Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 1, 2008
Prepare for the rejuvenating gift of retirement
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
At a recent meeting, I gave my card to a woman. It says I am a writer and speaker about disability, life and end-of-life issues. She read it, paused, then her face took on a sad expression.
She said, ďThis doesnít have anything to do with end of life, but my father is having a tough time dealing with retirement.Ē I told her that retirement might not be the end of life but for a person who has derived his sense of identity from his work it may seem like it. If he has not internally prepared himself for retirement, it is the end of the life he knew.
I experienced this in my own family. Heart disease forced my father into premature retirement at the age of 50. He was not prepared for it and felt like a lame workhorse put out to pasture.
Suddenly my mother found him loitering around the house, reorganizing cupboards in the kitchen, offering unwelcome advice on how to prepare meals and generally getting in my momís way.
Moped like a lost puppy
It came to a head one afternoon when my mother threatened him with a frying pan and ordered him out of the kitchen whenever she was working there. He moped around like a lost puppy. It was sad to see him in such a state after being so vital, engaged and productive in his work-life.
Twenty-one years later, multiple sclerosis forced me into medical retirement from a career with the Canadian government. I was 38 years old and sank into a clinical depression. I too had derived much of my identity from work. You might think I should have learned not to do this after witnessing my fatherís struggle, but I fell into the same trap. Itís easy to do.
I spent many years in the work world. There were places to go, people I needed to see, tasks that needed to be done ó they could only be done by me. It was easy to delude myself into believing I was indispensable. Retirement told me it was all a lie and that I was not as indispensable as I had believed.
Work carried on fine without me. The basket into which I had put the eggs of my exaggerated sense of self-importance had a false bottom that opened to send my delusions crashing at my feet.
It was just prior to Christmas 1991. Christmas was miserable that year. The seasonís festivities only made my loss more apparent and my perceived detachment from my world more complete.
I did not feel festive. I felt like a grim observer removed from the gaiety and the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers and the seasonal music in shopping malls. A pall descended over me.
It wasnít logical because the Advent season has nothing to do with human careers. But I was viewing reality through the distorted and darkened lens of clinical depression. It had little to do with logic or reason. My thinking was all wrong and I knew it. The problem was, in that state, I just didnít care. Help was needed. The physiology of clinical depression can be alleviated with medication. With proper treatment, oneís spirits and equilibrium begin to return to normal, allowing logic and reason to return as well.
Retirement is an opportunity, not a sentence. It is a wonderful opportunity to redefine personal identity and priorities. It allows the retiree to start afresh and place faith, family and community (in that order) front and centre in their lives. Thatís where they should have been all along.
We work to live
Work is a good and important thing, but not the most important thing. It should not be treated by our actions and priorities as though it were. We work to live, not live to work.
Keep this in mind and retirement will be easier because it can be seen as one of lifeís transitions. Each transition is as important and vital to human development and internal growth as previous and future transitions. But most important, retirement is a marvellous time to draw closer to Christ and the people around us.
Retirement is not to be feared but embraced. As for this retiree, my new title is Christian, father, grandfather and citizen. Thatís where my identity is now. Itís the most important job I have ever had.
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