After experiencing four consecutive, cloudy, rainy days my mood now matches the weather. I am a naturally optimistic person. However, this week I found myself feeling depleted and defeated. My 94-year-old father’s health and vitality are declining. Once again our “normal” life routine is changing to address his increasing needs. Sadly, this may be the last time he is able to accompany us to Maine and I am facing the reality that someday he will be gone.
Compounding these unpleasant feelings are emotional clashes between my husband and I that are uncharacteristic of our marriage. We both feel our needs are not being met and that the other needs to change. The morning after one particularly heated exchange, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. “Isn’t retirement supposed to be fun?” I kept asking myself. “What are we doing wrong?” The answer is nothing.
Retirement is just a phase of life and like all life phases there are good times and bad times. One of the reasons I became a retirement readiness expert was to prepare baby boomers for the non-financial aspects of retirement. What I have found in my research is you prepare for what you think is likely to happen but you will not know what your retirement is like until you experience it. I did not anticipate that ongoing change is part of the experience and at times those changes are rapid and relentless. Looking over my life there is only one period to which I can draw a parallel – the year after graduating college and staring my career.
Like that time, some of my friends are moving away. I am saddened that they are no longer available to meet me for lunch or go to a movie. Just as I gradually lost touch with many college friends, I now I may lose touch as they develop friends in their new location. When my recently graduated college friends embarked on their careers their time became limited. My friends who are still employed have continuing work and family commitments.
I am in a period now where I need to spend time with friends to give myself a break from the demands of care giving. It is painful to need connection and have to schedule it like a doctor’s appointment. The reality is I had to schedule time together with friends when I was working. But now the contrast between our schedules is glaringly obvious and lack of time with friends feels punitive. It is not. I remind myself there are many times when friends want to get together and I am not available because of my care giving duties.
As a result I am forced to learn how to soothe myself and I am not yet very good at finding healthy ways to do that. I understand why I am gaining weight in this stressful period. Eating is what I do to soothe myself. Unfortunately, it does a very poor job and creates another problem. Finding “healthy” ways to deal with stress feels like a Herculean task at the moment. My pleasant responses to suggestions by well-meaning friends are forced. If I said what I was thinking we might no longer be friends.
What I do know is that I am learning valuable lessons and that effort is required on my part to turn this around. The first step is to find something positive on which to focus. Inspirational podcasts are one way to shift my focus and after listening to them I feel encouraged. Movement of any sort improves my mental outlook. Not watching the news for a day or two restores my psyche. Doing something for someone else makes me feel good. I know things will change just as I know the sun is somewhere above all these clouds.
During another difficult time in my life a friend once quipped, “The Lord said it would come to pass. He didn’t say it would come to stay, move in, and take over your house.” Amen, sister. Amen.