Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fifth Anniversary: New Perspectives

Five years ago today, I left my office at UCLA Medical Center for the last time.

I thought I knew what was ahead. I thought I had an accurate picture of life after our jobs were only a memory, after we left Los Angeles for a new life in rural Arizona.

Five years later, life isn't exactly as I imagined then. There have been surprises, disappointments and delightful discoveries.

Five years ago, retirement life, vigor, money, fun and new friendships seemed unlimited. Now, though life is good, connections warm, health enduring and bank account solid, our limitations, both immediate and long-term, are more apparent. We've become more cautious, less expansive, more content with living simply day to day. Meals out, movies, plays, and travel are all rare treats rather than daily reality. And we're not feeling deprived. It doesn't take much to make us happy these days.

Five years ago, we were thrilled at the prospect of living in a resort community. Now I can see it as a mixed blessing -- with increasingly crowded facilities during the winter season when the population here nearly doubles due to the return of the snowbirds from the upper Midwest and Canada. I can also feel the small resentments and uneasy differences between the often more affluent residents who have multiple homes and those of us who live here year around - while realizing that the snowbirds pay dues here 12 months a year, helping to support the amenities that we get to enjoy full-time.

Five years ago, I had visions of reclaiming a bit of youth --  getting skinny and fit, dancing through my days. Now I realize that fitness at 70 doesn't mean reclaiming the weight and body shape of my 25-year-old self and that revisiting youth can mean, at times, reliving junior high with cliques and packs of aging mean girls. But good health, mobility and intellectual vigor are a joy -- even if I can't revisit my passions for ballet and tap, even if I'm lighter and firmer though still undeniably matronly.

Five years ago, I was thrilled at the prospect of  having time to fully re-ignite my neglected writing career. I wanted to publish at least one more book -- and I have. But the best part of getting back to writing has been something I couldn't have imagined five years ago:  this blog and some treasured blogging friends who are bringing so much unexpected joy to my life.

Five years ago, I worried about losing long-time friendships by moving away while also anticipating close new friendships in a new home town. Now, I'm delighted with the resilience of old friendships, relationships that have grown through the challenges of distance and time, and a bit disappointed with the difficulty in making new friends here.

Five years ago, I was excited about the prospect of small town living -- where people knew each other and one had a sense of belonging. And, indeed, that has been part of our new reality in many ways -- from Jasper and Barb at the Florence Library who know our reading tastes and set aside titles they know we would enjoy, the local pharmacist Michelle, who cheerfully greets us by name, the supermarket checkers Sandy and Arlene who ask about our kitten Ollie's recovery from his recent surgeries. But there is a darker side as well to small town life: learning more about people than perhaps you ever wanted to know and malicious gossip that can erode one's sense of belonging. There is, at times, a nagging feeling that, try as one might, one may never really fit in.

Five years ago, I anticipated life being quite different in a new home and a new place. The new house is great. But there is a lot of truth to that saying "Wherever you go, there you are!" We still enjoy the same pursuits, battle the same demons and live semi-reclusively here -- very much as we did in our previous home.

Five years ago, I looked forward to settling in happily with our animal companions Gus, Maggie and Marina for many years to come. I had no idea that five years later, only Maggie would still be alive. Despite the loss of young Marina and elderly Gus and fact that no animal ever replaces another, I treasure the additions to our feline family -- the truculent but loyal Sweet Pea who joined our family in the summer of 2010, gorgeous and loving Hamish who came two years later, and precious little Ollie, our three-legged kitten with a brave heart and magnificent purr, who won my heart last October at a book signing event in California.

Five years ago, I didn't realize how much pleasure I would feel in watching, savoring and, in a variety of ways, sharing in the lives of our younger friends -- Ryan, Mary Kate and Eliza, Carrie and Brian, Sharon and Virginia --  as they reach their prime years. It's wonderful to see them succeeding in their chosen fields, finding special people to love and, in Eliza's case, becoming the loving mother of two beautiful baby girls in a span of 15 months. But the greatest joy of all is in seeing these young people grow from being our dear friends'  babies (in Ryan's case, a bright, quirky nine-year-old Little Brother) into good, caring, responsible adults --  people we're proud to know.

Five years ago, time seemed infinite. Now there is a new sense of limits as I watch those close to me deal with life-threatening health issues. My sister Tai, ten years younger than I, is suddenly facing a dangerous medical crisis. My friends Pat and Joe, who are my age, both are facing unexpected medical challenges. I see warning signs in others: my neighbor Phyllis, my long-time literary agent Susan, my beloved cousin Caron -- all five to seven years older than I am, all previously vigorous, all suddenly fragile. I grieve their loss of health and vitality while anticipating my own decline. I hope that these challenges are some years off for me. But I know, with new clarity, that the blessing of good health is not forever.

There is an upside to bittersweet realizations: I treasure each moment more.

I am realizing that, as the song goes, the best of times is now. I have better health, more money, and more options today than I am likely to have later on. I want to make the most of the next five years because there are no guarantees. Five years ago, retirement fun seemed open-ended. Now I feel the limits more than ever as I live each treasured day with gratitude and love.


  1. There is so much to digest in this reflective and insightful posting. Honestly, we never can know what the future holds, can we? We have our visions of how something will be and thankfully these ideas and visions help us make changes and progress into the future. On the other hand, those visions are just that: visions. Reality is something different.

