Imagining retirement

A commenter I'll call Ms. K. left a remark on a blog elsewhere; I will paraphrase. 

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. 

Les gars
We stick to a budget, but there have been unanticipated expenses. One adult child needed ongoing support to change careers; the other embarked on a graduate degree in his second language, which took an extra year of study. We don't have to help out, but we wanted to, and the kids are doing their part by securing grants, working and stretching those dollars.

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.

Summer closure

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!


Susan B said…
I think health is the biggest "if" when it comes to retirement. One of the reasons we decided to start actually taking those vacation days and traveling now is that good health isn't a given in another 10 years. (I'm hoping to retire in 5, finances permitting. Monsieur isn't sure.) We'll probably have to cut back considerably on the kind of travel we've done once the salaries aren't rolling in.

Have a wonderful summer, Duchesse!!
LauraH said…
Yes, retirement isn't always like the ads - two fit, good looking, people with a little gray having the time of their lives. Agree with une femme about health being a huge factor - adequate income, realistic expectations and having various interests are also key. I've been lucky to have good health, enough income and lots of things I want to do. Unlucky in being a widow which makes a huge difference. Just on the practical level, it means that I do everything, make all the decisions, all the plans, etc. Weary work sometimes although all in all I have a good life. I think une femme has the right idea - don't wait!

Have a wonderful summer, I'll miss your posts and look forward to September.
Madame Là-bas said…
This is Year Three for me and certainly all of those factors that you have mentioned have come into play.
We are still healthy and strong at 62 and 67 but the days of walking 8 hours or playing a 3 hour gig could come to an end at any time. Financially, I am spending more on travel now thinking that perhaps at 65 and 70, our priorities might change. As retired Canadians, we have a relatively comfortable life but I have concerns for the future of my single daughter who is employed in the food service industry. Have a lovely, relaxing summer and I shall look forward to reading more in the fall.
Marilyn said…
Live well in this splendid summer. And do come back, I so enjoy your posts, wit, wisdom, thoughts to ponder--jewelry to mentally buy.
Wendy said…
Miss you already! Enjoy your summer.
LPC said…
I was thinking, earlier this morning, that it will be a year since I retired for the second time, in September. Only now am I getting the hang of it. I had blocked out so many possibilities for each hour, based on the need to gird my loins for or actually go to work.

I think being a foul weather writer is exactly what retirement can be. No more, no less, matching your skills to your inclinations and resources.
It has been almost a year since I retired and I am getting the hang of it...lots of walks, reading, gardening, playing with the grandchildren and helping out with my Mother.
The pension I receive is not vast as I always worked part time but my husband is still working and will be until he turns 70, that is the plan....but who knows? We have no mortgage but a heritage bungalow that requires constant repairs so we may need to rethink our housing at some point. Retirement is an adjustment bug one that I can highly endorse!
Enjoy your summer holidays and will be here when you get back.
Anonymous said…
I left work seventeen years ago at 49 & I have had no regrets . I have friends retiring soon & am busy reassuring them that they really don't need work in their life to feel happy & fulfilled . I am fortunate to have no health problems & although my husband earned a very good salary , we have always saved & not wished to live lavishly . Being able to afford expensive trinkets doesn't mean you feel the need to have them . We travelled extensively in the past & are now happy to drive to Scotland with our dogs . We are both involved in voluntary work - me with the local RSPCA branch . We garden , dog walk , read , lunch out , meet friends & life is very kind to us . It can be the best time of your life , doing whatever brings you satisfaction but be sure to enjoy each day & try take pleasure in the small things ,
Araminta said…
We've been retired for about eight years now & although we have been enjoying life, we have decided that we have got into a rut. So we have taken a deep breath, put our large 1896 house in west end Montreal on the market and plan a move back to London, UK, where both of my children are now working! We are still healthy and active(deo volente)and we want to go walk-about while we still can. Paris, Vienna, Venice and Salzburg will see us again and art & music (especially opera)are in our sights.
We'll deeply miss Montreal, especially during the summer terrasse & festival season. It has been our home for 40 years & we love it. But you are right, it is time to seize the day while we still can.
I always enjoy your posts about our lovely city. Enjoy your congé. I will look for you in the Fall.
Araminta said…
I meant that you are right in the sense that retirement is rarely what one had imagined. Just last year my responsibility for the 100 year-old father of my late husband came to an end & I have just dealt with his estate. I had imagined that quietness and a regular life was all I wanted. This giddy new venture is a surprise to us all!
Duchesse said…
All: The comments so far hint at comfortable lives-maybe that is my readership- and I am happy to hear so many testimonials to prudent saving and planning. The future for less well-off elder women is very much on my mind, and I will be devoting time to volunteer with several related social service and volunteer organizations over the summer.
And happy walking! Such a beautiful, low-humidity day today.

