From her 40ish perch, in the midst of professional and parental responsibilities, she imagines her eventual retirement will be a rolling festival of trips, booze, crafting and living in a cool loft. (The photo at left is from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, or CARP, the best association acronym ever.)
And, maybe she'll have that. But her vision made me laugh, as my own retirement is quite different—not only from hers, but from how I thought it might be. In my 40s, I too saw retirement as a calm harbour, but in fact it has demanded a vigilant watch instead of one hand on the tiller and the other on a tall G&T.
As for the booze: when my parents were in their 60s, I used to think, You could go out every night! Why don't you live it up? Now I know: any more than two glasses of wine in an evening and I wonder, Are they speaking Czech?
I don't miss being a big deal (biggish, whatever) at work. I'm happy to help on the occasional project, but after brief re-immersion in the Sturm und Drang of the workplace, gratefully lean back again.
Retirement has served me not a bacchanalian banquet but a dim sum platter of bite-sized pleasures: time to learn new things, take walks, meet a friend in mid-day, write.
Women who said, "I can't imagine what I'd do if I retired" have found a middle path; they supply teach, volunteer their professional skills through organizations like SCORE, or work part-time.
Others are spending time caregiving. Several friends visit frail parents most days, and one is, along with her husband, raising a two-year-old granddaughter.
There is one group who are notably unhappy: women laid off two to five years before they planned to retire and who have been unable to find other employment. It's not solely the drop in income, it's the abrupt cessation of the identity derived from work. They feel differently when asked to leave the party before they chose.
Ms. K. may also find that, around retirement age, losses pile up. Your health or that of a partner, if you have one, may not be robust. One widowed acquaintance is wondering if the trips she and her husband dreamed of could be any fun on her own. There is death, divorce and also the shock of finding out your beloved's idea of bliss is 220 games of golf per year, scores recorded on a calendar.
For some, retirement means struggle. The Conference Board of Canada's report on Elderly Poverty says: "Although the current poverty rate among the elderly (defined as age 65 and older) is significantly lower than in the 1970s, the increase documented in the Statistics Canada data from 3.9 per cent in 1995 to 10.2 per cent in 2005 and again to 12.3 per cent in 2010 is troubling.
Among the elderly, the biggest jump occurred in the group of elderly women. Between 2006 and 2010, 160,000 more seniors were said to be living in low income. Of that amount, almost 60 per cent were women."
If I were to give one piece advice to Ms. K. (a fellow Canadian): don't count on the government to provide the same benefits my cohort are getting now, by the time you are 65.
This is the last post for the summer; as usual, I spend this short, sweet season away from online life. I wish you a splendid season of strawberries, warm, starry evenings, and close conversations in lawn chairs.
The current forecast is for the Passage to reopen shortly after Labour Day, though posts could be sporadic during our burnished September. I'm becoming a foul-weather writer. The best way to hear of its opening is to become a follower, which encourages me, too.
Thank you warmly for reading; I'm grateful for your comments, stories, questions and links. You have made the Passage what it is!