Sixty years ago next week my mother pulled me up on her lap and told me it was my fifth birthday. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, excepting she also told me I was going to school the next fall. It was in Miss Nash’s kindergarten class where I met the girl who became my best friend throughout our school years.

Denise was petite with very, very long blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, with my tall, gangly frame and short blonde hair she looked like a beautiful doll. She took dance lessons like ballet and Hawaiian while I loathed any kind of formal physical activity including sports. But, we had a lot in common. In second grade our mothers became the Girl Scout leaders for our troop, Denise’s mother as leader and mine as her assistant. We both attended Wall Methodist Church where we went to Sunday School and later the Methodist Youth Foundation. And, of course, we were in the same schools and often the same classes.

Like many best friends forever during their school years, we lost track of each other after high school. It was mainly my doing. I moved away to a different state. I attended one high school reunion when I was twenty-three. Then, I fell off the radar as marriage, children and career took precedence along with moves to still more states. As I later learned, at subsequent reunions I was listed as ‘missing’. Denise thought I had died!

A couple of years ago, as I began taking writing courses, specifically memoir writing, I began thinking of my school years and my best friend forever along with other classmates. Where were they? What were their lives like? Who did they become?

The internet is a great invention. What was, in the past, near impossible to put together without a lot of phone calls and letter writing, takes only a few clicks on Facebook in the twenty-first century.  I found quite a few people, but not Denise. One of the difficult parts about finding women friends is they get married, change their last name and some, like me, do not hyphenate or use their maiden name. Even after another former classmate gave me Denise’s married name, I still couldn’t locate her.

But, Facebook did not let me down. One evening as I read a post by a former classmate, I scrolled through the comments. There at the end was a familiar last name attached to a remark. It wasn’t Denise, but her brother Mike. I messaged him immediately. And that is how I recently received a message from Denise saying, “It’s denise ur bff someone’s birthday is coming up”.

Sixty years ago sitting on my mother’s lap I hadn’t met Denise yet, the internet was not even anyone’s dream, computers were gargantuan machines taking up large amounts of building space. Yet, despite all the miles and life events in-between, Denise and I still have warm feelings for each other fueled by our memories of common childhood experiences. There are some things that never change, especially best friends forever.

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.


Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

Happy Holidays

This post originally appeared on November 22, 2015.

This is not the type of article I usually write. For some, it may be a little controversial. That’s O.K. – this is just my thought and perspective – comments from my readers are always welcome. I find as I age, I am less interested in ideology and more interested in spirituality. I feel a shift in my world view.

Globally, we are facing humanitarian crisis after crisis of gargantuan proportions. Yet, once again, it has started — the continued arguments over the term ‘Happy Holidays’. The articles, news comments, Facebook posts and even political candidates weighing in on what for some is apparently a controversy invoking the idea of a ‘war on Christmas’. Last year I had someone say to me, “I hate Happy Holidays!” As a Christian, I asked myself, “How is it someone is using the word hate in this season of peace, love and joy?”

So, I decided this year to weigh in myself in an attempt to give a different perspective in order to quell what seems to me a silly thing for concern, considering how the world is currently ripping apart at the seams, filled with war, terrorism, hunger, homelessness and on and on and on. In this season of giving thanks, this season of peace, this season of love, I offer this.

The use of the term Happy Holidays is not a recent occurrence. As a child in the 1950s and 60s, I remember my Mother often used the greeting Happy Holidays. My Mother sometimes worked at one of the local stores during the Holiday Season, which in the United States, started around Thanksgiving. In those days, we were a country primarily of Christians, most notably of Protestant faiths. I remember my parents talking about how it was a big step for many when Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected President of the United States.

If, like my Mother, you worked at a store starting around Thanksgiving, can you imagine the clerks saying, “Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” before handing you your package and receipt? Instead, they said, “Happy Holidays.”

From my point of view, and I was a child at the time so I could be totally off kilter on this one, but it seems to me Happy Holidays was a wish of inclusion. Heck, when I was a kid, Andy Williams sang a popular song, Happy Holiday, which was originally sung by Bing Crosby in 1942 and written by Irving Berlin in 1941. To me, it is still a Christmas song I listen to at Christmas. But, it could be a song for any of the other celebrations during the Holiday Season, as well. So, Happy Holidays was used way before I was born! Yet, some people take offense at its use like it’s a recent occurrence designed to be a ‘war on Christmas’.