When we run into each other, you'll tell me more about your volunteering, which sounds very interesting.

And enjoy a spritzer of white wine, fizzy mineral water from Milano, and a dash of fresh lime juice!
Jean Shaw said…
So many factors play a part...

One to consider is underlying emotional stability. My 93-year-old father-in-law was just telling me about an 83-year-old friend of his who is, to put it bluntly, an emotional and physical wreck. My father-in-law and the man's wife (I'll call her Frances) both blame retirement. Nature rushes to fill a vacuum; in this case, the man's anxiety has exploded and deformed his life.

Anonymous said…
Have a lovely summer Duchesse!

I admire your caring and plans for volunteering. I work in a community pharmacy and regularly see the reality of what you are saying. Even with provincial assistance for medication, we have ladies who struggle to afford their medication. The whole situation is very sad.

Cathy Wong
Mardel said…
Yes, I suppose my idea of retirement wasn't at all what retirement actually has turned out to be. Luckily, we travelled a great deal when we were both working, my husband at his second career as a medical consultant. That said, I hoped that retirement would mean time together in a way that didn't pan out, and although I would rather have been at a job than working as a caregiver, I am also grateful to have had that time together toward the end. I think I am just settling into this stage, and I am surprised that I am content to stay at home and read and putter, and get involved in my community and volunteer work. Actual retirement is both quieter and more rewarding than I had thought.
Gretchen said…
I am not eligible for voluntary retirement yet (and let's hope there won't be involuntary retirement), and I am not looking forward to it. Health issues, unemployment, divorce, all have taken their toll, and I look at retirement with trepidation. But I am taking steps to make things better, and life is far more joyous than these prior statements seem. Meanwhile, wishing you both a lovely birthday and a joyous summer break!
Susan said…
I probably already live the life of a retired person in some respects as I don't work outside of my home. My husband plans to retire within a year or so. For that reason, I read this blog post and the comments with interest.

I would love to simplify our life upon my husband's retirement. He is not quite as interested in a simple life. I think some of the adjustment (aside from financial adjustment) will be finding a lifestyle that suits us both.
Jill Ann said…
Oh, retirement! Such an interesting concept. I'm among your "core demographic", the comfortably retired. I didn't intend to retire as early as I did, but a layoff around the same time my mother moved in with us, and my children were in middle school, made that the default choice. Now the kids are in college, Mom is gone, and I'm a retired empty-nester at 57.

I'm very, very lucky that I'm quite healthy and have enough money. My husband is still working, for another 3 years or so. After my mom died (and my 24/7 caretaking was over) I was mostly a vegetable for a year or two. After I had that time to regroup (again, I'm very fortunate) I started getting Out In The World. I started golf and tennis lessons with friends, and I volunteer at Dress for Success, which is a great organization.

