Michèle Dawson Haber examines the connection between her mother's decline and her mixed feelings about ending a chapter in her work life.
This is a beautiful piece. I'd love to wish away the chin hairs but alas they're inevitable and the last exfoliation my mother requested before she died, "Could you shave my mustache?" Now, at 77, I've published my debut with Woodhall Press--there's No Expiration on Dreams. Dream on...
Very well written. I’ve had a similar experience. Alzheimer's disease Is horrible. I was in engineering software. When I retired I became a farmer. I grew raspberries for farmer’s markets. Did it for 12 years. I have to admit, it was the best career so far. Celebrate. You get to reinvent you if you want to!
The chin hairs are real! I need to put plucking days in my calendar now, because they always seem to appear quite long out of nowhere and they’re surely more reliable than I think. They’re numerous enough that I decided to stop plucking my eyebrows: got enough to worry about with the mustache and chin stuff. I’m 57.
I will never retire because I simply can’t. And anyway, what is retirement? My parents used it as an excuse to do nothing but watch TV and let their brains turn to mush between yearly trips to Italy (for some reason their favorite place to go), until they couldn’t walk anymore. I can’t stop doing things and will always be up to something, the only worry being a level of income, as it has been since my 20s.
Hopefully my hips will hold up. And I can wake up next to a person I have no idea who they are any old time but am SO glad to be serenely celibate (My new set of hormones has definitely done me the favor of making men and sex with them seem ridiculous) and “alone” (looking forward to saying “alone at last” to the mirror one day) right now, after taking care of my dying husband, my aging dog, and now my frankly senile mother in her late 80s.
Michèle, this was beautiful and I loved that you took us through your thoughts until you realized what was really behind your mixed feelings about retirement. My mom is in Memory Care and every so often I get a glimpse that she is still in there. It's everything. Loss of identity, whether through cognitive decline or stepping away from a field in which you excelled, is indeed scary. I'm excited for you, for all that you have ahead of you, which I hope includes much more of your gorgeous writing. Thanks for sharing this.
The word "retirement" conjures up images of a rocking chair on the porch. That inspires fear, and having a mother with Alzheimer's (as I did until she passed in 2015) makes it worse. Ditch the retirement word, and instead realize that you are transitioning to a different career. The world is full of things that need to be done, help that needs to be given, and opportunities to make things better. Relax a bit, take your time, and it will come to you. With regard to the prospect of Alzheimer's, it can be avoided. Diet and nutrition play a huge part, and avoiding processed food is important. After closing our retail store, I spent a lot of time researching and learned that at least 80% of what's in the grocery store is bad for you, and will lead to declining health. You can see this happening all over the world, as obesity becomes more and more common. By adapting a different way of eating I have become healthier at 74 than I was at 24. I've been enrolled in an Alzheimer's study for several years and have had no change in my assessment. My brain is working better than ever, and my memory gets better and better. These are, indeed, the best years of my life!
Thanks for this essay. I am nearing 50 with plans to retire at 55 (also grateful to have a proper pension and long-term tenure in a government job). Even now, at 5 years to go I wonder if I will be ready to let go of my work identity, even though I feel very finished with my job right now. I have lots of things that I do outside of work which form part of how I identify in the world but my life as a worker, as a union local president and shop steward as well - are a huge part of who I am and have been. From what I can tell though (I pay a lot of attention to all those retirees in my life) that unless you are truly oriented in the vocational sense (as in the calling that defines your whole life), that identity quickly shifts from worker to writer/poet/artist etc. I live in a community with a high preponderance of retirees but rarely do the people around me identify as that. They are a million other things that define their days (farmer, gardeners, writer, painter, potter, caregiver etc.), but retired is not what comes first or even last in that list of descriptors. Good luck with your retirement and thanks for a thoughtful piece of writing!
Wonderful story. I really loved when you understood that the essence of the person is what makes them who they are. Enjoy your retirement
I love this piece! Thank you. I have not retired and am 64 but I have refocused my work and can relate to wanting more time for the things I enjoy. I love my work but I am excited by new things as well. Thanks for writing.
Thank you for sharing, Michele!
Like you, I am 56, but I have recently retired from my 37 and a half year career working for one of Australia’s largest banks.
My mother, a strong- willed woman, passed away in early 2020, and my family in February this year.
I am now taking time off from working, before embarking on the next part of my career - using my financial experience to secure a new position.
I know that will have no problem with your identity, and wish you happiness as you embark on your adventure! 😀
What a moving essay, thank you so much for sharing this. It’s striking how much this resonates with me at 40, at the cusp of a big career transition, even though I’m (sadly) far from retirement. You’re speaking to universal themes and expressing the tensions wonderfully. I hope your next chapter also includes writing!
“But when I step aside to let someone else take over my role, what purpose will I serve? So much of who I am today is a result of the skills I developed in my work.”
Such a beautiful piece. And inspiring! And so glad you still have those sweet moments with your mom.
I can so relate to this beautifully written essay. I recently also "retired" (and I put quotes around the word because deep down, the word meant something more permanent in nature than I care to commit to). While I don't have a loved one suffering the horrible disease of Alzheimer, I also have an aging mother whose list of age related illness is slowing getting longer. There is so much I want to reflect, and to share, I am just not quite sure that I am in this stage long enough to form something that will last. This essay is certainly an encouragement, so Thank You for sharing! Wish you all the best (and the best is yet to come!)
Amazing piece. Michele’s writing can make you want to both laugh and cry in the same sitting. This essay is a honest piece that enables the reader to see both the joy, and angst, that can come from life’s milestones.
Hey from your sister...just read this and WOW. I have read many of the drafts preceding this one and now I know why you didn't send this one to be commented on... because you know it's perfect just as it is. I am super proud and it's fantastic!! Well done!!! Xxxx ❤️
I love this, thank you. This is right, the essence. And perhaps I need to spend more time with these next of myself. Perhaps that would help me make the metamorphosis I know is due here in my middle 50s so I stop imagining having to slog through work I no longer love for 15 more years.
I love this piece so much and have felt all the losses you consider in the essay. My absolute favorite line is 'say no more.' How wonderful to have a glimpse of your mom as you knew her. In my experience, the loss of one's mother trumps them all. Beautifully done!