October 26, 2017

When Retirement Becomes Less Than You Dreamed


Most of my posts stress the positive nature of retirement. After all, this blog is Satisfying Retirement, not Unhappy Retirement. I am a firm believer in our ability to work toward making a bad situation better. Attitude and a willingness to change can often work wonders.

Even so, there are times when your retirement doesn't live up to your dreams or expectations. Despite your best efforts, fate has dealt you a difficult hand. Try as you might, things seem to have gone off track.

It may be a health problem that doctors can't seem to solve. Whatever you have tried doesn't seem to have worked well. Maybe your relationships have taken a turn for the worse. Sometimes being close to someone 24/7 reveals cracks in the foundation that weren't noticeable  before. 

Your dreams of travel have bumped up against the reality of your resources. A trip to the South Pacific has to be replaced by a three day trip south of your hometown. The idea of seeing the country through the windshield of an RV isn't going to happen.

The lime green refrigerator clashes with just about everything else in your kitchen. But wait, have you seen the cost of a new refrigerator? And, a kitchen remodel costs as much as your parents spent on your college education all those years ago.

This stage of life is not immune to problems, failures, disappointments, and missed goals. Humans fall short of expectations and desires on a very regular basis. Even so, sometimes we think we are the only ones who struggle with something.  I would like this post to be a chance for us to be reminded of the struggles others have had. We are not alone. 

Could you please share a time or circumstance where your retirement has been less than you dreamed it might be? It could be the whole experience has left you kind of frustrated. Your dreams remain on hold or put away for some other time.

Or, maybe just a series of small bumps in the road came at you unexpectedly. All the free time and all the ideas you have are just not coming together. You aren't sure why, but you are stuck in a place you didn't expect to find yourself.

Big or small, major or minor, it doesn't matter: whatever it is that has affected your retirement in a way you didn't expect. Would you mind sharing a bit of what has happened? Can you tell us when your retirement became less than you dreamed it might be?

Learning about someone else's struggles could be an important step for all of us to accept that we are not alone.



45 comments:

  1. As you know, my retirement began with the full custody of a teenager in high school. He graduates in June but I have to say, I wonder if I can make it that long. At almost 68 years old, I am exhausted now. It feels like a marathon where I could collapse at the end.

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    1. Yes, I know of your situation and am not sure I'd have the stamina to do what you do. We weren't built to keep pace with a tennager! I wish you the very best, and please take care of yourself so you can enjoy Arizona when you finally make it out west.

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  2. The major dream busters are health problems, financial and the death of a spouse. I have experienced becoming a widow four years ago and it changed everything. My husband was only 68 and I 66. The main change from this was I moved back to my home state. Not for family, as there is none, but the warmer weather and I did know a few people in this town. It has worked out well considering. I love my new home. Making new friends can be difficult though, but luckily my SIL lives here too.

    The concerns of aging alone and the first inklings of "oh dear, my time is getting shorter" have begun to emerge in my mind. Presently I keep busy, volunteer once a week at the hospital and I'm very social and like to go out to eat with friends and other activities, but I know this will slow down as I age more. I find I don't have the energy I use to and sometimes I just feel a sense of just going through the motions. I'm sure my experience is different than most of your commenters because I lost my husband who I did everything with. I do get lonely.

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    1. I am very sorry for your loss, Mary. Losing a spouse at any age is a terribly traumatic event, but especially when relatively young. You are describing some positive steps you have taken to help alleviate the pain and feeling of being somewhat adrift. But, the loneliness is something only time will lessen, but never eliminate.

      My very best to you, Mary.

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  3. My retirement began at 55 unexpectedly because I had a health crisis that took a year of recovery. At the initial stage I was unsure if I would ever be able to be more active than walk to the mailbox and back and had to move to the first floor of our house. Fortunately for me I recovered but it really would have changed my life and not for the better given my dreams and plans. Now I have a limitation on how much I can lift but I am learning to accommodate that. Life throws us unexpected challenges.

