Updated: Jan 17
Much has been written, and much more is to come, about this nirvana – retirement. This inner suburb close to Heaven itself. The lush green pastures, Edenesque gardens replete with Pink Ladies (apples – chaps; not ladies), cascading waterfalls crowded with trout, get out of bed when you want to; no boss to answer to and so on ad ecstatum.
Well, heaven may well be just like that – who knows? Must be pretty good because no one has ever come back complaining - or at all for that matter. I’m now six years into my second run at retirement and thought I might join the ranks of the economists, superannuation experts, retirement village owners, panacea-of-all-ailments floggers – to mention just a few “experts” - and offer a little advice to prospective retirees – based on my own experiences. The events I describe did happen.
Let’s start at the beginning. Well, it’s not the real beginning of retirement – that happened years ago when the super plan was set up; when you built the home you always wanted, (the three kids bedrooms are now very useful for junk storage and when one or two of them, with kids, come home for a holiday from interstate); when you contracted out the lawnmowing and gardening and when you became president of the golf club etc.
Fast forward now to The Day. You arrive home from work, for the last time, with the Swiss Army knife your “Team” gave you and the Bread Maker the firm gave you (for use on your caravan trips around Australia), and wearing the wobbly boots you acquired at the pub, on the way home, with the few trusty friends you used to work with.
You park down the street because your driveway and manicured lawn is occupied with the cars of umpteen friends and neighbours the good lady had invited down for a “Retirement drink” with you. Your principal interest at this point is retiring to the bedroom and sleep. But you struggle on – the perfect host.
Day One! Hangover! Monumental mess to clean up in the house and garden. Reticulation to repair due to car damage. The clatter of glass and dishes and voices from the kitchen accompanied by the aroma of bacon and toast. You wander out in your jocks to find the Jones, much the worse for wear, starting their breakfast – they stayed the night. And so on. Things don’t start to improve until sundown. A cold beer, cold meat and salad for dinner and an early night - with cold shoulder.
Day Two. Start again. You wonder if the rest of your life is going to be like this. It isn’t - but let me now get serious.
The two greatest assets you have at this point in time are your spouse and your house. (Not to mention your superannuation of course). As long as you remain a couple the only real change you will experience will be not having to go to work. And after a few months you will be wondering how the hell you ever found the time to go to work. Your group friendships will continue. The annual group getaways will continue. The occasional cruise with good old Bob and Helen will continue. The kids and grandkids will invade your place from interstate once or twice a year. Life will go on with minor changes.
If you are a member of a long-established group such as regular golfers, regular lunchers etc and you always attended the club’s meetings and elections and even stood for elections you will probably be OK. Whatever you do, if you value those friendships, and more importantly, if they value you - do not jeopardise them.
This leads me into the old quandary – moving to be closer to the kids/grandkids. Before you take that giant leap into the unknown - at very least arrange a three- month visit. And DO NOT live in with the family. Stay in a caravan park or rental of some sort. House sit if possible. Concentrate on what you would do, in order to get settled, after a permanent shift. Explore all the alternative places where you might want to resettle.
After three months of this the family will also change. You will become part of the furniture to the grandkids. (Except for birthdays and Xmas.) You will feel guilty about inconveniencing the daughter/son-in-law (even if you don’t). They will feel guilty about neglecting you (even if they haven’t).
But, after three months, if everyone concerned is happy – go home, sell the house, some of the furniture, and stuff you know you will not need, and move. (I have never run a garage sale - but they say it is a bundle of fun.) Be prepared to go through the demands of re-establishing the home and your social life. Plan it all very carefully not forgetting removal costs. Might be smart to have a draft plan for moving back to where you belong.
Moving from Melbourne to Port Douglas, to join the rich and famous, will be disastrous - even if you are rich and famous. And not only because it is so damned hot and humid, everyone drinks beer and the chocolates melt. (Apologies to whoever coined the original phrase.) The novelty will very soon wear off. Cyclones will be tedious as will feeling hot and sticky. You will find yourself flying south more frequently for holidays with the kids and friends. And, if serious illness raises its ugly head after you have moved, you are in deep strife. Cardiologists, neurosurgeons, general surgeons, oncologists are in very short supply outside the capital cities and some regional centres.
My wife and I pondered this very decision. We both loved Augusta and the South West of Western Australia in general. Eventually, we decided against moving. Shortly there after, during my first retirement, Maureen discovered a breast lump which proved malignant. So began the frequent trips to Perth from home in Mandurah - about 90ks. The surgery in Perth and follow-up trips and oncology and so on. Eventually, she was pronounced disease free and we spent the next ten years doing most of things retirees do – except move house.
