and respectful of their time.

travel

6) There is so much out there to see. Travel as often as possible.

frump

7) No need to start dressing like a frump just because you’re no longer going to work every day.

excercise

8) Exercise often. Even better, exercise with friends.

technology

9) Stay current with new technologies, and don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone.

you never know

10) You never know how long you – or those you love – will be around. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that you love them.

“Life is short, live it. Love is rare, grab it. Anger is bad, dump it. Fear is awful, face it. Memories are sweet, cherish it.” – Unknown

So, what are you doing?

Reunion Pic1_PS

Last night I attended my 40th high school reunion. It was a little overwhelming to be surrounded by so many classmates that I’ve lost touch with over the years. I can count on two hands (and have a few fingers left over) the number of friends from back then that I still see even on a semi-regular basis. Of course Facebook “friends” add more to that number, but those contacts consist of periodic updates, not what I’d classify as actual relationships.

Although it was tempting – and would have been easier for me, an introvert in intense social situations – to spend most of the evening among friends I am still in contact with, I found myself drawn to those that I didn’t know very well in school. By venturing out of my comfort zone, I discovered quite a few classmates that weren’t in my circle of friends back then, but who I now wish I had known better over the years.

When we were in high school, I’ll wager that most of us wouldn’t have been able to predict what we would be doing 40 years later. Not only were we not fully-formed human beings capable of picking our adult careers, many of the jobs we hold now didn’t even exist then. Hopefully, our definition of a desirable mate has advanced past the low bar many of us set back then. What we did for “fun” back then probably would bore, or in some cases horrify, our adult selves.

I loved hearing about what my former classmates are currently doing. Many of them are working at interesting jobs; several were retired or, like me, close to retirement; some had avocations that were much more interesting and fulfilling than their vocations.

When invariably I was asked “so, what are you doing?” I found myself at a bit of a loss. I have a great job, but it’s hard to describe well in a few sentences. Besides, I won’t be doing it anymore in a few months. I wish I had been able to talk about an exotic trip I had taken recently, a cause I was lending my time to, or maybe an artistic journey I was in the middle of.

So, what am I doing? I’m focused on creating a new life in retirement; a life that is active, interesting, fulfilling, and one that will give me a lot to draw from when someone asks me what I’m doing.