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    1. Life does throw us challenges. It is how we respond that determines how satisfying our retirement becomes. You came out ahead: great job, Juhli.

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  4. First of all, I LOVE LOVE your blog! You are so concise and on the nose

    And while I can't do everything you write about, I can still dream....I'm not dead yet (knock on wood)

    My retirement also began early because of health problems that still continue...(started at 61 in my case)

    My husband and I make accommodations for all of this...and do our best to enjoy what we do have.

    I think it's alot about that--accommodating and dealing with issues...if this is what we are dealt with, well, ok, we deal with it and make the best of it.

    It ain't perfect but hey....

    And then meanwhile, we each seek out what makes us happy. whether together or separately

    And yes--we also discover what makes us "different"---and deal with that too.

    And that includes with our friends--they are different from us too and it's enjoyable to discover our differences and what still links us together.

    Keep up the good work!!!!! Human nature is amazing.

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    1. Thank you for yourvery kind words about the blog.

      I think all of us end up making compromises and adjustments as we age. Our happiness depends on whether we accept or fight those changes. Of course, if I could ask God to make a change it would be that we don't fall apart as we age....we just get chronologically older until our number's up and then just hit the floor. It is the decay that is so hard to deal with in a positive way.

      I am sensing that you and hubby are facing these issues head on and staying ahead of the battle.

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  5. I'm 69. Sometimes, perhaps too frequently, I find myself thinking, "How many years do you have left?" I recognize I'm fortunate to be able to think that, because at the time of my 50th year reunion last year I found out how many of my age cohort have left the planet. I don't think I've become impulsive or obsessive about this, but I'm sure it enters my mind weekly at least. Of course, I realize that theoretically life could end at any moment. In my small town on a quiet afternoon, out of the blue, a woman was killed by a speeder zooming through our one major four way stop. So, certainly, those things happen, as well as sudden life taking events such as stroke or heart attack. Adding to these thoughts is the decision to probably age in place, which does requires a bold willingness to project oneself into the future. Lapsing into thoughts of "how many years" speculations disturbs me somewhat. I certainly don't want to lapse into a frantic "live everyday as if it were your last" approach to life. I'd like to live, however, without feeling that the grim reaper is standing at my shoulder. This impacts on my willingness to tackle long books (Gulag Archipelago which can take a year to read), elect to do major house improvements or take trips which take a huge chunk of retirement savings, i.e. should I take that trip to the Antarctic or "save" the money for when I'm 85 (ha!). Otherwise, I've struck out with some of the volunteering I initially tried, and in general I'm not taking as many of the "big" trips I'm sure I'd be enjoying. On the positive side, I really enjoy the time to appreciate what I call small pleasures--watching my birds--the other evening I watched the space station cross the sky--cooking a pot of black beans all morning and enjoying the aroma--having the time to seldom be rushed, etc.

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    1. It is interesting to see the various comments about travel, in particular, that end up on these pages. A lot of us had all sorts of travel plans for the first decade or so of retirement. Many of us have done some of that, others very little. It seems our interest in putting up with all the hassles and costs diminish over time. Certainly, long distance air travel is the stuff of nightmares as we age.

      Likewise, satisfaction in the everyday, in living fully in the moment, and not putting any unnecessary stress on ourselves increases in importance.

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  6. The "how many years left" scenario is one to give some thought and planning to I feel - and then get on with life (as things could go either way to what we expect in that matter). Personally - I'm 64 now and have been bearing the "how long left" factor in mind, I would say, since I was 60. It was at that age that I retired (as per plan) and then thought "Right - now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?". I was still in my starter house (many years after I'd expected to move on) and it wasnt that practical a house and had no garden for the gardening I'd long since decided would be one of the things I'd do on retirement. So I moved to a lot more practical house (complete with garden) - though I've had to move across country to a cheaper area to get a better house for the same sort of money. The house needed a LOT of work done on it and I took the view that, though I wouldnt get as much of my "moneys worth" for work done on it as I would have if I'd got it in my 40s (as per plan) - that 60 years old meant I would probably have enough time left to get reasonable "value for money" for doing it. I'm basically planning on being likely to live to 85 and therefore I should be getting about 20 years "worth" from this house by the time I'd finished it. The house is now finished - and I'm expecting about 21 years of "value" from it. It could be more. It could be less. But I think we can only work out the average age people in our society live to and plan on that basis. So I don't feel the Grim Reaper is standing at my shoulder - but I think I have a fairly realistic assessment of when I expect they are likely to be.

