Step up to the plate, ladies!

I am fresh back from a week long training session.  I was fortunate to tag on at the last minute and lucky enough to have a manager that is both flexible and supportive.  So off I go to a full week of women’s leadership training.  There were approximately 50 of us in attendance and we came from all over North America.  The training was local for me, so I came and went from the sessions everyday, while others stayed in the hotel.

Reflecting on my life prior to Kevin’s death, training wasn’t important to me.  I knew what my future was, it wasn’t about career, it was about retiring with him and just being and doing together-type stuff.  Take him out of the picture and things have changed dramatically.  Now I don’t know whether I will retire at my earliest possible date, I may just stay on, I just don’t know.  So when a spot came available for the training, I grabbed it.

It wasn’t a week of men-bashing, it was a week of contemplation, awareness, strategy and development.  When it began it struck me that there was a great deal of posturing in the room. That this was a collection of assertive, aggressive women.  I have worked with aggressive females before, some good experiences, some not so good.  There are those that will throw you under the bus and step on your writhing body to get ahead (but there are men like that too). Then there are those that will support you and look for ways to bring out your best.  Life is quite arbitrary in all sorts of ways, who we have to work with is usually out of our immediate control.  I think for this particular training, we all went into the week not knowing what to expect and, let’s face it, nobody wants to look or sound dumb.

We had some crazy good sessions and today, the final day, gave us a session with a financial planner extraordinaire – she was fabulous and if we could have taped the session and shared it with others I would have.  She wasn’t local though, and she will fly back some place south of the border and leave us to action what we learned.  (Max out that TFSA and get rid of that credit card debt! For us females, we may want to consider long term care insurance as we get into our mid to late 60’s.  And, so much more.)

We ended the training with a career planning discussion.  We were set up in groups of six, each group led by a senior “executive” high flyer (a female who has made it to that corner office) who talked through each of our plans, as well as having roundtable input from our peers.  It was at this point that I realized how far we had come from that first day.  The trust and honesty in the group fairly hummed around us.  If I had to use a colour to describe it, I would say it was a kind of golden yellow, the warmth of the sun at the end of the day.

I left the training feeling stronger.  Which is a relief because after the first two days all I could think was that there was too much to take in, and if I made new neural connections then I would have to keep “feeding” them, and if I didn’t keep feeding them then I would become a vacant, blathering idiot!  Anyway, I think if I did fire up some new neutrons that hopefully they came with synapses too – which would be a good thing, since I don’t want that stuff filed away in some dormant foggy area of my brain. This training really kickstarted me into thinking about my future and the degree of control I have over it. I met some remarkable people and I learned some pretty valuable stuff – not just work-related but life-related.  All in all a smashing success for me.

 

A woman of age

When did aging get associated with stupidity or loss of intellect? Here in Ontario it seems that for women who age, especially women on their own, a general assumption is made that they can no longer make decisions for themselves.  I’m not talking about women on their 50’s or 60’s, it’s more women who are in their 70’s and on up.  And it’s typically their own kids that start to treat them like they are mentally deficient.

We are in a  society where age is not valued.  For years the mandatory retirement age suggested that at 65 years of age you ceased to be a productive, valued member of society.  Mandatory retirement at 65 was lifted in Canada in 2012; however, the stigma about older employees in the workplace is still entact.  The younger generation have been raised to believe that an older employee is an impediment to progress and productivity.  That older employees are stuck in the past and offer no real value to the future – the legacy of mandatory retirement. Thankfully the mandatory age has been lifted.  It actually forced a large part of society into poverty.

Our messaging in the workplace translated to outside of the workplace, and more especially so for women.  Years of ingrained stereotyping about menopausal women and post menopausal women suggested that there was a mental instability resulting from loss of fertility, ‘mood swings’. Heck up until the 1960s in some civilized countries  menopause was still viewed as an insanity that women were afflicted with.  Perhaps this factored into the wage inequity, the belief that women were born flawed and consequently had limits to their capacity for intellectual development.  Regardless of why, the wage disparity exists, the perceptions of menopause as a physical deficiency still exist.

Put them together:  mandatory retirement (you’re old and have no value) + you are a woman 65+ (been to the crazy land of menopause and back) + as a woman you likely earned far less than a man = somebody better look after you, because you can’t do it yourself, emotionally or financially.  We are moving away from this view, but it takes time, patience and persistence in looking for the systemic imbalances related to long held notions.

Then, individually, we have a responsibility, as we age a lot is tied to the actions we ourselves take. Sure it’s easier at some point, especially when you are on your own, to say to friends or family, ‘I can’t think about it’, or ‘I don’t know what to do, tell me what to do’, or the ultimate transfer of power: ‘you decide for me’. It’s when it gets said perpetually that the dynamics can change. Much depends on how you allow your relationships to evolve. Know your motivations, if you play the ‘poor me’ then you will be treated like the ‘poor me’.  But in some instances it’s the mature children who come in and steamroller the parent into submission. There’s no choice involved. Whether it’s a lack of time, patience or concern, the child makes the decisions, the parent allows it to happen and, consequently, the parent becomes the child in all aspects of decision-making.  It’s why does the parent allow it to happen that’s important.

