I said something really callous to my dad not so long ago. It’s one of those things I wish I could take back; odd that my response is, instead, to do the opposite – to enshrine the error here publically for the indefinite future.
He was telling me about his macular degeneration, about how he feared the condition would cause him to lose his sight altogether. I hadn’t read anything about the disorder. All of my knowledge came from what he said. I listened (at least I hope I listened). And then I asked (this is the callous thing I wish I could take back), “What are you doing to prepare for blindness?”
The thing about my dad is that much of his retirement so far has been marked with his body malfunctioning, limiting him, causing him pain . . . letting him down. The macular degeneration is one of the more recent developments in a series of difficult ailments. This is a man whose deepest joys and very identity once stemmed from success as an athlete. He worked hard for decades at a job I’m not sure he liked, and is now finding that his just reward—everlasting vacation– is marred by poor health. Lovely autumn days fit for 36 holes of golf are filled instead with doctors appointments where, rather than preparing for blindness, Dad’s fighting back by submitting to ocular injections.
He doesn’t begrudge me when I ask things like, “Is this macular degeneration hereditary?” I guess he’s used to my selfishness. When any new diagnosis makes its way into a conversation, I usually can’t help myself. I think, “Don’t ask, just google it later. Don’t ask, don’t ask!” and before I know it, I hear myself saying, “Is this passed genetically?”
As much as I try to visualize my own unique blueprint for living the rest of my life, I know that much of the design is laid out for me in the lives of my parents. Mom offers great advice like, “Start keeping a medical journal now because you’ll be having to fill out forms for the rest of your life indicating when you started taking which medicines.” But more than what she says, I see her example. She’s starting the 2nd phase of her 2nd career (one she loves), and when she’s not working she’s in a seminar or a class learning something new. She’s had her share of terrifying medical challenges along with my Dad– yet they continue to model independence, patience, gratitude and perseverance. Failing hips? Take singing lessons. Bad knees? Try deep-water aerobics. Also–no small feat–they’ve done their best to remain as techno-savvy as possible – a smart move, since user interfaces build on each other.
Last October, my place of employment closed a division and left me in between jobs. What followed was four months of bliss. I had been working mostly non-stop since I was 15 years old. This break was my first taste of what retirement might be like.
One thing I learned is that there is never enough time. In fact, removing a full time job from the equation only raised my expectations for what I might accomplish.
- I had self-imposed reading and writing assignments.
- Found a couple places where I could go semi-regularly to volunteer sorting food and doing clerical work.
- I parceled out my lunch, coffee, happy hour and hiking dates from week to week.
- I spent 14 days back east with my family, took a road trip with Mom & Dad, attended my Great Aunt’s 90th birthday party.
- I made good attempts at daily meditation and a bit of light yoga.
- I saw movies every other week or so.
- I took walks, photographed plants.
- Crocheted a blanket—for the cat.
- Forced myself to start learning what this Twitter is about (better late than never).
- Got half of my holiday cards sent out (in January).
- Almost finished making really awesome Christmas gifts (they are still in progress).
- I took my first ice skating lesson with a pro skater. I’m swiveling and gliding just like a six year old.
- I rode a bike ride on the beach (So delightful, despite the annoyance of having “Come and Knock on Our Door” looping in my head).
- And even took spins on the local roller coaster and ferris wheel.
- Finally, I confess, I spent too much time developing my farm on Facebook. (There are worse vices.)
If I’m lucky, that is what my retirement will look like –with a few additions.
- I do want to complete another marathon. I’d like to look like a senior citizen when I do it so that the spectators will be in awe of the old lady walking 26.2 miles.
- I intend to finish writing a book. A whole work with a beginning a middle and an end.
- There will be journeys to foreign landscapes.
If my parents’ illnesses have taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected and not to put these things off. Like my Mom, I’ll continue adding new classes to my life long curriculum. She highly recommends drum circles. And like my dad, if faced with the choice of preparing for blindness or accepting treatment, I’ll be brave enough to let them put needles in my eyes. Machu Picchu, here I come.
This is my first entry in Genie Alisa’s Living Out Loud project. You can read this month’s prompt here: Living Out Loud Volume 14: Gone fishin’. I thank Genie Alisa for welcoming new-comers. And am also grateful to my new “bloggy friend”, Megan, who introduced me to the venture. Her site An Acorn Dreaming is filled with lots of brilliant thoughts and fun filled tales.