    Fingers crossed there will be no health problems as I get older - but I was quite conscious of the need to get the house finished in my 60s - just in case there is marginally less energy available for that come my 70s. On that note - guess I'd better start cooking up my super-healthy meal for dinner tonight and give some further thought to a muscle-strengthening programme.

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    1. It is something I hadn't really noticed about myself until the comments on this post, but I have yet to think of how many years I have left. 68 isn't young by any description but thinking of my demise just isn't there for me yet. Even when Betty and I talk about timing of a move to a tiered community, I don't think of that as some sort of step on the path to the end, though that's exactly what it would be.

      I don't think I am in denial. I just haven't identified an end line yet.

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    2. I have friends well into their 80's who just remodeled their entire house! They are my inspiration for living in the moment!

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  7. I come from a tiny family of origin and never had relatives. I looked forward to grandparenting with glee and two grandchildren have been available to me. However, my youngest son married a woman who simply did not want us (particularly me) in her life. From the day they married she pushed us away. My son considers it my fault. I spent an entire year crying over this. They have two beautiful daughters who I miss terribly. I'm so sick over this I can hardly stand to hear others talk of their family plans and it has made me withdraw. But I am very slowly developing a bit of a tougher skin. Except over the holidays, then it's excruciating.

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    1. That is very sad, Anne, particularly if you don't know the reason and can't try to overcome the objections. If that is the reality maybe you can use your love of young kids in some sort of volunteer involvement, all while hoping for a thaw. It sounds like you have lots of love to give to somebody.

      I wish you the best in a tough situation.

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    2. Anne, may I recommend an outstanding book for parents such as us. It's called: "Done With The Crying" by Sheri McGregor. Most libraries have the issue. Sheri is a psychiartrist and the same thing happened (estrangement) with her own son, due to marriage and in laws. Sheri also has a website where you can release your woes, seek comfort with other parents and learn how to continue living your own life.
      http://www.rejectedparents.net/
      Good luck and hugs to you!

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  8. Interesting to read all the comments and responses along with this post. I have been very lucky in retirement, very satisfied, to use your blog title. The one surprise, which I guess might be called a disappointment, is that there is still not enough time to do all the things I fantasized about doing in my retirement. That is certainly minor compared to the struggles that some folks have, so I'm not complaining. It's just a small observation that some issues from work life continue into retirement.

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    1. I have some differing responses when I read comments like these: gratitude for how my retirement has unfolded so far, wariness about what might lie ahead, and empathy for those who are facing hurdles they didn't anticipate or could do anything about.

      Knowing how much my grandkids have added to my life, I am particularly saddened by people like Anne who are being shut out of that joy.

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    2. I understand what you mean. I am deeply blessed and grateful. Some of these comments remind me not to take any of that for granted. My heart aches for those who are in pain, whether physical or emotional. As the Buddhists say, everything is impermanent. My fortunes could change in a heartbeat.

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  9. One of us is 'retired' but, as a writer and artist I feel I'll never be retired. Do I wish writing and art brought in more money? Yes. But, the saying, 'All I have is all I need,' rings true for me.
    b

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    1. Yeah, it would be fun if this blog generated more than it does. But, writers write because they have to, so like you, all I get is what I need.

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  10. Regarding the "How many years left" question... This is something that I think of from time to time though, perhaps strangely, I don't see it in a negative way. I said to my brother-in-law recently (he's 2 years younger than me) "You know, in just 16 years I'll be 80" and he was aghast that I would mention such a depressing thing. For me though I don't find that fact depressing at all and it gives me the push to get out and do things. After all I'll be 80 in 16 years and if I don't do it now I'll never do it. It also eases my mind about spending money that I've spent decades saving for retirement. I have a plan to spend it but every now and then I start to worry if I'm spending too much or doing too much and then I remind myself "In 16 years I'll be 80". It's almost motivational.

