The dark side of retirement

Elise T. Chisolm

December 04, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

I SAT NEXT to him at a large function, and he was very quiet. I knew him slightly, but this evening he seemed remote. He used to be bubbly and ebullient. I wondered if he'd been ill.

"How's retirement?" I asked.

"It stinks, I hate it," he answered.

I'll call him Don. He'd been a television reporter, an anchor of quality and then a director.

His wife sat across the table from us; she looked fine and happy.

Then we discussed the different things he'd tried in retirement.

"I've tried golf and tennis, and then I tried going fishing with some old buddies. I tried a class in stained glass. I tried piano lessons, I'd always wanted to learn. But I found out that I still felt sort of useless. I can't describe it, I am like a 2-year-old trying to decide which toy to play with on a rainy day."

"Volunteer work?" I asked.

"Of course; I do Meals-on-Wheels, church work, and I tutor illiterate adults.

"I took night courses toward my master's."

Don also feels he is not involved enough in any one thing. His health is good, but he is depressed.

After dinner and after more wine he turned to me and told me the real truth.

"I think it is an ego thing. I am nobody suddenly. I have no persona. And people don't ask me my opinions anymore. Where I was once sort of a local celeb, I am now just a retirement character sitting in a cap and warm-up togs. I feel sort of left out. I'd like to go back to work."

I admired him for his honesty. That was hard to tell anyone, but vTC because I am a newspaper person he figured I would understand. And I am near his age. He said he'd never told his wife, because she had never worked full-time and might not understand: "She'd think I was nuts."

So I told my seat mate that I could understand the ego thing. It's the same with women who don't want to retire from an exciting job. You just go back to being somebody's wife, or mother or grandmother, and, let's face it, sometimes more housework.

There is nothing unusual about hating retirement. There is just cause. For years you're on a roller coaster and suddenly it stops and the seats empty out. You slow down.

I suggested Don seek counseling and find his niche, that he has many more years to go. I told him that over half of Americans hate their jobs, so all the more reason those of us over 50 should plan for retirement. I told him of the many organizations that deal with retirement counseling and placement.

I told him there are 40-year-olds out there who would give their souls for retirement, and he should feel lucky. There's a lot to do.

But he knows that. His ego is definitely in his way, so when I left him he was going to apply for a job, a full-time one. But he also knows it isn't easy when you are over 65.

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