I don’t remember any controversy over the use of the term Happy Holidays when I was a child. So, why in recent decades has it become such an issue for some people? Perhaps it is because in the 1950s and 1960s, Christians were pretty much in the majority, at least in the United States. Well, folks, a 2016 poll by ABC news found that 83% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. But, these days, we live in a much more pluralistic nation and for that matter, the entire world is more diverse. Today, a store clerk would have to add Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Winter Solstice and, a new one I recently heard, Happy HumanLight. If we are a diverse people, a welcoming people, a people wanting to include rather than exclude, than Happy Holidays recognizes our diversity, it welcomes someone regardless of their faith or even if they don’t have one. It includes everyone.

If I know someone is a Christian, I say, “Merry Christmas.” If I know someone is Jewish, I say, “Happy Hanukkah.” And, so on. To me, that is just common courtesy. As a Christian, I am not offended if someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. It is all inclusive, welcoming and courteous. I recognize the person most likely has no idea what my affiliation is, but is still showing me common courtesy with a wish for a Happy Holiday. It’s about acceptance of differences and not making this all about me and my faith.

This season is not about us individually. It is not about self-righteous indignation. It is not about hate. It is not about creating still more us vs. them situations. It is not about red cups or whether a retailer or someone on the streets says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We certainly have larger worries as a world. We are all connected as a world. When one suffers, we all suffer. And there is already way too much suffering.

In this season of love, peace and joy, let us put our small differences aside and accept each other regardless of faith or any other differences for that matter. Let us give thanks for our diversity and that we have the ability to make the world a better place. Let us truly make this a season of love, peace and joy.

I leave you with the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

To all my readers, wherever you are in the world, whatever your circumstance, whatever your faith – Happy Holidays



My first lesson in rumors and gossip was in Miss Niles’ first grade class. A young woman with dark curly hair and a kind smile, she had all of her students line their little wooden chairs up across the front of the room and sit in them. Then she whispered something into the ear of our classmate in the first chair. I was somewhere near the end of the line and by the time I heard the whispering in my ear and passed it on to the next child, the saying was no where near what Miss Niles originally whispered. We were, of course, playing the game of ‘Telephone’.

Rumors and gossip, however, are no game. Quite often they hurt, especially if the rumors are so far from the truth as to be malicious. Every time I hear a bit of gossip that doesn’t make sense, I think of the game in Miss Niles’ first grade. We don’t always intend to pass on hurtful gossip, but each time a rumor is repeated, it seems to grow or the story changes ever so slightly, so that by the time it reaches the last person, it is no where near what it was at the start.

Why do people spread rumors? When I worked, I found the gossips to be envious or jealous of someone’s prowess in the workplace. Conversely, other workers might make fun of a co-worker’s mishap. Talking negatively about a fellow employee made the gossip feel superior, if only for a moment. Then I retired thinking all of the negative rumors were left behind along with the water cooler.

Gossip, however, apparently doesn’t retire. Just this week in a casual conversation with someone I didn’t know, we started exchanging our thoughts on writing classes. Before I knew it I was being warned off from a teacher I hadn’t heard of before. Along with some other tidbits “he’ll rip your work apart” rung in my ears. I found myself responding about how I liked critiques, but maybe I wouldn’t take that teacher’s class.

Later when I looked up the class and read the teacher’s bio, I shooed away the seeds of doubt. Honest critiques make me a better writer. Maybe the person warning me off was overly sensitive. They probably meant well, but the bad feeling lingered both about them and the teacher.

In retirement we have better things to do with our time than gossip. We have other subjects to talk about like our retirement adventures. We know who we are and what we are about. We don’t need to put someone else down in order to feel good about ourselves. We have arrived at a stage of life where we don’t want to be the victim or victimize someone else.

If you have been a victim of gossip, you know it can be hurtful, perhaps even ruining your reputation with exaggerations or worse yet, downright lies. Even innuendo can leave its mark. If someone is doing that to you, you can try talking to them about their unacceptable behavior or you can stop contact with them altogether. We have a choice. This isn’t like the workplace where we had to go to the office every day and wend our way through the trail of rumors. Now, we don’t necessarily have to continue the relationship.