    Now, 80 isn't necessarily the end but you'd have to admit that even though you're still in the game you're in overtime and when the puck goes in the net you aren't going to be on the winning side. I don't know if I'm fatalistic or optimistic but either way it is something I think about.

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    1. Being 80 it getting pretty seriously deep into aging. My mom had bad health and made it 84 while my dad did well until his death at 91. My maternal grandmother made 92 and grandfather 89. So, I don't expect to still be blogging (!) that long, but hope to see most of another decade after 80.

      Actually, I am less than 2 years from being 70, and that seems like a watershed point. Our 60's are still somewhat late-middle age, but 70 and beyond is old!

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    2. A saying I heard once... "Old is 20 years older than you are now." Sounds about right ;-)

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  11. I have always found this blog and your take on retirement to be on target. You're honest, thoughtful and realistic. It's my go-to place when I need some advice regarding my own retirement ups and downs.
    One of my pet peeves are some other retirement blogs, that no matter how well they are written, simply reveal a multitude of untruths. You just know the writer is Bull-eSing the audience and no amount of their justifications can change my mind. I find it sad when people just can't admit: hey! things aren't working out or we really aren't as happy as we pretend to be. But, that's just me. I prefer honesty because retirement is a serious subject.
    My spouse and I have had our ups and downs, financial woes, health issues, some significant downsizing, but hey! we're still here and IMO, we're doing just fine. Is our retirement perfect? Is it what we hoped and planned for? In a way, sorta yes. We got here but don't ask us how we did it. LOL. I'm just so happy to be here.
    Again, thank you for your near-perfect blog :) I appreciate it.

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    1. ...and I very much appreciate your support and comment.

      My retirement isn't quite what I envisioned 16 years ago when I was forced to start this journey. But, when your business dies, there aren't a lot of other options at 52.

      Someone recently asked me if I would change what happened than forced me into early retirement. Back then, I would have said, Yes! Give me another 5-8 years of making money. I would not have described what my wife and and I were going through as satisfying.

      But, now, a very emphatic, No! I would not change this path. Things aren't what I planned, but the experiences and end result have been very satisfying. Like you, I am doing just fine.

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    2. May I offer to Annonymous that perhaps some of these happy retirees he/she finds annoying really are happy? Possibly because they choose to minimize their unhappiness rather than dwell on it?

      We all have cr*p in our lives, as they say, but speaking just for myself, if I'm going to dwell on anything, and even go so far as to write about it, it's not going to be about the cr*p. That would serve only to give it life, and I far prefer to exert my energies and thoughts on the things that bring me serenity, perhaps even joy.

      When I view blogs with a distinctly positive tone, I feel much better afterward, and look forward to return visits. Conversely, when I view blogs with the opposite in tone I feel pulled down, and therefore seldom return for a second dose.

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    3. Interesting point. Which made me think of the declining ratings of the TV show 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' vs the new season soaring high ratings of 'This Is Us'. The former deals with always showing a positive side. The latter shows how the Pearson family has dealt with their cr*p for generations. Apparently the audience today wants reality and solutions. Retirement is no longer the image of golf carts and yachts. It really is an American crisis. Many retirees today do not even have the minimum $260,000 saved just to cover twenty years on Medicare that starts at 65. We can all choose to concentrate on the positives but in reality, the bottom line, nobody is being fooled. Looking over the comments here on this post, I haven't come across a majority of positive tones.

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    4. Your above comment called out bloggers that appeared to present their lives in a positive light as being untruthful and BS'ing their audience. I am suggesting that perhaps these folks that you find so irritating really are telling the truth, the truth as they experience it. Who are you or I to presume otherwise?

      The tone of this particular post is definitely somber, but that is not what I was speaking to.

