Hijacked Retirement



Last year, shortly after we arrived back in Rockland, I gave a financial planner a copy of my book and asked him for feedback. We met at his office several weeks later. “You forgot something in your book,” he said. I was mortified that perhaps a sentence or even a paragraph had been omitted from the manuscript. No, it was more than that.

“You don’t talk about hijacked retirement,” he said. While I was relieved my editor hadn’t let my book go to press with a major mistake, he was correct. Nowhere in my book do I talk about hijacked retirement. Why? I am fortunate enough to have never personally dealt with the situation. Well, at least, not yet.

What is it?

There are many ways retirement can be hijacked. Perhaps the most common is by our elderly parents who need assistance and care at the time we think we should be living life on our own terms and to the fullest. For many baby boomers, it is impossible to ignore our parent’s needs. We become their caregivers providing healthcare assistance, transportation, housekeeping services, financial guidance and companionship.

Then there are boomers known as “The Sandwich Generation.” They care for their elderly parents and support their under employed or unemployed children. A “Triple Decker” baby boomer cares for their elderly parents, supports their children emotionally and/or financially, and cares for their grandchildren. I’m exhausted by the mere thought of it. God bless those who are actually living it.

Retirement can be hijacked in other ways. The good health you counted on disappears with the onset of a major illness or accident. Or, your financial stability collapses because of illness, accident, or poor investments. While some of these situations may be temporary, they may seem interminable while you experience them and they drain you both emotionally and financially.

There’s an old saying: “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” This is especially true of retirement plans. While there is no crystal ball to predict the future, it is a given that some aspect of your plan will go awry. There are several things you can do to get yourself through the experience.

Ask for Help and Support

Ask for help and let others know what you need. It may be as simple as a listening ear. Or, you may need them to provide respite from caregiving activities so you can avoid burnout. Brainstorming ideas and solutions can be helpful, too, as you may have lost perspective on the situation.

Seek Out Others Who Have Gone Through a Similar Experience

Organizations like The American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, and others provide information and support for those dealing with different illnesses. Mental Health Associations often offer assistance and support to those with mental illness and their loved ones. Al-Anon and AA are there for alcohol abuse issues as are a host of 12-step programs to deal with other addictions. There is sure to be a group out there to help you get through your situation. The hardest part may be admitting the problem is more than you can handle. Do not suffer in silence. Reach out and ask for help.

Create Certainty Where You Can

In uncertain times, we crave assurance that all will be well. Familiar routines and daily rhythms help to do that. Your situation may require creating new routines and daily rhythms. But if there’s a way to hold on to any existing routines, or even a portion of those routines, by all means do so. If you are unable to keep existing routines, create consistency in your new routines if possible. Sometimes a situation is so changeable, you cannot establish any sort of daily routine. In that case, carve out time for yourself. Even 10 minutes spent alone can help you sort things out and clear your head.

Select Activities that Support and Nurture You

In an intensely stressful situation, it is important to say “No” to outside activities and requests for your time that do not support and nurture you. While you may disappoint others by declining their requests, your health and well-being is all that matters.

Adjust Your Plan

As the situation evolves, it will become clearer as to what you can and cannot expect from your retirement experience. My husband and I learned that in changing times, it is best to hold on to desired outcomes loosely. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Prioritize what’s essential and what’s desirable. It may seem that the situation will never change, but it is constantly changing. Each moment you have choices you can make that will affect the outcome of the situation and, most important, your response to it.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.