The Long and Winding Road to Terri’s Retirement

August 30, 2019 was Terri’s last day at work. I have to admit, I almost didn’t believe it until nearly right up to the end. Oh sure, many were the days when I’d be heading off to a hike or such, and she would say “I wish I was going with you!” But then she’d talk about how she had the perfect job – she could show up when she wanted, leave when she wanted, and generally work as much or as little as she wanted during the week. And then there was the financial aspect, since her wages were completely at her disposal. Hairdresser, clothing, shopping for grandkids, dining out, something special for the house – how would that work once she retired? Plus she was really good at her job, and got a lot of satisfaction from doing it well. And she enjoyed the social interactions with her co-workers.

So we would discuss all the pros and cons with me on a regular basis. One week she’d be ready to turn in her notice, and the next week say that she didn’t know when she’d retire. Was I sure we’d have enough resources to retire? What would she do all day? How would it change our relationship? Where would her funds come from for her discretionary spending? So we talked, discussed, and explored thoughts and feelings. I tried to listen twice as much as I talked. We went back to our financial planner with questions and concerns, and were reassured that if we continued to have a prudent and restrained budget we’d be OK. And we have both developed a couple of side gigs that will get us out of the house, and bring in a few non-budgeted dollars of play money.

A few ideas to start our retired life

But – “Bill, you have your whole retirement planned out! Hiking, photography, your blog, volunteering, 1001 projects – what am I going to do?” So we talked about that. A few times. Or more. The last time, we were in the car, headed out … somewhere. So I suggested we brainstorm a bit, and we did. Fortunately, I always carry a pen and pad of paper in the car, so I had her write the ideas down, and we now have a starting list of 32 things to do! Some of them are one-off projects, and others we can do over and over again. She started to see the possibilities of living a retired life. 

Still, she had said she was going to retire and had changed her mind a few times, so when she said she’d retire at the end of August, I said “Good!”  A couple moments of silence, and she said “I thought you’d be more excited than that…” I affirmed that I would be delighted if she actually retired, but I’d believe it when I saw it. Sure enough, I saw some vacillation in determination, but as the days wore on, I heard an increasing acceptance of the idea of finally being done with work. 

So, on Friday, August 30th, she came home from work for the last time – and even came home an hour and a half earlier than normal. “Let’s go out to Chuckanut Manor and celebrate with a glass of wine,” she suggested, and course I said yes. As we drove, she shared some unexpected moments of sadness and loss as the finality of the situation sank in. She wondered why I hadn’t felt the same way when I left, and I reminded her that I had cut back from five days a week to four, and then to three, and then to two days a week starting this last January. I was able to slowly let go, and absorb my new reality, and immerse myself into this new life, while she worked more days and longer hours up towards the end to fulfill all of her commitments. So we pulled up to the restaurant, with its sweeping views of Samish Bay and the bucolic scene around it, and savored the moment. It was a perfect moment, and I didn’t want it to end, so I told her I’d treat her to dinner to keep the celebration going. You can read about it here if you’d like.

Rose Hips with Bellingham Bay in background

Saturday we went for one of our favorite walks in the historic residential area of Fairhaven, ending up on the waterfront walk from Boulevard park to the business district, then went grocery shopping. Sunday we went to church, then did a reprise of our previous days walk, coming home to sit in our gazebo with a glass of wine, gazing out at our beautiful little backyard garden before coming in to cook dinner together. Today we are headed out on a picnic to Washington park, overlooking the Salish Sea, and Wednesday we leave for a few days at Lake Chelan. Nothing huge or amazing here, but it feels like the perfect start to our new life together. We are both aware that there will be hiccups and challenges along the way, and are already planning strategies on dealing with them. We are also hyper-aware of time slipping by so very quickly, and so we are trying to live wide-awake to every moment that we get to share during this amazing season of our lives. Thanks for sharing some of those moments with us, whether in person, or through this blog!

We’ve Lost Julie

I recently found out we lost Julie. Not that I knew her all that well. But – I have eight first cousins (my wife has 50+, but that’s her story). Four of those cousins are my mom’s sisters daughters. Sally, Julie, Laura and Cara. Sally is a year older than me, Julie was a year younger. Sally and Julie were on their own when their mom – Helen – died. We took the two younger ones into our household, and ended up legally adopting Cara. Too soon after that, my mom (Ramona) also passed from cancer. While we all grieved immensely, my heart hurt the most for Cara, losing two moms in just a few short years.