If you have promoted gossip, retirement is the time to turn your energies to something more productive. You also have a choice. People who spread rumors often see themselves as victims, blaming others for their life circumstance. It is when we choose to stop being a victim that we no longer have to victimize others by gossiping about them.

In retirement we don’t need to devalue someone else in order to feel important. We are more than that. We have arrived. And we choose a life of positivity rather than negativity.

Caregiving Revisited

Thank you to everyone who wrote comments about last week’s post ‘Are You A Caregiver?’ The people who commented provide insight for the rest of us. This is so important because many of us will become caregivers at one time or another. All of the comments came from women, not unusual since the majority of caregivers are women, a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or friend.

It appears the caregivers are taking on this task out of love and friendship, whether you are tending to a spouse, parent, grandchildren or a friend. Our human connection is the impetus for our caring for others. For those of us who are married, we apparently take the vow of “in sickness and in health” seriously. We love our spouses, our children and grandchildren and even our friends. We honor the relationships by continuing to care for them in a time of need.

Most caregivers are engaging in some type of self-care to give themselves a break. Reading for relaxation, tai chi, yoga, painting, a long lunch with a spouse and writing all made the list. According to my research on several sites, breaks are very important for fending off stress. Other recommendations for breaks are taking a twenty minute walk, meditation or talking to a friend.

I personally find art to be very calming. Drawing in particular puts me in what I call ‘the zone’ where I am so focused on what I’m doing, all other thoughts are zoned out. It is meditative.

Carole, who commented about caring for her spouse with cognitive decline, also writes a blog. Carole and I have something in common — we both find writing about our experiences to be therapeutic. You don’t have to start a blog and put it out there for the world, but writing about your thoughts, feelings and daily life as a caregiver may ease your situation. A simple journal will do. I invite you to visit Carole’s site at:

While you are supporting someone else, it’s important for caregivers to develop their support system. Friends and other family members can become your first line of defense against stress. It’s important to ask for and accept help if you need it. Many of us don’t feel like we should ask for help.  We tell ourselves we can do it all. We can’t.

Donna’s comment reminded me of an article I read many years ago about baby boomers being the sandwich generation. The writer was using the analogy of a sandwich because many of my generation were still caring for children at home as well as aging parents. Donna pointed out the situation today where we may be caring for both grandchildren and aging parents. Now that our kids are adults, many of us are pitching in to care for their kids.

Like caregiving itself, comments ran the gamut of some assistance, such as going along on doctor’s appointments to occasional babysitting to full-time assistance handling every household chore as well as caring for loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic it is the people committed to high hours of care who are in most danger of feeling stress and strain with this role. Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

1. Accept help and focus on what you are able to provide.

2. Set realistic goals and learn to say no to things which add strain, such as hosting holiday meals.

3. Get connected with community organizations supporting caregivers and stay connected with family and friends.

4. Take care of your own health including regular checkups and discuss your situation with your doctor.

I thank everyone who contributed to this post with their comments and insights. Please take a minute to read their comments and look at Carole’s blog.  Not everyone retired expecting to be in the role of caregiver.  Life sometimes spins us a curve ball.  We are all on a different journey but their journey may become our journey one day.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.

Finding The Present

Three days after returning home my brain is still fuzzy. Jet lagged. My circadian rhythm not quite normal following my trip to Seattle. Even in my youth I did not travel well. At this age it is even worse. With all that, if I could afford to buy a place on Vashon Island for the summer and live in my South Carolina home in the winter, I would do it. Oh, I wouldn’t want to live in Seattle, but the island where my host lives is a different story.

My view from Vashon Island

My view from Vashon Island

Vashon hasn’t changed much from when I lived in Seattle thirty years ago. Still a tiny farm community sitting in Puget Sound, the only way to get there is by sea. The ferry takes a scant twenty minutes, transporting me from the busy, noisy area of West Seattle to the quiet hills and beaches of Vashon where eagles soar, osprey hunt, otters and seal frolic in the cold water and with luck, a few Dungeness crabs can be caught for dinner.