Maureen took up bridge and became very good at it. We drove across the Nullarbor at least once every year and did caravan trips north and south of Mandurah – sometimes for a week or two - other times for a month or two. Then the damned disease re-appeared and inexorably ground her down into submission, over two years, which included another course of chemo-therapy. And I became a widower.
However, when you become a widow or widower you are behind the eight-ball right from day one. When your partner passes on so do half your friends i.e. most of your partner’s friends and their wives/husbands. It is inevitable that one marriage partner will die, albeit it sooner or later, leaving the survivor bewildered, lost and lonely. The kids can only do so much and have probably moved interstate or to a distant town anyway.
In the short term, much of the time of the survivor will be taken up with sorting out who, in the family, gets what and ensuring it is shared equitably. The “Will” must be attended to and, hopefully, an independent Executor will have been appointed years previously. Several Certified copies of the “Will” will be demanded by various authorities plus the bank and insurance companies. Notification of death/change of address becomes tedious, repetitious and complicated. Eventually, it is all done and that leaves the social life to be attended to.
I have learned it is better to feel lonely alone rather than feel lonely in a crowd. Invitations will evaporate. Friends in the same clubs will stop ringing to enquire if you are attending a function. Don’t bother buying a ticket to formal social gatherings, especially if they use round tables. Fitting you in means a couple misses out. You can take a partner, of course, but they do not grow on trees. You will find the pickings very slim among your remaining friends. On-line dating? Yair, well? In my experience I had cause to wonder why the women I was taking to lunch bothered – most had a fluffy white dog that ruled the house, a surfeit of grandkids that required regular baby-sitting, played (Penants) bowls and bridge and met for lunch with lady friends at least twice a week. The bowls and bridge necessitated weekends away playing in competitions.
It is a sad fact of life that groups do not welcome single newcomers – regardless of club rules or written statements to the contrary. Although the ladies do tend to look after the lady newcomers but they regard most males as potential mysogenists or worse. The blokes, most often, will protect their own group, place, station etc. At every gathering there will be the same old faces at the same old places i.e. same people always sit at the same table in the same order. How dare you upset that. “Sorry, dear, you can’t sit there. That is Myrtle’s seat – she’ll be along soon.” You probably did the same at your old club.
Be especially wary of any organisation that does not hold formal election of office-bearers. “Impossible!” you say? You better believe it. It certainly surprised me but some organisations are run by small cliques who don’t bother calling for nominations before elections. They arrange it that there is only one nomination for any position, election not necessary, bunch of idiots run the show for another year. The majority are happy to sit back and allow this. Don’t want to rock the boat. The epitome of fair-weather friends. They are too lazy to make an effort. It’s true – I have experienced it and walked out.
Enough of the doom and gloom – retirement has a lot of positives. The only catch is you have to see them or create them. And luck is what happens when preparation coincides, (however briefly), with opportunity. Retirement is the time to really get into hobbies or other such activities. If you are male you can now establish that beautiful bed of roses, grow veges and flowers, have a manicured lawn – or a concrete one – get a good shed built or do it yourself. Build your own work benches – all on castors so they can be moved about at will – equip it with inexpensive tools and machinery. I find Ozito tools meet my financial and woodworking requirements. Some ladies do this too but more often they pursue the finer arts.
When it is too hot or cold to work in the shed there is always that book you were going to write. Be it a novel, autobiography, your family tree, the history of your town – whatever. And don’t just think about it – grasp the nettle and do it!
That stack of books accumulated after so many birthdays and Christmases can now be read. You have the time, and you must generate the will, to exercise every day. Walk the dog, ride your bike, simply take extended walks around the town. You are free to do that and do that you must. Volunteering to work with various charities or other organisations can keep you busy. Retiring to the lounge in front of the TV every day means the accelerated onset of the old age afflictions. Hats off to Clint Eastwood’s philosophy – “Don’t let the old man in.” It’s a happy retiree who can say, “Don’t know how I ever found the time to go to work!”
The much-maligned internet is a bottomless pit of interesting stuff, (and a lot of trash but you do not have to get into that). Literature, music, sport, politics, hobbies, and so on are in abundance and, mostly, free of charge. I find You Tube amazingly interesting. My daily routine includes knocking off at 4.00pm, (That’s after leaping out of bed at 5.00 – AM!), shower and relax in front of the Smart TV to watch programs as diverse as woodwork, military history, classical music, flash mob presentations, cooking, travel, science, medicine etc on You Tube. Never want for something interesting even on ABC – Landline and Back Roads are great and on iview. The only problem is dragging myself away to watch Letters and Numbers on SBS at 5:30 and to prepare dinner – Channel Nine News – dinner through SBS News. (That choice balances some of the biases.)