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  12. Retirement hasn't brought about a "less than" feeling in any area.. more like a lot of "surprises!" I cut back my real estate ventures to very part time-- had been giving it the all-out--- and maybe that is something I have to realize in retirement: I have LESS ENERGY THAN I did at age 45 or 55!! LOL!! I tend to go whole hog into ventures, hobbies,etc..and then have to pull back..but that's not new. Reading these replies,I too feel blessed to be in good health, Ken too, but I do think of the years ahead and wonder from time to time how many are left. Realzing all the time that life balance is so important.. hobbies and passions,reading,relaxaing,some travels, good meals enjoyed at home together.. all so important.. I' m reading some Buddhist material lately to help balance feelings of mortality vs living in the present moments fully.

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    1. I was wondering about how much time and energy you were putting into real estate. I know you like it and are good at it, but RE agents I have known worked 7 days a week and were always getting calls. You are a high energy lady so I figured you were making it all work!

      I vote for balance, something I didn't understand when I was younger, meaning late 50s!

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  13. Good topic, Bob! Many people planning retirement read your blog to see what constitutes a "satisfying" one. They tend to assume there's a pot of gold under that rainbow. But stuff happens. Life-changing things. In the second year of my retirement, my wife became bedridden and I am now her caretaker. Shortly after my father retired, my mother began to have mini-strokes and exhibited associated senility that progressed for five years until she died from a brain-stem stroke. Within three years of his retirement from the Merchant Marines, my father in law's wife, after an operation, became permanently paralyzed on her left side from a brain tumor extraction.

    It can be a struggle to find happiness post-retirement for such situations beyond your control. I think the key is to manage expectations and to define a satisfying retirement as one in which you appreciate just the chance to be alive. Savor what health you do have, the things that remain in your control, the beauty of nature, time with family.

    Remember the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann? I like the closing line: "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

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    1. Heavens, your first paragraph almost took my breath away. The fact that you remain as accepting and positive as you are after such a list of health problems in your family is remarkable and quite comforting. You are exhibiting the strength of the human spirit.

      I am humming Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World as I type this comment.

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    2. Nik, Your faith courage and good humor in light of challenges is a lesson to all of us to be grateful every single day. And to see the good in small things..every single day.Thanks for sharing.

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  14. I had all kinds of visions; of travel and adventures, finally having the time to invest in my health and physical fitness, taking courses from my still-working colleagues at my university. But life happens, and much has fallen by the wayside.

    I have an elderly parent to watch out for that is more time consuming than I anticipated. Other relatives that have needed my emotional and/or financial help. Friends unexpectedly dealing with grave illnesses and who need my help and friendship more than ever.

    But I have also have become more aware of time "growing short," and rather than being discouraged I have unexpectedly found increasing gratitude for the privilege of being alive and whatever time remains. My challenges have prompted me to engage in a "life review," which has in turn helped me revise and strengthen my philosophy of life--something I never imagined spending time on in my original retirement plan.

    Nik mentioning the line from Desiderata touched me. I have a large, framed copy of that poem, done in colorful calligraphy, on the wall in my bedroom. I read it each morning--my agnostic prayer, I guess. There are so many great lines in the poem, but since retirement one of them increasingly stands out:

    "Surrender, gracefully the things of youth."

    I will try.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. A very thought-provoking comment. I especially like the thought about gratitude for being alive and all that implies. Everyday we have the chance to touch another person's life in a way that passes on that gratitude, even if just with a smile or kind word. That would be an excellent goal for me to work on. Thanks, Rick.