Is it fear of being alone?  Is it because it’s easier?  When do the dynamics in the relationship start to shift?  Is this a financially-driven decision to cede over one’s autonomy to another?  Is it because there aren’t enough supports in the community to ensure continued independence?  I have to look for studies in this regard, to see what’s out there.  But for those of us who are getting older I suggest watching this video about a man who retired to start a whole new adventure, and didn’t miss a step in his enjoyment of life.

How to do nothing

Recovery is a slow and steady thing – if you do it right.  I have no intention of doing it any other way, so slow and steady it is.  Slowing down is not a bad thing.  It has forced me to face my thoughts, not run from them.

I have studiously avoided thinking about what life will be like when I retire.  Retirement plans were happy, joyous things when Kevin was alive, and sad, depressing thoughts after he died.  I have a few years to go before I can retire, but I can’t ignore the fact that I need to be ready for it, need to plan.

Kevin never worried about his retirement, but then again Kevin never worried.  I remember early in our marriage when money was tight, he told me not to worry, he could always go busk on a corner.  God bless him, he always thought music could solve all the problems in the world.  I told him he would have to busk all night and all day to raise enough money to get us through – he was unfazed, typical Kevin.  He picked up extra gigs playing, we economized, and we got through.

That’s what he would have brought to my retirement.  That confidence that whatever happened it would be alright, we would get by.  But, he would say, you have to have something to do, you can’t retire and do nothing.  He was going to paint and try to get on at the local university to teach music.  Oh, and he wanted to travel, and to write, to grab our grandchildren and take them for the summers and show them the world.  So much to do, and in his case, no opportunity to do it.

Now there is just me looking forward –  to years filled how?  That’s what this recuperation period has forced me to think about.  To think about what it is that I like to do, that gives me purpose or gratification.  A day can stretch out endlessly if you have no way to fill it.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to retire to nothing.  There was a TED talk about this by a wiry, healthy 93 year old; it is sobering to think that retirement looms and it could last for as long 30 or 40 years.  For some anyway.  Watching that program really brought home how important it is to have a plan. My plan.

 

If Kevin Was Here

I am just dragging myself through this week.  Four years ago I had started paying into a self-funded leave so I could join Kevin for the first eight months of his retirement.  I would have started my leave on January 1, 2016, and Kevin would have retired on February 1, 2016.  I suspended my leave when Kevin got sick, and needless to state, Kevin never got to  submit his retirement notice.  So, as this week passes, I can’t help but think about how different it should be.

If Kevin was alive, right now we would be in a frenzy of activity.  His voice would be booming out, his laughter would fill the house.  He would be in fine form.  We’d be planning something for this Saturday, a final so long to his workmates.   The phone would be ringing off the hook, the food would be planned, the atmosphere would be almost manic.  The music would be all lined up for Friday; no doubt a whole series of selections including Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ and whatever other songs he thought fit the bill.

We’d be finalizing the details for our celebratory trip; he’d wanted to go to Vienna and I had wanted to do a river cruise and so we had compromised on a Viking Cruise that would satisfy both our wants. After we returned from that, a month or so later, we would be off to Newfoundland to tear down the “Shack” that we’d purchased and figure out what we would put in its place.  Plans, there were so many of them – he was always planning something.

So the days keep turning on the calendar, and the beginning of February looms large.  One more milestone to get past, one that Kevin had so desperately wanted to achieve.  His dad, Jack, had died before he made it to his retirement, Kevin had commented on that many times, determined to retire as soon as he was eligible.  Such a tragedy that he never made it to that point. All those plans and dreams unfulfilled, although, if he’d lived to be 90, he’d likely still have been making plans and dreaming dreams.  And I’d have turned off my hearing aid just so I could have a break.  How I wish.

 

Plans

I think today I finally realized what one of my biggest obstacles to moving forward is. I think it is the fact that I can’t envision my future.

Life was simple when Kevin was alive.  He was always busy making plans and I was always busy trying to make him slow down.  He’d finish one thing and be on to the next, and somehow there was always work involved for me.  It was just the way it was.  So as he neared retirement he was busy planning the next phase of his life and I knew that somehow I factored in there.  So I never thought much about what the next five or ten years would look like for me since invariably things would change based on Kevin’s interests.  I did know the general plan – that involved painting and music, opera and the symphony, children and grandchildren and, of course me and him.  Our circle was full.

My challenge now is the future.  I can’t really picture what my life will be in a year or two. Last year I could have, even two years ago I could have, but not this year.

Kevin would have retired this month and I had planned on taking a leave from work to spend with him.  He’d laughed when I told him and said something to the effect that I was determined to crowd him.  Then he went right into planning our trip to Newfoundland, right after he retired – he was so excited.  Plans, he’d had so many of them.  Actually he had all of them.

The saddest thing was when he realized that he was dying.  He stopped planning.  The light inside him dimmed and we all saw it.  The hope and optimism faded but the love stayed – right to the end.  I like to think that that love was like warm sunshine and gentle breezes guiding him on his way. I can only hope that light and love and laughter fill his present like they did his past.