    Retirement dreams and retirement realities collide at time. There are things and situations we did not foresee no matter how well we planned. Some of these surprises catch us off guard and make life difficult. Others enrich our lives in ways we never knew.

    I can relate to much of what you say as we live in an area where mostly retired people live. We don't have the amenities that you have such as a community center, but we have the congregation of a people of a certain age that brings out the good and bad in people. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship in our retirement home. In the end, I wouldn't change a thing. Retirement is a blessing. Each day is a gift. We learn these things too late in life it seems.

    Congratulations on reaching your milestone. Thank you for recounting it for us.

  2. Oh Kathy.....for those of us in the Winter of our lives your post is so very relevant. We too live simply.....taking time to smell the flowers and enjoying family and friends more. We have done the two home thing and we are now happy to just have one....although the summers here, as you know, can be pretty brutal. Isn't it funny how we run though life until the end when we must slow down and then we find our what is important.


  3. What a rich post, Kathy. An honest one and an assessment that carries both joy and concern. You mention the dreams and realities -- indeed, that's exactly so. And the idea that our friends and families are experiencing health challenges thatwe never wanted to imagine. I love how you face things bravely -- not without sadness when it happens but with courage.And I appreciate all the things that you have done in retirement to add toyour life and joy -- your book, your newest family members, your quest to continue your writing career and to set your own story down.

    I wish you congratulations on your anniversary blogging and trust that there will be many more to come!

  4. "Dr. Kathy McCoy" has been included in our Sites To See #430. Be assured that we hope this helps to point many new visitors in your direction.

  5. I do my best to live in the moment and appreciate the people and things I have in my life. You have shared much here and a lot to reflect on. Thank you!

  6. Insightful post. We are just beginning year 2 of retirement.We are both 61. I have a lot of the same experiences as you are having. I have to revisit some goals and also start to DO the exercise I thought I'd be doing DAILY to increase my strength and to keep me supple and mobile for many years..feel have wasted some time! But it's an adventure! We moved rural also and I don't have access to some of the activities I'd like to.. but we traded the Valley of the Sun congestion ,noise and pollution for clean air and pine trees..I can drive down there when I need to.. thanks again or this sharing..

  7. Interesting post, Kathy... Makes me think of my retirement --and the expectations I had in 2003 when I retired (at age 62)... Hubby worked til he was 65 (retiring in 2006) --but we bought our 'retirement' home here in our resort in 2002... The biggest thing to have changed (which I did not realize would happen) is our health... We both are healthy overall--but have slowed down considerably from where I was 10 years ago... We do still love to stay active (walking and hiking) and we do still love to travel. BUT--I find myself being "JUST" as happy right here in my little home --enjoying our flowers and my backyard birds. I never would have thought I'd ever say that... ha

    Thanks for another great post. Life is definitely interesting --and never what we 'expect'...


  8. The title is aptly named, not only for the subject matter, but because you do personally have such a good sense of perspective! This gave me a lot to think about; I'm semi-retired as a housewife by choice, and it is interesting to reflect on dreams vs. reality, as well as moving to new communities with blessings and disappointments. Thanks for your wisdom!

  9. I'm learning the same things five years into retirement. We have a park model in Tucson and a house in a Seattle suburb. I love the simplicity of the small place in Tucson as well as the community there - though I chuckled at your "mean girls" comment because I saw some junior high behavior this winter. We are slowing down in our travel - just canceled a cruise for later this month, as a matter of fact, because of my husband's health issue. Fortunately, our passion for travel is lessening. I am content with where we are; fortunately, that does seem to happen as we enter new stages of our lives.

  10. Such a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Kathy. I am 58 and have had many of the same realizations and revelations and conclusions. Five years just flies by, at least it seems that way when you get to the far end of it. I visit my dad in his nursing home and see residents come and go (and it's the "go" that is rough) and see that not one of us is guaranteed anything when it comes to health. My father left home to go to the hospital eight years ago after having a stroke, and he has never been back. That is a sobering thought for me, always in the back - and often in the very front - of my mind.

    I hope your sister improves, along with your other loved ones. And I hope you and your husband have many more years of good times, living each day to the fullest.

  11. Yep. It's all about health more than anything else.

  12. Another wise and perceptive post, Kathy, with a lot of food for reflection by your readers. I retired for the second time 7 years ago, but we stayed in our long-time home and just take time away . I think it's a challenge to adapt at the same time both to retirement and to a new location and it has been very interesting tom accompany you as you made that adaptation.

    I do hope your loved ones health issues can be resoved.

  13. You are always so right on Dr Kathy. The health issues really so frustrating when they put the kabosh on things you love to do. My grands were visiting this past weekend and I was not able to jump on a bicycle and ride with them due to my healing knee replacement even though I would have loved to. And losing both my brother and my sister in a seven month timespan was a definite reality check about aging. But yet I love this time in life as you also seem to. As usual enjoyed reading it.

  14. Very true and thought provoking blog. I may be only 55 but having RA since I have been 20 has sure taken a toll on my health. This last year I spent 2 months in the hospital. Then I had to learn to walk all over again after months in wheelchair. I had to gain my strength back slowly over months.

  15. I too am coming up on the fifth anniversary of retirement from teaching in an inner city high school. Although we had planned to live in San Francisco, that changed as the cost there became prohibitive, so we are back in our paid-for house in Fresno doing a multitude of volunteer projects for non-profits.

    Fortunately, our health is excellent and we've always lived a minimalist lifestyle, so our retirement life fits very well with our expectations.