The Elephant in the Room

Okay, since I began blogging a few months ago, I’ve avoided one topic like the plague (excuse the comparison). But now it’s time to mention the elephant in the room. COVID19. Uh-huh. It’s hard to believe we have been living in this pandemic for two years. I remember clearly returning from vacation in Mexico at the beginning of March 2020, only to be thrown into a lockdown two weeks later. The rollercoaster ride began. Like everyone else, I was tossed around at the whim of COVID, struggling to deal with health, work, and social restrictions that seemed to change every day. And then my family got sick. A year later, just thinking about that experience still traumatizes me. But surprisingly, something good did come out of it: serious self-reflection. I had plenty of time to think, and I took a good long look at life and what I wanted from it going forward. I resigned from my job of 20+ years, and a few months later, once the COVID fog began to clear, I decided to retire. Best decision ever!

During the pandemic, more people than expected have joined the ranks of the retired. In the US, that figure is around two million. Sadly, I couldn’t find any stats about Canadians retiring, although there is a paper about alcohol consumption—hahaha, only in Canada. Many older workers are worried about their health and stranded in a work environment that is not so concerned about enforcing restrictions. Others found work too much on top of the stress and uncertainty of current times. On the other hand, here is an article that says Canadians are pushing their retirement past age 65 because of the pandemic. Perhaps their business has suffered, or they took a hit in the stock market, or they don’t have anything else to do right now because COVID has temporarily snuffed out all their retirement dreams. You know the ones; travel, visiting family, home renovations (whew, the price of wood has skyrocketed!)

Then, of course, there are those like me, who realized how precious life is and wanted a change, time to spend their days doing something that nurtures their soul.

Is this possible during a pandemic? Personally, other than not being able to travel, life has gone on for me. I am one of the fortunate ones that have not lost a loved one because of COVID. I am fortunate that my economic situation has not suffered because of COVID. I am blessed that I have been able to turn an extremely negative situation into a positive one. Sure, I am constantly on edge about myself or family members re-catching COVID and I am feeling extremely frustrated at the lack of leadership in the province in which I live, but really, retirement during the pandemic has not been that bad for me. I am happier than I have been in several years. I do know other retired folks who are not as content as I am. They have experienced isolation, depression, and a sense of hopelessness. Many would have preferred to get a part-time job rather than quit working cold turkey, but most of those jobs are in the retail or hospitality sector and involve close contact with strangers, something most of us would rather avoid right now. I’m fortunate because I have some of my family living with me, and my spouse still works. I also have my art to keep me busy, and, of course, my blog. My curious nature keeps me on the lookout for new things to try. Most of those things have been done online, so Zoom makes it even easier because you don’t have to travel and you can leave your video off if you’re having a bad hair day. I do, however, miss going out for lunch or coffee with a friend. Where I live, this simple pleasure is only available a few months of the year because our outdoor patios close for winter. But I have had some pretty good conversations while snowshoeing!

The pandemic has caused people of all ages to often feel sorry for themselves and resentful of lost time. We have all experienced cancellation after cancellation. Opportunities have come and gone. Relationships have been stretched to unimaginable proportions and, in some cases, severed. Our true colours have come out.

American writer Elizabeth Dunkel says it quite nicely: “Covid living is not for sissies. Rise to the challenge! Don’t waste a moment feeling sorry for yourself. Lower or change your expectations. (Expectations cause misery.) Live fully, day by day, in the moment.”

We need to be extremely flexible in retirement and even more so during a pandemic. Instead of lamenting what we can’t do, we should focus on what we can do. I had always planned to volunteer when I retired, and I looked forward to getting to know more about my community through social service agencies. I had to put that goal on the backburner because so many volunteer programs were put on hold. I found other things to do, made new friends and kept my soul nourished. Now, as opportunities start to open, I have joined the volunteer team at the Saskatoon Council on Aging. It is a great organization and I look forward to putting my skills to use.

Phyllis Diamond, a New York City-based retirement coach and psychotherapist, says “angry” retirees need to do something, either get a new hobby or revive an old one. “Action is the antidote for anxiety and depression,” she said. “Doing is curative.”

It’s about keeping your attitude in check. We all have bad days, but we need to see them for what they are. A bad day. Period. If you can’t get away this winter, do something else. Learn a new language. Learn to cook the cuisine of your dream destination. Include some cultural music in your playlist.

Who knows how long we will have to live with COVID? I’m sure that COVID will eventually become endemic and we will live with it the same way we live with the flu (relative to the flu of 1918, right?) and the common cold. It will happen. I heard Canadian author Richard Van Camp say something that really resonated with me. He said, “Make sure when you get back to busy, and we will get back to busy, that it’s on your terms.” 

I believe there is a tendency to rush into things without thinking them through, or at least that is something I am guilty of, but I’m afraid that when this pandemic is over, when we can rip the masks off, gather, HUG, travel, etc., we will jump in too quickly. For now, we need to be patient, careful, and respectful of each other. So, put on your mask, make sure you have your booster shot, and get out there! Do something that makes your heart sing!

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