The volunteers tend to be well-off ladies, but the clients are low income unemployed women. It brings the disparity of income and circumstances into sharp focus. Today, for example, I "suited" a client who was SO excited to get a suit, blouse, shoes, and handbag. She told me she'd never owned a suit, and her delight in her appearance in her new outfit was heartwarming. Meanwhile, in the warehouse area, we were unpacking and sorting a huge donation from the family of a woman who had died, and left 48 boxes of clothing, including 150 pairs of shoes. I helped sort the blouses; three racks packed completely full, some with the tags still on. Talbots, Doncaster, Eileen Fisher, etc., nice quality stuff, but SO MUCH stuff!
SweetAmy said…
I just discovered this blog a few days ago starting with Une Femme and honestly, I am so delighted with the post and more so with the sincere comments. I regret that Duchesse will not be posting for a while but I am definitely looking forward when she gets back. Meantime I have to contend myself reading the old post, which I am sure is also as delightful! I am not yet retired, just turned 50 but I truly appreciate what I have read so far, the insights, the wisdom, the little pleasures, and most specially, the passion for pearls! And if I may say so, this is the first time I have commented on a blog since i have started reading quite a few over 2 years now. Have a great summer Duchesse! Would love to know you more...
Anonymous said…
I guess I am on the opposite side of the ledger. I am very concerned that we have enough money to see us through the entirety of retirement (decades possibly?). We have no company pension, we will have to rely solely on the money we will have saved/invested. My biggest fear is that my husband and I become a burden to our only child, financially and physically. The data on elder retired women is frightening. When I feel the urge to spend frivolously I try to remember this statistic.

Obviously, I have no delusions of grandeur on my outlook for retirement. I see my husband and I living very frugally and enjoying a simple life.
Eleanorjane said…
Hi Duchesse, a great thought-provoking post, as usual. You remind me to keep a focus on the future as retirement will come soon enough and it seems we'll need to plan to support ourselves for possibly quite some time.

I endorse the people saying 'don't wait to live your life'. My mum died at 62 so didn't get decades of an enjoyable retirement. She did suck all the juice she could out of life while she was sick though, with travel and volunteering and spending time with friends and family. I've got the family tendency so I don't know how long I'll have of retirement. Carpe diem! (but also save and invest wisely)
Nora Hardy said…
Missing you already! Have a wonderful summer, full of frinds and family and all of your favorite things. I'm not retired yet but am looking forward to it in aa few years. I appreciate your perspectives on it as a reality check. I'm looking forward to volunteering (I'm a librarian who can't get enough of libraries), traveling, being with kids and grand kids and traveling. I look forward to your autumn return to the blogosphere.
angiemanzi said…
Have a glorious summer!
materfamilias said…
My feelings about retirement are complex and I don't want to hijack your post/comments. . . . But I am so pleased that you complicate the picture here, looking beyond the Freedom 55 vision. My own reservations are not financial as much as emotional, having watched both my mother and my mother-in-law struggle with depression that, in the latter's case especially, was bound up with aging and with giving up the work she felt defined her. At 61, I'm hoping to work at least 4 more years, but I will be taking unpaid leaves between now and actual retirement, both as practice for the real deal AND to keep me fresh and enthusiastic at work.
And I wasn't going to go on and on here. . . oh well!
Enjoy your summer, that beautiful city in that heat, the life on the streets, the colour of the markets. . . .
diverchic said…
Freedom 55! Ha! I'll be lucky to have Freedom 85! That is what I get for spending my youth in service to the world and running around Nepal. On the positive side, being self-employed I can continue to work as long as my brain holds out and my voice sounds young. The ears are going so I will enjoy discovering the latest hearing technology. At 67 I am getting choosier about assignments and have the privilege of controlling my own time and allow myself a swim in the afternoon. So for me retirement looks like a gradual slowing down with more massages and more service in between bouts of work.
Anonymous said…
We tend not to talk about the unpleasant realities of life so I value your honesty. It helps in accepting life as it is. Expectations, as well as what you imagine other's lives to be, are so often fantasy. Truth is a good antidote.
Swissy said…
Dear Duchesse, I want to wish you, belatedly, a happy summer season "off" the blog. ( I hate the world blog, BTW.) I've been taking time away from the computer due to a stressful (tired of that one, too) situation at home (loss of reading/driving/most functional vision for my DH). But we are adjusting and learning new ways to live together. I'll look forward to seeing you in September. Your post is very to the point re retirement. Ours is (still) just wonderful, although we haven't as much disposable income as we did. Doesn't matter, because we have so much more than many of the people I worry over.

Maggie said…
I just recently discovered your blog and appreciate the focus on my demographic. Have a wonderful period of time off. I look forward to being a regular reader when you return.

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