Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Retirement: The Third Anniversary

It was three years ago today that I left my office at UCLA Medical Center for the last time.

It seemed surreal, unbelievable. No more long hours on the commuter bus. No more increasingly tedious days at the office. No more office politics. After so many years of working multiple jobs -- a full-time job and two part-time jobs -- my time was my own.

It didn't really sink in at first. For the first few weeks as my husband and I packed up the last of our belongings and our three cats and headed for our new home in Arizona, it all seemed like a wonderful long vacation.

That first glorious spring and summer, as we spent long, languid afternoons in the community pool with our neighbors, was a dream come true.

Little by little, though, real life intervened. There were health problems. There were limitations -- as my cranky arthritic knees and feet balked at tap dancing. There were ups and downs. We went from being delighted by all our neighbors to caring deeply about some and actually disliking others -- just as in our previous neighborhood.

As time went on, I found there were people -- back at the office and among my California friends -- whom I missed very much. When I got an emergency call from a former patient who just needed some reassurance, I found that I missed -- at least for a moment -- the chance to help make a difference in other's lives.

There have been times when I've missed the convenience of Valencia -- with everything from great restaurants to movie theaters and shopping -- not more than five minutes away. And there have been times when, despite living in my absolute dream house, I've missed that little house that was home for 29 years with its green, tree-filled yard and the sound of the waterfall we named "Molly's Falls".

But most days I am filled with gratitude that we were able to retire at all. There are days I marvel at the spaciousness of our new home and the vastness of Arizona skies and the abundant sunshine. I love being part of a small community. Just this morning, as Bob and I were sawing and cleaning up a large tree limb that was torn from the tree in our front yard by a violent windstorm last night, workers from the Town of Florence drove by and abruptly stopped, offering help and loading the limb onto their truck. Larry, a neighbor from across the street, rushed over with his trash can to help pick up other debris blown into our yard. And our friend and neighbor Phyllis called while she was having kidney dialysis just to check on us and make sure all was well.

Life is quite different now. The exhausting grind that the last years of my working life had become is now a faint memory. And the dreamy, long vacation is over, too. What has replaced both is daily life in retirement. It's no longer a novelty. But it's always a joy.

I often think of Aunt Molly's retirement mantra that she used to say every morning when she woke up: "Today is mine!"

Today is mine, indeed. And with it comes opportunities to make a difference to others in new and different ways. With it comes the blessing of doing meaningful work and, at times, enjoying doing nothing at all.

At my third retirement anniversary, I find that I never take my new freedom for granted.

I still love waking up to my own internal clock instead of the insistent alarm. I still love planning days filled with work and fun and exercise and friendship. I thoroughly enjoy experiencing all the seasons of the year after so many years of leaving for work in the dark and arriving home in the dark.

I've learned to stop watching the clock as I talk with a loved one or pet one of my cats or read a book from cover to cover or immerse myself in music I love.

I've never stopped being grateful for the blessing of retirement and waking up each day to the reality that today is, indeed, mine.


  1. Oh, Kathy, this was just the post I needed to read as I anticipate retirement this summer -- and with it the bonuses of time and the uncertainties of what that time will really mean. I'm so glad that despite some of the harder things that you still found it both the right and a good decision-- they aren't always the same.

  2. Congratulations! I love how you've adapted and adjusted. And since my own retirement is now just six weeks away, I have even more to savor after reading your great post!

  3. Ahhhh ... sounds so nice! I'm glad you also wrote about the transition, because oddly enough, many folks are not prepared for that part. Kudos to you for settling in so well!

  4. I had goals for the first two years of my retirement, and I've achieved them. Now, starting year three, I'm finding I need something new. So I'm looking!

    I'm also all too aware that we can't take our bodies for granted. One injury can have life-altering effects. I need to be a good sport about it all.

  5. Hi Kathy, I wasn't ready to not have a job to go to. It made me feel like part of my life is missing because of working for so many years. I just keep thinking that I will have more time for me, but that hasn't happen. My hubby thinks I need to spend more time with him at the nursing home. I wanted to be able to travel a little, but that isn't going to happen. It is just going to take some time for me to adjust to all of the changes. I enjoyed reading your post. It makes me think. Have a wonderful day. Hugs and Prayers from your Missouri Friend.

  6. Kathy, I too feel very lucky being among the lucky ones who are/were able to retire. I retired early, at age 56, so now at 69 I am an old hand at it, but never comes the morning when I do not feel thankful to be able to wake up, as you say, to my own internal clock, and to get out of bed when I feel like it. I think I will write about my retirement too. It is such a large part of my life. I think I will mention some downsides of retirement.

  7. Interesting post! I've been retired 4 years and am surprised I still wake up on my own at the same time I used to get up for work. My internal clock has resisted adjustment but I have successfully added an internal snooze button.

  8. Congratulations on what I would call three successful years of retirement! My husband and I both feel fortunate to have been able to retire with so many benefits that our generation shares -- The future for retired people doesn't always look so positive. It sounds as if you, like us, may wonder how you ever found the time to work! Adjustments that come with change are always challenging, I think. And the future is never how we quite imagined it to be. I love the way you are able to stand back and assess your own situation -- the positives and the negatives!

  9. I keep pinching myself every day, now going on our tenth year of retirement. What a change! I don't miss anything about my former life; though, for a while, in the early years, I missed work, how it gave me purpose everyday.

    Hope one day to meet you. I feel I know you through your very insightful writings.

  10. It's all about ATTITUDE, isn't it???? Changes can be hard ---even if they are good changes... I guess I retired at the right time... First of all, I am glad that I retired young enough so that I still could hike and do some things I didn't have time to do when I was working fulltime... At least, the health problems have not attacked us YET... AND--since I didn't care for my last job, maybe that made it easier to retire early.....

    My family/friends told me that I would HATE retirement and would miss working once I retired... (I had been a work-a-holic --so they thought that I couldn't handle retirement...) HA HA HA --how wrong they were.... I absolutely love it... But--I'll admit.... Much of my joy and happiness and contentment these days comes from the love and admiration I have for my husband of almost 12 yrs. now... He keeps me HAPPY and SATISFIED.....


  11. Amen! I was grateful everyday that I was able to make the choice to retire. The spouse retires this June andI don't look forward to his adjustment period. I know I struggled in the first year to find meaning in a life that had no direction. The spouse is looking forward to fishing and all his projects, but I think it will also be a challenging adjustment for him. Great post!

  12. I think your speak for so many of us in this post, Kathy. Retirement is a privilege and a joy, but it demands adjustments and you sum these up so well. I love being retired and being able to call my time my own and never cease to be grateful that DH and I can do this together.

  13. Hi, I am new to your blog. After reading a few of your articles, I am encouraged and looking forward to reading more of your insights about life.