Hope and Planning

New Year's Eve 2018
“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. ”
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

As one gets older the passage of time takes on divine and mysterious properties. One day you're in your 30s shopping for ceiling fans and you're working and struggling to get somewhere in life. It's easy to lose track of time. Suddenly, shockingly, it seems like two weeks later you look in the mirror and you're 50 years old and you're a bit offended when you get offered your first senior discount. Age is sneaky. It happens when you're not looking. Your first move: deny you're old. After all, 50 is the new 30. Hey, you're only as young as you feel. Up until December 2020, I knew I was getting older but I had given the least amount of thought to retirement.

My family are all notorious early-diers. All my grandparents, except one, died before I was born. My dad died at 56 years old. My mother died at 54. For years I thought I was paying into a Social Security system that I wouldn't live to benefit from.  By contrast my wife, Charlotte, comes from a family of long-livers.  Her father regularly biked and golfed until a few months before his death at 92. His siblings lived well into their mid-to-late 90s. Charlotte's mother, despite smoking and drinking, is still around in her late 80s.  

The only retirement "plans" I ever had were that at some point, if I lived long enough, I would stop working. Date undetermined. Charlotte, who was six years younger then me and in perfect health, would continue to work for 10-20 years while I keeled over dead. Then, suddenly in August 2019 Charlotte was diagnosed with stage four Colo-rectal cancer and 15 months later she was dead. To say I was shocked is the most unforgivable understatement. 

Charlotte's death was the worse thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life. I also died a little inside. I went a little insane. Charlotte and I were together for 30 years and we had the happiest marriage. In those last 15 months we were especially close which made her loss seem unnecessarily cruel. The first couple of months after that tragedy I walked around in a fog filled with grief and depression. My journey through hell deserves it's own essay but that story will be told another time. Two important concepts that got me through my months of hell after her death was hope and planning for the future.

Having hope for the future was the only thing that got Charlotte and I through the months of chemotherapy and her other agonizing cancer treatments. If you don't have hope, you've got nothing. If you can think about and visualize where you want to be and how you might get there you have hope. Now I'm on my own again. Alone. Her death forced me to confront my own mortality. It's apparent I need to make and execute a plan for today, for retirement, and beyond.  

NEXT POST: Coming soon - Wanting Something Is Easy