I retired a couple of months before my 60th birthday, which back in 2007 was the age when women became eligible to apply for the state pension in UK. The period leading up to the end of one’s working life can be a busy time, with much to consider.
One of the important things to review is our financial situation, such as can we afford to retire? Will we outlive our savings?
I had made big plans for my senior years. I was going to leave London, a city I had called home for over thirty years, to settle in a slightly quieter location. I decided I was going to spend the English winters either in Australia or New Zealand, basking in the sunshine with some of my friends who lived in the Southern Hemisphere, and then the rest of the year I would live in UK and have plenty of breaks visiting various parts of the world. I also felt I would enjoy not having to get up at the crack of dawn, and I would spend time meeting my friends in town for coffee or meals out. This is more or less the life I was carving out for my elder years.
What actually occurred when I left the work force was that I did locate to a smaller quieter city, where I spent a couple of years setting up my new home and settling into a new community. This was a huge decision, one that I did not fully comprehend at the time. It involved leaving my career, a city that I loved and where I had lived for over twenty-three years, and where I had many friends, some of whom I had known for nearly forty years.
Leaving one life to begin another is not without its challenges. One area I had not thought through was the social issue of making friends in an area where I knew nobody. I had moved countries twice in my life and had re-located many times, but working in hospitals provided ample opportunities to make new friends. There was also the question of having to source new health care providers such as a doctor, dentist, chiropodist, optician, hairdresser and beautician.
Relocating was the only part of my big retirement plan that actually materialised. Once my home was complete, I began to notice how insular I had become and how my life was lacking purpose. Then the novelty of not having to get up for work wore off, and meeting my friends in town became mundane and not the joyful occasional meetings they once were. I also became less efficient with doing my daily chores and more indulgent with eating food that did not support my body, and wasted endless hours glued to the TV screen.
Slowly, I came to realise that my unease with life stemmed from my lack of contribution to society. No matter what position or job we hold we all make our unique and invaluable contribution to what makes up the tapestry we call life.
With this awareness, I made the choice to become a volunteer, so I duly applied and was accepted by my local hospital to work on an elderly care ward. From my first day, I realised that even though I am in my senior years, there is lots I can still contribute to supporting the wellbeing of those who are ill and/or infirm.
I enjoyed so much being back in the workforce and contributing to the community in which I had chosen to spend my elder years that I also took up a volunteering post as a patient befriender at a second hospital.
I work on elderly patient wards where my role is to serve hot drinks and support patients with filling out their menus, with this done I get to read stories and to speak with some amazing people from all walks of life. The highlight of my work is when these eighty to ninety-five year olds share their life experiences with me, and also what life was like for them in their youth and during the war years. The commitment and total dedication to their line of work during WW11 is palpable in all their stories.
Returning to work in a hospital environment really brought home to me what an amazing privilege it is to work with those who are ill.
When patients are admitted to hospital it is usually because their bodies have broken down in one way or another. This can be a very challenging time for most patients. They are taken out, sometimes suddenly, from their normal routine and it is often necessary to hand over their bodies to those who specialise in the care of the sick.
As well as being a challenging time, a stay in hospital can also afford the time and space to reflect on life and life style choices. Many look back on their time in hospital as an important turning point in their lives, where they learnt much about themselves, their bodies and the impermanency of life. Being part of the medical team, I often get to witness first-hand the birth of these insights, which is both inspiring and beautiful to observe.
In addition to volunteering at the hospital, I do some dog walking to assist my neighbours, have English conversation sessions with two immigrant ladies and have applied to volunteer at my local junior school.
From my experience retirement is not all it is all cracked up to be, and from what I have observed among my retired friends, many of them are living their elder years with no sense of purpose; as a result they often feel sad and isolated.
That paradigm has certainly not been my experience. This phase of my life has been a time of new learning, new experiences and new beginnings, a time to reflect on my life and how the choices I have made in the past have led me to the spot where I now stand. It has also been a time to appreciate the wisdom I gained through the various experiences and events of my life. And because of this, I know I still have much to offer, and that I have an important role to play both in life and in society in general.
Coming out of retirement and volunteering is one of the wisest choices, if not the wisest choice, I have made during my lifetime – it has resulted in me living a very joyful and fulfilled final stage of my life.
Elizabeth McC., UK