Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Two Faces of Retirement


Li, my ex-colleague, has been in retirement for the past two years. At work she was a dedicated person full of zest for her work and a pleasure to be with. Last week I paid her a visit and I was shocked at what I saw.

The lady who greeted me had dishevelled hair, wore a T-shirt that was two sizes too big and a pair of pants that had seen better days. There was no make up on her face, and there was only one word to describe her – untidy.

Could this be the same Li that I worked with two years ago, whose hair was always immaculately coiffured, with shoes and handbag to match the outfit that she wore, nails nicely manicured, and almost picture-perfect in figure?

I was saddened to see that retirement had turned her into the opposite of what she was physically and mentally. We started talking about what she did in her retirement.

She moaned and groaned about life as a retiree. Her aches and pains were endless. Basically Li was bored. She missed work, and hardly went out. Her daily activity would be to wait for the arrival of her newspapers and then over a cuppa she would read the papers and devour the news. Then she would do housework. Yes her house was meticulously clean I could see the gleam on her well-mopped floor.

Li has a pet a cat which she takes very good care of and then she tends to her garden. Her garden too is neat and nice. And therein lie her activities.

I asked her why she did not go for exercise. She told me her knees were giving her problems. What about line dancing, a hot favourite with retirees?

She tried that but found it hard to remember the steps and gave that up. She had become a couch potato and had not met any of her friends. She made no attempt to join the community centres where there were activities galore.

Li is single and she only had ties with her family. But she seldom saw them except during festive seasons as they were quite busy themselves. After tea, I left and Li made me promise her that I would drop by again.

The next day I went to visit Lian. She, Li and I used to work at the same office and we used to have great fun together chatting about fashion, going to places to eat, shopping when there were sales and going for shows. Lian too retired two years ago and was like Li , a bachelor girl.

It took me a while to contact Lian as she was too busy to meet me and when we finally met I was amazed by Lian’s looks. She looked the same as she did the day she retired, if not younger. She was in a track-suit and looked so sporty.

She said she had just come back from her thrice-a-week walk at the Lake Gardens. There were half a dozen retirees who did their walks there and sometimes they would end up having breakfast together.

She goes for line dancing twice a week and of late she has registered herself at a dancing school to learn ballroom dancing – something that she had always wanted to do – despite being single and not having a partner. Her dancing instructor has promised her that he would be her partner at the next do.

She has another set of friends among her line dancing group and they go for jam sessions in other centres. Her other activities include helping at a centre for children with disabilities, and she also has a group that she goes travelling with.

Last week I could not contact her because she had taken advantage of the cheap flights on offer and was away in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for five days. Her next trip is to Tawau with a church group.

Then with a twinkle in her eye, she told me that she has officially adopted her sister’s granddaughter as her own. Her sister died a couple of years ago. So she helps to baby sit the precocious little “granddaughter” of hers to give her niece time off to do her chores. There were photographs for me to see. She then rattled on about the antics of the little girl.

Clearly she adored the little girl and vice versa. Before long the phone rang and she told me that she had another appointment. We promised to meet up again.

And so these are the two faces of retirement – if you are about to retire the choice is yours. If you are already a retiree and not enjoying your retirement, whining about the limitations that accompany old age, then it is not too late to do something about it.

Somerset Maugham summed it up when he said: “Old age has its pleasures, which though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.”

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