As I wrote in an earlier post I returned to Seattle to reconnect with my past self. Searching for my authentic self under the layers of identities assumed during a lifetime, I sought the emotional remembrance of who I was then. That person is gone, however, never to be retrieved, only remembered and celebrated with longtime friends. While our lives intertwined for a moment, and in many ways we remain the same, all of us have grown and changed. We enjoy a camaraderie built on shared memories.

I flew into SeaTac with the idea of visiting my former home, old workplace and other familiar haunts. My friend’s spouse picked me up at the frenetic airport. Driving through the streets of West Seattle to the ferry, we chatted about my flight and visit. Then, we slipped onto the ferry. By the time we disembarked onto Vashon Island, I knew I didn’t want to see any of the past places, only the people.

The entrance to Pike Place Market

The entrance to Pike Place Market

Idyllic Vashon reminds me of where I live now, a country life by choice. It also speaks to me of who I am now, my authentic self, with longtime friends enriching my life. And, hopefully, I enrich theirs. Our youthful shared experiences brought us together. It is the glue that holds us in sync, in time.

My host and I drove into Seattle just once. After all, I did have to see the teeming Pike Place Market. There at Cutters restaurant we met with other friends.  We talked about the past and the present and the future.  We caught up on our lives — work, spouses, children, dreams.  We clinked glasses in a ‘Salute’.  And I know now, it is they, not the place, holding the emotional sway.

In the end, the person I found on this excursion is my present self, the only self that matters now.

Reconnecting With My Past

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Next week I fly to Seattle to visit a longtime friend. I’m looking forward to seeing both her and the Emerald City. Surrounded by two mountain ranges and boasting thousands of acres of parks within the city, it is truly the gem of the West. This is also a chance for me to reconnect with my past. I’m not talking about glory days or living in the past. I’m talking about a short visit to a place where I have emotional attachment.

I lived in Seattle for six years in the late eighties, leaving the city, my job and dragging my family back to our previous home because living in the West never felt right to me or to Martin. At the time, several people told me, “You can’t go back. It won’t be the way you remembered it.”

But, something was missing. Seattle never felt like “home”. Part of it was geographical. Having grown up on the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my inner compass felt out of sync watching the sun set beyond Puget Sound to the west. And, nine months of cloud cover with the Emerald City shrouded in a wet mist, the only glimpse of the sun as it set over the Olympic Mountains, was beyond my mental fortitude. While on one hand, I loved the rhythm of the city, I also eschewed the long commute, heavy traffic and constant noise. Moving closer to my roots would also put extended family into closer proximity.

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

So, we pulled up our stakes and left. No, as people told us, it wasn’t the way we remembered it. It was different. We grew and prospered and grew some more. We also moved again to South Carolina. We created the life we craved. No place I have ever lived, including my New Jersey cradle, has felt more like home than the South. When we left Seattle, we weren’t going back to reclaim the past; we were going back to claim a different future.

My trip to Seattle is purposed with a visit to reconnect with my friend and hopefully some others as well as to remember and honor my life there. Not only is my past in Seattle part of my personal identity, it was central to my learning what was important to me in life.

In retirement, after years of following the corporate money trail, people sometimes return to the place where they grew up. I know several who returned to South Carolina after years of living someplace else and many who left this locale to return to their roots. The emotional pull of a childhood home is powerful. The smells, the sights, the sounds, old friends and family are not just remnants of the past. They are the very fabric from which we are made. I feel the same way about my life in Seattle. It was an important part of my life’s journey thus far.

When we return to a past home, we don’t just revisit the past. We reconnect emotionally with a part of our identity, which lies at the core of our authenticity. Based upon what I know about my own struggles with creating a retirement identity, reviving your youthful selfhood with all its trappings may help with the transition. I’m not recommending that everyone move back to their childhood home or any home they loved in the past. For some, like myself, it’s not a practical or desired option. But, a visit, whether real or imagined, may prove helpful.

I visited my childhood home in 2008 when my mother passed away. Her memorial service was held in New Jersey providing the perfect time to reflect on both her life and mine. My childhood home was much the same as I remembered. There was yet another addition. The hedge my father faithfully clipped was gone. Yet, it looked much the same. My hometown was burgeoning, empty fields now held other homes, the highway filled with businesses. It was the type of busy, bustling place I steered clear of as a choice for my home.

