I got a call from an old friend the other day who is retiring from her job. Actually, she is apparently being dragged, kicking and screaming, from a job she enjoys and which fills her life as she knows it. She is of the age to retire, so fortunately she has a pension on which to exist. However ~ and that’s a big however ~ it seems the pension, which her other support staff co-workers in our local city offices also have, will be barely enough to pay all her bills each month, and will not leave her enough after that to have the life style she has enjoyed over the past few years. Her Social Security benefits, she found out at her recent meeting down at the local Social Security office, will be under $500 a month because for over 25 years she did not contribute to it (as a city employee she could not, but frankly at the time she enjoyed having that extra amount to spend or salt away as she chose). And withdrawn out of that amount will be her costs for Medicare and supplemental insurance.
My friend doesn’t look old enough to retire. On top of having had a very well-done eye-lift about 10 years ago, she has kept in shape through exercise and good diet. She is attractive, fun to be around, and is generally still capable of performing her duties in the office with people who like and respect her work and personality. The fact that these are hard times in the work force is salt in her wound ~ it doesn’t change things. She cannot argue that they could no longer afford her. But the icing came when she learned her replacement is a 20-something who, while she will earn much less, is technologically much more savvy. Training her was a joke, she says.
Her situation, and our conversation about it, really affected me because my view of retirement is so vastly different from hers ~ and, I realize, everyone’s view is skewed by personal circumstances. In her case, she is seriously depressed over it. She and I used to work together and in fact we lived next door to one another when our children were growing up. Both of us have been single quite a few years, so I thought she had adjusted to being responsible for her own welfare and therefore her own happiness. I know her well, and so I assumed she would be as happy as I was over the prospect of not having to produce for others, not having to jump out of bed at an ungodly hour and figure out what to wear and how to face the workday, rain or shine. To her, this was reason alone for getting out of bed at all. She feels she has no prospects for volunteer work that will enhance her value of self and feels that she will quickly run out of “things to do” on a daily basis. Not one to watch television during the day, she fears this will be her only option to pass the time. She will not have money to travel, nor even shop for unnecessary items. She will be available 24/7 to spend time with her grandchildren ~ whom she adores, but at an arm’s distance (she often says she put in her time as chief cook and bottle washer, Brownie leader, team mom, and so on, and she had no regrets about ending that chapter when her children left for college). She loves to bake cookies with her granddaughters, and then wave goodbye so she can clean up her kitchen.
What do you do when a dear friend is so sad? When there really is nothing you can say to cheer her? I guess I did not realize how fortunate I am ~ to have planned wisely, with a lot of luck, to have a carefree life at a time when I would no longer have the ability to change my situation. I have learned that life doesn’t just “happen” to us, and I had to go through a hellish time in my late 40s and early 50s to allow myself the privilege to “see” the possibilities, and the potholes, that lay ahead. I was the ant; my friend was the grasshopper.
Fortunately, my friend’s future is not as cut and dried as she perceives. In thinking this through, she does have options, and I was able to give her a couple of pieces of solicited advice: First, get it fixed in your head that your life has changed ~ accept it. Next, be open ~ eyes and heart ~ to the possibilities that exist to improve it. Just like we now need a good jar opener just to get into products off the shelf, we need to find ways to cope with this new life ~ because it is what it is and we have to learn to live with it. But I have great respect for her and I realize we each have to find our way in our own time and on our own terms. I hope she can do it ~ she is much too valuable a person and friend to give up and be so unhappy.