This week marks the 50th anniversary of losing my brother, George, in Vietnam. My family's world changed that day. My siblings and I still talk about that time all these years later. There could be volumes I could write about the wondering we have done about what might have been for a life cut short, about loss and grief, about what it must have been like for him, or even pondering the politics of that particular war. But the point of why I'm writing about this on this page isn't about any of those things. It is about what was and is woven through those memories and all of the years since: the power of community.
Nearly every snippet I remember about that time all those years ago involved the support of community. People showed up with food, to answer the phone, to visit every day for several weeks as we awaited the funeral, to serve coffee to guests, to drive cars for us, sending us hundreds of cards and letters, and countless other ways I was too young to understand. That was the beauty of living in our small town, where community was knit all around us.
The Benefits of Community in Retirement
Who do you have in your village, symbolic or literal, for the days ahead? Community is crucial every day in retirement, not just during times of crisis. Having enough social interaction and support during retirement is known to:
We've learned a lot more about the effect of transitioning into retirement or semi-retirement. What we've thought of as retirement is changing and will not look the way most of us have imagined nor the way our parents' generation lived it. Some of us will simply stop working one day and retirement commences. Others will scale back a bit at a time. Some estimates show that half of all boomers will continue working, at least to some degree, into traditional retirement. What will be true in all cases, is that the change in our pace asks us to make a huge adjustment in our rhythms.
Many of us think of stopping working as a great celebration, "Hooray! I'm done working and I can do whatever I want!" At the same time, there is a profound change happening, even if you continue to work part time. Here are just a few examples of what will be changing:
Statistics show that the mortality rate in the year following retirement triples.....WAIT, WHAT? The reasons are complicated and numerous, but it is worth paying attention to. We've all heard the stories of people who retired and died six months later. How will you take care of yourself as you transition into retirement? Here are three things to ponder as you plan or begin your retirement to make the transition as healthy as possible.
Tip #1: Consistency
With so much changing as you retire (partially or fully), one wise thing you can do for yourself is to keep some consistency in your lifestyle as you transition. If you have gotten up early all these years, your body has developed rhythms around that. Continue to do so and gradually make the shift. If you've eaten your main meal at lunch time, your body knows what to do with that. If you have done hard physical work all your career, don’t suddenly go sedate. And vice versa, if you've spent your days in front of a desk and a screen, don't suddenly train for a marathon.
Your muscles, your circulation, your body cycles and your brain have adapted to these rhythms over time. Throwing it for a loop by changing everything up makes it more chaotic, at a time you are trying to figure out other pieces. A smooth transition of life pattern is key to your well-being.
Tip #2: Connections
As you transition into retirement, your social needs will change. The people you connected with at work on a daily basis, love them or hate them, are not going to be there. If you have worked alone, you may find you have need for more people as you aren't focusing on work. Isolation is not healthy for any of us, no matter how introverted we are. We need to find ways to interact. Even a die-hard introvert will appreciate their alone time more when it is in contrast to spending time with others.
You may also find you are spending more hours of the day with a spouse, partner, or family. They bring different gifts and expectations than co-workers and clients. They can’t take the place of the part of you that work filled. As you are home more, expecting one person to fill all of your social spaces is unfair to them, the relationship, and yourself. The divorce rate among those over 50 is climbing, in part due to this transition. What had previously seemed to be cracks and crevasses in a relationship can suddenly look like craters when there is too much dependence on each other in too many areas. How can you change things up by getting out with others?
Explore continuing to meet up with work acquaintances, but know it will not be the same. What special interests do you have and where do people gather to share those? Is there an organization you can join that gives you contact? I saw someone take an ad out on a local community Facebook posting saying they were looking to meet with new people interested in a particular activity. She reported back that there had been an outpouring of people with whom she had gotten together.
I believe we have an epidemic of loneliness and it is important to find ways to tap into finding others. Sitting at home on social media is better than no contact, and I encourage you to use it if you feel isolated, but it doesn't substitute for live relationships.
Tip #3: Calendar
As tempting as it is to have retirement all planned and dive in, being intentional about not figuring it all out...at least right away, may be healthier. This transition time is such an opportunity...if you pay attention to it. Consider giving yourself a year to rest, play, and nose around a bit before making long-term plans or even before declaring how this stage suits you. This is much more than a lifestyle adjustment.
That doesn't mean you have to sit on a bench waiting for the year to pass! That would make all of us crazy. Simply commit to dedicating a year to listening carefully to your inner notions and showing kindness to yourself as you go about your new life, knowing it's new territory. Explore activities that interest you, get clearer about your home living patterns, and simply let some things unfold. There may be hobbies you've always enjoyed and now you discover they don't satiate you absent a busy work schedule. Your physical ability may have subtly changed (and may change more without the rigors of your work schedule). Discover what pace is right for you for this phase. You will be in a much better place to commit to exciting new things that fit as you've moved through the adjustment and been intentional about self-care.
This is a door opening to a new chapter. It may challenge you, frighten you, content you or delight you. Let yourself fully arrive into it with joy and health.
Ruth Tongen helps people plan and live meaningful, fun and healthier retirements.