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  15. We have three friends who are struggling with retirement (or non retirement). One is 84. She has a very limited SS because she was always a stay at home wife, but never stayed married more then 9 years. She did dabble in office work- hence any SS at all. Bleak. Her children, whom she pushed away often, supply her with Depends and extra foods in her government housing.
    Second is a couple. The hubby had an engineer great job until 15 years ago. Health issues in his late 40's. He has been working on and off since then. They have lived the in between times on his 401K. She worked as a teacher--but used every penny to put kids through college. Did not save for retirement. Not much left in their early 60's. They still believe that they can simply travel and camp for a few years after this job ends. They are willing him his job until they can collect Social Security. Four more years!
    Last is a late in life divorce. Starting over at 55 was not easy, but my friend is going the right direction. No matter what, her retirement will never be the one she planned on.
    I count all of my blessings. We both are enjoying being home within driving distance of our kids. We do have enough to remodel the bathroom, but not the kitchen. Hey, it is all good. We both have some new homesteading skills and no longer feel pressured to join in with larger society for the rat race. Wouldn't change a thing!

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    1. The comments like yours that share stories that are so far removed what I have experienced or can relate to in my circle of acquaintances are so remarkably important for me to read. This post has given me a new sensitivity, I hope, to all of us who are struggling, trying to stay afloat, or have had a very rough go of it.

      I feel so blessed, but also so motivated to do whatever I can to help others to take away even a little bit of their hurt. Powerful stuff.

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  16. My dad was doing well financially in his early fifties. He bought a business and brought in my mom (who had not worked outside the home after having kids) as a co-owner. Then they got caught in the inflationary spiral of 1981. They were over-extended and lost everything — the business, the commercial building where the business was located, the rental properties, and all that they had saved for retirement. They nearly lost the family home as well, but managed to re-mortagage it at a high rate. They were too proud to declare bankruptcy (they lived in a small town), and struggled for the next 20 years to pay off their debts.

    Needless to say, they did not have the retirement that they had imagined. My dad continued working into his 70s, and my mom got a part-time low-paying job that involved shift work. My siblings and I, in our early 20s, paid for our own post-secondary studies, and when we were able, helped our parents financially. Emotionally, my dad took it very hard, and struggled with depression for several years. Eventually, he reached acceptance and peace with himself. He refocused on interests close to home, like gardening and community service instead of on travel and buying symbols of success. He loved spending time with his grandchildren. His last ten years of life were happy ones —the happiest I remember ever seeing him. My mom, less mercurial than my dad, seems to have found happiness at every stage of life, except for a long period of grieving for my dad when he died at 78.

    I guess that what I have learned from this is that we can do our best to plan, but we can’t control everything in life. Even in difficult circumstances it is possible to find contentment and happiness.

    Jude

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    1. Your final sentence is so important for all of us to accept as true. We can't change the past and can't control the future. All we can do is focus on the present and engage in things that make us happy.

      Thanks, Jude.

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  17. My biggest disappointment in retirement has been developing severe arthritis which limits any weight bearing exercise. It’s been an enriching experience in several ways. I use to travel the world and can’t do that. So I have learned to do what you can, when you can.

    I have consciously focused on what I can do , rather than what I can’t. I socialize, seek out new friends and love to bring people together.

    I am much more open and sensitive to the disabled who are often treated as less than and I refuse to be treated as less than.

    Yes, I would rather not have this problem, but it comes with it’s own benefits.

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    1. Is that the "making lemonade out of lemons" theory? It is the best way to proceed. I salute your gumption in not surrendering to the arthritis but finding a way to work with it.

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  18. I'm 63 years old and was planning on retiring on my 65th birthday. My husband is ill with congestive heart failure and his prognosis is around 5-10 years. We don't have enough money saved or our house paid off due to his more sporadic work history (not his fault)Company sold and he was laid off. I would draw a pension and SS. When he passes I will lose his SS. (Of course) My dilemma now is, do I keep on working until my body gives out,(I have some health issues as well) or retire on course and sell our house to get the equity to live off. Then you have to find another place to live and who knows what that will cost. All of this weighs heavily on my mind but I do try to keep a good attitude about it all. Everyone has some issues to deal with.

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    1. I am sorry to learn of serious illness your husband is enduring and its likely effect on you. My mom had the same diagnosis so I know it can a difficult time for everyone.

      You should check on the rules involving survivor's Social Security benefits. As his widow you might qualify to receive his benefits when the time comes.

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