“Ouchless” – One Year after Retiring
It is crazy to think that an entire year has transpired since I arrived at the juncture of being a member of the workforce and retirement! At this divergence in the road of life, I left a part of me behind. It was a decision made reluctantly, yet knowledgeably, and done for health reasons. It was heart-wrenching, and full of apprehension and sadness. I remember the moment well…
It was like pulling a well stuck Band-Aid off in one swift yank. You want it done quickly. You want it ‘ouchless’! You do not want to disrupt the healing. For me, it is the way to go. I “walked out the door”- much better terminology than retirement! My longtime friend, Elaine convinced me that retirement was the best for me. We were going to retire together… together – just like we began our journey together as nursing students in 1969. We were college roommates and immediate friends.
I heard from Elaine on New Year’s Day when she told me she did not even want to think about “tomorrow” – our last day at a profession and a place we both treasured and respected. I could feel what she stated so intensely. She said her dear old friend Eleanor (She is 88 yrs. old and retired from teaching when she was 59 yrs. old.) advised her: “When you leave something you love doing…it will hurt and you will soon realize you will be doing things you love even more!” She further clarified that Eleanor was a wise lady and she knows that we will be happy. I trusted those words. And then another friend, Kris sent an email message to both Elaine and me: “You two will be so happy tomorrow.” I trusted her even more. I knew and know now it is/was the right decision. It was just SO hard.
My last day at work was all that I wanted it to be. I went into my last day of work feeling completely on an emotional edge in anticipation of an upheaval and loss of control. I had gotten little sleep fully aware I was on the last page of a chapter near the end of a book I had come to cherish. It seemed as if every word was being read aloud. I was melancholy and exuberant. I was weepy and over-confident. I was white and I was black. How could this be? That feeling continued as I realized everything I did that day would be for the last time. I wondered who my last patient would be. Every smile I shared was broader and eye contact was more intent. All my words were so heartfelt and so genuine. (Yes, they always are… but on my last day… even more so!)
Elaine and I did have a plan but like all plans made within a working environment, they are bound to be turned upside down and inside out by urgent additions to your schedule or events out of one’s control. Initially Elaine and I were to meet at 4:30 PM at the Chestnut Street entrance on January 2nd, 2013 and walk out the door together. “The door” was that of a grand hospital/clinic that now is known as Mayo Clinic Health System – Eau Claire. It was once Luther- Midelfort, when we both began as first nurse’s aides when we were college students and roommates. It has become a conglomerate of physicians and specialists and nurses and technologists who know how to truly care about their patients.
Elaine’s hours changed on that last day. “Can you come into work earlier?” And then later – “Can you come in even earlier?” That did not leave our schedules so neatly entwined with perfect time allotments to exit the door together. We emailed each other feverishly throughout the last day, keeping track of each other’s schedules. I feared I would get an urgent call to the hospital at the last minute. As it was, I still had a 2:30 and 3:30 patient. There was only one other person (another friend named Kris) who could complete my patients for me. What if her scheduled filled? She had no idea I was going to “walk out the door” that day either. Reading Elaine’s last email: “I will be DONE at 2:30.” Meet me at the Whipple Street entrance.”
I had to act fast! I had to do something. I had to do something I NEVER, EVER do to make this happen. I went to Kris, who had just finished her last patient. (What are the chances that she did not have another? Very slim!) “Kris, I have a very urgent matter that I really need to take care of. Can you take my last two patients?” She responded: “Sure, I know you would do it for me.” “Yes, I WOULD do it for you. I told her: “Remember… always remember how special you are to me.” Those were my last words.
I swiped my name badge through the time clock. I had my parking permit, my name badge, access card and “separation from employment papers” in a large manila envelope. I left three gifts and letters to those people most important to me, and placed them appropriately. I ‘surrendered’ the manila envelope, tossing it unknowingly on my Director’s desk. I headed down the long, long hallway towards Whipple Street. I did not know why Elaine chose Whipple Street when we always saw each other on the Chestnut Street entrance all these years! I was following her directions. I texted her from Whipple Street and her return text quickly followed: “STAY PUT!” Apparently Dale picked Elaine up on Chestnut Street as that was the usual. In the excitement of the moment, Elaine gave me the wrong entrance. No worries though… She came in another entrance and down the hall…
Our eyes met and we were filled with the most exhilarating feeling of both joy and sadness. As author J.K. Rowling explains the emotion, our hearts were filled with a balloon that was about to burst within us. We laughed aloud. We cried. We hugged.