And, speaking of the internet, I took it into my head a few years ago to start my own web page. (Welcome) The first attempt left a lot wanting so I engaged the services of a professional who got it up and running and looking pretty good. It served the purpose of doing what some of the kids had been encouraging me to do – document my life story for them and the grandkids. It was a good incentive to dig up a lot of stuff I had written in the past and build on it. Occupied a lot of time. Developed it into an unfinished autobiography plus an album of my better photographic images, a repository of Words of Wisdom, a blog (of sorts) and an anthology of memorable patients I dealt with in the final years of my medical career. Great instrument for getting things off my chest. More recently I engaged another professional to polish it up some more. Neither of these computer professionals was prohibitively expensive. One, at my suggestion and gratis, has two advertisements at the bottom of my home page. Today, the visits counter recorded 1,638 visits in the last six months.
Most of my activities I pursue alone. After Maureen died and at the insistence of friends, I joined no less that four organisations that, I thought, would provide a good framework for social interaction. None did and for various reasons. Basically, I found I did not fit mainly because my interests were not prominent features of any of these organisations - and I am a loner by nature. Most importantly – I did not have a partner.
One organisation developed into a complete disaster from my perspective. It was one of those that never held elections and the idiots certainly did hold the reigns. I eventually resigned because they ignored my advice on how to manage the collapse of a member. Instead, wrote into the club’s official procedures, on the advice of a member without any medical skills, knowledge or experience, that all they had to do was ring for an ambulance and ring the next of kin – and stand back to watch the victim die waiting for the ambulance. No mention of resuscitation in any shape or form. No mention of the Defibrilator hanging on a wall in the meeting venue.
After futile argument I resigned even though there were some activities I really did enjoy – singing being one such. From my perspective it was a matter of principle and I consider one must stand by one’s principles even if you stand alone – which I did. Further more, there is no way I could continue in an organisation whose leaders treated the very lives of members in such a cavalier fashion – and the members didn’t care!
Another pertinent point to retirement, alone, is that you still have to attend to the acts of daily living. There is the garden to maintain or neglect – the latter does not sit well with the neighbours; the house must be kept tickety-boo if only for self-preservation not-to-mention self-respect. Linen and clothes must be washed and ironed (as appropriate), and you must keep yourself presentable, haircut, shave or beard trimmed neatly. Daily showers will keep the BO under control – (although BO can help maintain the 2.5-metre distancing thing in the shops). If it is financially possible then a gardener and or handyman plus regular visits by a housekeeper can be a good thing and save you from that drudgery. Of course the same applies to the lone lady.
Eating is a major act of daily living. To me – cooking is interesting fun. To others it is drudgery but you must eat and you must eat sensibly. As a couple, it is not a major issue. Alone, it all-too-often becomes a major issue. Frequent take-aways, excessive quantities, poor quality, washed down with excessive wine and followed by cake, ice cream, vanilla slice etc. Pre-planned and prepared meals are helpful in this respect. Can help to keep the quantities under control too – a spag bol prepared two days ahead, only enough for one person, will prevent cooking too much and “having” to eat it all to prevent waste. And two days maturation, in the fridge, improves the flavours immensely.
A pet can help widow/er cope with the loneliness but it has its problems. What doesn’t have its problems? We always had a dog while the kids were growing up but did not replace the Australian terrier when it died after the last of the kids had left. Down the track, the kids repeatedly suggested that I should get a dog. I procrastinated for a long while then decided to visit a dog refuge where I was matched up with a two-year-old black and white staffy – which the refuge staff insisted was a kelpie. See my story, “About A Dog” in this blog.
So with all that said and done you may be excused for thinking you don’t have time for all or any of the retirement “experts”. Take solace in the fact that for some – certainly not all - of them their focus is on money – your money – and how they can make it their money. Beware. During my first retirement we fell into the clutches of a “Financial Advisor” cum insurance salesman. At the end of the day he intended to have us transfer all of my superannuation out of its then safe-haven and into his firm’s scheme. Persistent questioning revealed that he, personally, would be drawing money out of MY superannuation account, (presumably along with those of many other customers accounts), in perpetuity! I showed him the door.
I could go on but I won’t. Enough here to alert pending retirees to some of the pitfalls and some of the advantages of retirement. But, it is inevitable, so you might as well grab it by the scruff of its neck, beat it into submission and make the most of it. Make it your most important aim to enjoy it and plan how you will enable enjoyment.