I turned 69 last month. Not a significant birthday – certainly not one of those I like to proclaim loudly and celebrate with a big party every half decade.
But, it turns out, entering the final year of this decade has been a big deal for me. I’ve been in a state of perpetual gloominess since my birthday. To be completely honest, I haven’t been gloomy so much as downright crabby; something my partner has endured with very good grace.
I am consumed with worries about what lies ahead. Here I am, less than a year from being 70, born into a family where many people live well into their 90s, and I have not given so much as a moment’s thought to what getting old is going to involve.
So many possibilities
The biggest question I’m contemplating right now is when to retire. I have often said that, even if I didn’t need the money, I would keep working. That’s not true for me anymore. Much as I have loved my work in its various iterations, I’m ready to close the door on it. This doesn’t mean I don’t still have an interest what I do; it just means I am ready to stop. It’s hard work emotionally, and I am worn out.
But then what? My vague to-do list — organize all of our photos, tidy the basement, make phyllo pastry from scratch and read the towering stack of books I never have time to get to– will not take me through to my dying days, so I need a bigger plan.
All that talk about taking up sewing again? A friend gave me her old sewing machine last year so, once I have work-free days stretching out ahead of me, I’ll have no excuse not to get down to it.
Get fit? There will be no scheduling challenges with going swimming regularly, taking a yoga class or, perhaps, learning how to play pickleball.
Do volunteer work? Learn to speak another language? Take continuing ed courses just for the joy of learning? Make my own wrapping paper? Learn how to use the public transit system?
Living more with less
One thing seems certain: with no workplace pension to support us, my partner and I will need to downsize our lives once I stop working. While I have been reasonably diligent about building up my RRSPs, I was a late starter, so that’s not going to offer us income at the level financial planners deem appropriate. Well, unless I die young, in which case we’ll be all set.
The thought of a smaller living space is appealing, until I look around at everything we have accumulated over the years. Despite a few attempts to reduce the quantity of our belongings, we’ll need to do some serious winnowing when we decide to move.
It’s going to be time to say good bye to the clothes I have kept around just in case I can ever fit into them again, the cookbooks I only pull out once a year, the books we have read and won’t read again, the carpentry tools my partner used to build our house many years ago but that he won’t be using again, the bits and pieces of our children’s lives they seem to have bequeathed to us. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In odd fits of hysteria, we have talked about getting rid of pretty much everything, selling the house and becoming itinerant travellers living in a (very comfortable) van. However, we both know this is not who we really are, so we’re investigating more realistic small living environments.
The financial downsizing will have to extend beyond our accommodation. I think, in particular, about our food budget. I have to admit that I spend freely on groceries and am careless with food, meaning that too much gets wasted. It’s time to replace that approach with one that involves more frugal food purchases and an approach to cooking that still results in tasty meals while also ensuring we use everything we buy.
Finding the answers
I have nights when I toss and turn, imagining an old age of abject poverty, but, in the light of day, I know we are in a very fortunate position, unlikely to spend our sunset years camped out in my daughter’s garage.
Nonetheless, it’s been hard for me to accept that a lot of what lies ahead is and will remain unknown, at least for a while. I like a roadmap – one from which I can deviate, but that provides me with a route to come back to. Right now, the lack of that roadmap contributes in no small measure to my gloomy state of mind.
That gloom lifted on Saturday when friends who were biking from Toronto to Montreal (not something I am considering as a retirement activity) stopped in for the night. We made a big jug of sangria and, once they had showered away the grit of the road and spread out their cycling clothes to dry from the rainstorm that had chased them along the way, we sipped our way into conversation and dinner.
Here’s how we made our sangria: Combine in a large bowl: 1 – 2 bottles of decent but not expensive red wine, ½ cup ginger lemonade concentrate (or, if you don’t have that, a bottle of ginger beer will do), ½ cup triple sec, one chopped peach and nectarine, the juice of one orange, lime and lemon, one thinly sliced orange, lime and lemon, and two cups of your favourite in-season berries. Mix well and chill for a few hours. Serve in wine glasses over ice. (If you have wine-soaked fruit left over, serve it with vanilla ice cream for a late-night treat.)
All my worries about the aches and pains – literal and figurative – of aging melted away as we enjoyed this time with friends; something we’ll always have space for, no matter where the next few years take us.