Elaine compares the feeling as “crazy, but in a way I feel like that scared 17 yr. old back in 1969” – when we were freshman in college.” Upon exiting, Dale (Elaine’s husband) was standing outside “the door” to take our picture at that heart-stopping and life-changing moment. He was laughing at us and I am sure he imagined us as irrational. Dale had already counseled us: “Everyone retires.” He made it sound far too simple.
There is a Buddhist proverb that states pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Not only did we eliminate any suffering, the pain was of very short duration. And, just like it is necessary to apply ice or a cold compress to the area of pain, Dale took us both to a near-by pub. My cold compress consisted of tomato juice and vodka over ice with two olives and a pickle also known as a bloody Mary Elaine had a simpler choice – cold beer. It dulled our senses. Yet it only took 15 minutes until Elaine and I started talking about going back to the University and what classes we should take… it was like we were starting all back over! And Dale only sighed and thought us hopeless!
There is nothing worse in life than endings. I never want to finish a book and lose the characters who have become my friends. I always hope for the sequel. I try to avoid them at all costs. I prefer no good-byes, only good memories. I accept endings with reluctance when required but denial is by far the coping mechanism of choice. I am listening to my heart physically and emotionally. It is time to make lifestyle changes. It is time to let things fall apart, so other things can fall together.
But after all these years, it is/was hard to let go of what once was…
Farewell old job…
I will be keeping an eye on you.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart just for you…
And now, today, January 2nd, 2014, I know I made the right choice. My initial reaction was that, on the day “I walked out the door”, and finally retired, I lost the very identity I spent years and years creating. I no longer knew who I was or where I was headed. I only knew that my health had me physically spirally downward.
Today I am feeling stronger, energized and experiencing less angina and stress, sleeping better and exercising more. I believe my cardiologist’s recommendations were wise.
My week day schedule has changed significantly. My life moves slower and has become more relaxed. Losing the work-related stress is a relief and I am certain, good for my health. People tell me I seem so happy!
I have come to believe that retirement is among the most fascinating, yet least understood, chapters of my life. I certainly cannot pretend to have any of the answers in relation to this topic. I am still trying to unravel much of the mystery myself. I have found that there are mixed reviews on the topic of retirement being good or bad for the heart though. Initially, I thought it was a no-brainer as certainly the decreased stress from a daily work regime and long hours would have to be healthy for your heart. Research proved baffling.
The scientific journal articles on the effects of retirement on your health are diverse and conflicting.
~ The Washington Post reported a 2012 study followed 5,422 men and women age 50 and older for up to 10 years and found “a 40 percent increased risk of stroke and heart attacks among those who had retired compared with those who had continued working; this effect was strongest in the first year of retirement.” Losing your social interactions and support system at work, along with the routine and familiarity that bring comfort to your day can be harmful to your health.
~ A research study done in 1983 by the Department of Veterans Affairs known as the Normative Aging Study, showed the physical well-being of these participants worsened over the three to four years of the study. There was, however, no difference found between those who remained working and those who had retired. This demonstrates the difficulty of any study because medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, etc. become common as we age.
~ The Washington Post also reported on a British study from 2010 of 7500 participants demonstrated that “the mental health scores and physical functioning of retirees were better than those of working people of similar age.”
~ Social Science & Medicine report on a study that has shown retirement is associated with a decline in one’s overall health. Contradictions exist as other studies have shown associations with improvement in health and others report no change at all.
~ J. Robin Moon, the Senior Health Policy Advisor for the Office of the Mayor in New York City described retirement in the Harvard Health Publications: Retirement is a “life course transition involving environmental changes that reshape health behaviors, social interactions, and psychosocial stresses” shifting identity and preferences. “In other words, moving from work to no work comes with a boatload of other changes.” “Our results suggest we may need to look at retirement as a process rather than an event.”
Would I recommend retirement to others with heart disease and chronic angina symptoms? I could talk at length about the impact of retirement on my life, but ultimately it is simply about my heart. Of course, my angina symptoms have decreased as lifestyle changes occurred. I have more time to exercise and create heart-healthy meals. The emotional and mental toil of a daily work schedule and physician and patient demands no longer exists.
It is the stress, however, that I miss. I miss the challenge. I miss competitive spirit, fervor and passion it stirred in me. I miss the urgency, the packed schedule and trying to make it all work with a confident smile. I miss the team of people I worked with to make it all happen and the successful outcomes we created. I know it sounds crazy, but it is who I am or at the very least, who I was…
Yesterday is past. Today is good. It is time to re-invent myself in retirement and the process. The lifestyle changes are enriching and renewing. I celebrate the present and all my God-given blessings.
Like Sara Teasdale, it is time to “make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.”
Please share your stories about retirement and how it impacted your health and well-being.
AND… and always Please take care of your heart. ♥ You are so very important to me.