These events left an indelible mark on all of us. I escaped into marriage, drugs, and Washington, trying to leave the past behind (I’m still in Washington). Others faced their own demons, while some “acted out” by being as perfect as possible. But that bond, formed in that crucible called cancer, could not be broken. Years and life and distance would pull us apart, but that intangible bond remained. Julie had reconnected with Roger, a man she had loved deeply from years ago, and moved to north Idaho. Somehow, my daughter Kalise along with cousin Sally put together a family reunion a few years ago, with several activities being held at Julie and Rogers small ranch. It was great to reconnect to so many, and there was hope in the air.

Sometime later, everything went to hell. Two of her kids struggling with addiction. Heartbreak on the ranch. And – the Big C. Becky, my brother Dougs wife. Julie. My wife Terri. Cindy in remission, but with the occasional scare. Now, a couple of years later, Terri is cured, and Cindy and Becky are in remission. Julie put up one heck of a fight, but in the end, she slipped away from us.

I saw a photo of her a few weeks back, sitting around a campfire with family. She still had her “Julie” smile, which looked SO much like Mona Lisa’s to me. When she laughed, you knew by the unique combination of laugh and chuckle that it was her; her laugh was her signature. I wrote to her a couple of weeks ago, and shared that with her. I also confirmed that we have a hope beyond this earth, a Heavenly Father who loves us dearly, and that He would take good care of her.

We – overall – have been fortunate as a family. I’m the oldest of five, about to get smacked in the face by my 70th birthday. My “baby” sister is 60. The Whiting sisters range from 70 to the late 50’s. Our moms only made it to their mid-40’s.  I am so aware that many siblings in our age brackets have lost loved ones at much earlier ages. I guess it’s our turn now – we have lost Julie. We will see you on the other side.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

….It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes

Nothing remains quite the same

With all of our running and all of our cunning

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane!”

Jimmy Buffett

It’s true that our winters in Western Washington can be long, cool, damp and … gray. We are infamous for our rain, which starts in October, and ends the day after the 4th of July weekend. The Hoh River rainforest can get up to 170 inches of rain a year; even though our winters are pretty mild by most standards,  the dampness can just kind of creep into your bones and settle there. So, it’s not surprising that many of us like to travel to desert or tropical climes to remember what the warm sun feels like on our skin.

It’s also not surprising that at a certain point in one’s life, finances permitting, many like to relocate to warmer, drier climes (the converse, weird as it seems, is also true – I often see people who have lived in, say, Arizona, come up here for our lush landscape). All that is well and good, except …

I will admit that while I feel I am a friendly guy, I don’t find it particularly easy to make new friends. A few years back we connected with another couple, and quickly established a warm, close bond. We go to dinner, check out local wineries and breweries, take weekend trips and even occasionally vacation together. We even just hang out, telling each other our stories over a glass of wine or two. They had made their home and yard a beautiful, park-like setting, have family locally, participated musically in the worship team at church, and loved the area. But. Our weather was increasingly becoming an issue, and one day they just up and sold their home, and moved to California, both for the weather and to be closer to their aging parents. Suddenly there was this huge gap in our lives.

To top it off, even as we are becoming closer to some mutual friends (love you guys, you know who you are), they bought a lot in Montana with the intention of moving there (at least during the snow-free months) once they retire in a few years. And other close friends I’ve know most of my life are dealing with health issues, so the times we’ve stayed with them, and trips we used to take with them to sunny southern locations may no longer be an option. Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.

On the plus side, we always have a terrific time with my wife’s youngest sister and her husband, and with my cousin and her husband up in B.C.. We’ve made some new connections with couples that love to hike, and who love live music. We even enjoyed a family reunion with my four siblings, and created new and stronger bonds there.

Our new challenge is to build and nurture the relationships we already have, and to accept, embrace, and move forward in a quest to find new people with whom we can share our journey. Wanted: couples who love to laugh, love the blues and rock’n’roll, enjoy an occasional glass of wine (or beer), and are  willing to share their story with us as we share ours with them. They say staying flexible as you age is important; I guess that applies both physically and relationally. Time to start stretching!!