While I wouldn’t go back, the visit reminded me of who I am at my core. The schools I attended, the beaches and boardwalk where I whiled away summer hours, worked my first job and dreamed of who I would become. The places I played with friends, the streets I walked selling Girl Scout cookies. Wreck Pond where I learned to ice skate. The smell of salt air and sea gulls gliding above the washed sand looking for a tasty snack. And, of course, the sun rising over the Atlantic.

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

My visit to Seattle may well accomplish the same thing. While I loved the city and look forward to my visit, I am also reminded of why I left. I am reminded of my present identity, created by me for me, fashioned to replace my work identity left behind when I retired. Yet, this identity is more authentic than any I have ever claimed. It is not only a reflection of my past, but my hope for the future as I live in the present. I am going back to Seattle, not to reconnect with the past, but to reconnect with myself. And I will.

Joined At The Hip

When Martin and I are asked what we do in retirement, I sometimes see surprised looks and hear surprised comments as the listeners come to understand we are not doing everything together. Never a couple to be joined at the hip, we always had separate careers, hobbies and interests. We even had, and still have, a few individual friends as well as couples we engaged with as a couple. After decades of leading a combination of diverse yet integrated lives, it is anyone’s guess why we would suddenly fuse ourselves together in such a way in retirement as to sacrifice our separate interests and hobbies. In fact, I believe couples who maintain their individuality have a stronger, more giving relationship.

When I was young, I dated a guy for about five minutes who, if I disagreed with him, would say, “Don’t hassle me.” It was the sixties way of saying, “Just be quiet and do what I want.” I can’t imagine what my life would have been like for the last several decades, subverting my wants and needs to someone who didn’t care enough about me to listen to my opinion. I dumped that guy then because I wanted an authentic relationship. And, that’s what I want now.

Together not joined at the hip

Together not joined at the hip

While Martin and I have plenty we do together, like cooking, hiking and working on our property, we have many individual interests neither of us intend to abandon in retirement. For example, Martin loves bicycling. It is a central activity for him. As for me, I would be miserable riding a bicycle out on the road for 20, 28 or 35 miles at a clip. Looking over my shoulder at every car sharing my lane is not my idea of a good time. Even though I worry about him being on the open road, I would never ask him to give up something he loves doing so much just to make me happy, anymore than he would insist I join him.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden

Conversely, he helps me with the heavy lifting in the garden, but the majority of the work is done by me. While we both work on the care and maintenance of our six acres, I’m the one elbow deep in garden design, planting, deadheading and pruning. Gardening is my passion, not his.

We also go to OLLI at Furman University together but after two years there, we have yet to take a class together. We have totally different interests. Although we are both artists, he does acrylics while I do pen and ink or pencil or watercolor. I also take writing classes while he takes wood carving. As we prepare dinner together each evening we have plenty to share and discuss about our day. Our differences keep our relationship interesting, exciting and growing.

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Over the years I’ve heard many people lament, sometimes resentfully, how they don’t engage in an activity or watch certain movies or eat this or that because a spouse or significant other doesn’t like it. In retirement I’ve heard the complaints more often. When one person subjugates a natural part of themselves for the other, resentment builds. The person feels deprived. Observing and listening, I have found that in retirement some couples think they will return to the bliss of the dating days when they couldn’t get enough of each other and did everything together. After years and years of going your separate way every day or at least every week day, it is unrealistic to think you will return to an earlier time and feeling. For starters, thanks to time and experience, you are entirely different people today.

We live in a society, which promotes coupledom to the extreme. Many will remember the Jerry Maguire scene where Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger, “You…you complete me.” We receive messages from all points that we are only half a person. It is common to hear people refer to their spouse or life partner as “my better half”. We romanticize togetherness and the idea of finding our other half to the detriment of our very identity as human beings. We are whole to begin with. Having someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us does not make them our other half. It makes them someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us.

Why should any of us, male or female, relinquish a part of our core being for the sake of togetherness? Though the idea of bicycling doesn’t appeal to me, I like the idea that Martin has a hobby he enjoys so thoroughly he’s been doing it for decades. I love that part of him and am there to cheer him on during time trials as well as go pick him up when his bike breaks down twenty miles from home. To me, that is a real show of love. And that is what creates a strong relationship. We are joined, not joined at the hip.