My colleague and friend the late Sandra (Sandy) Gehr told me when she retired from teaching after many years as a high school art teacher that she was NOT retiring, she was rewiring! What a unique way of looking at things! Sandy started a job at Silver Lake Mill where she did graphic design after she left the classroom. It was part of her plan! Many of us hear that we should have a plan for the future but we often put off planning for later.
Twice after my retirement from my chosen career as an educator, I found myself “rewiring,” as Sandy put it, two different times. When I retired from Shenandoah County Public Schools in 2009, I ran successfully for School Board and rewired as a board member, not an educator employed by the board. I called myself a professional volunteer, since I continued work with non-profits including the New Market Area Library, the New Market Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah County Retired Teachers Association, my church. In 2021, I retired from the school board. Rewiring again after 50 years total in the field of education, I started working with the VRTA as an officer; first as Vice President and now as President Elect. With VRTA, I now schedule and facilitate ZOOM meetings for the Executive Committee and other committees, something I didn’t envision when I retired.
Being active in the VRTA, the state level affiliate of the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA), I noticed efforts to help members at different stages in life. In response to the need for planning for the future, the American Association for Retired People (AARP) launched a personalized program ten years ago to help people as they transition into a new life stage as they get older. “Life Reimagined” includes multimedia tools, resources and programs which are available both virtually or in-person to support “anyone interested in exploring life choices large or small.” (AARP The Magazine, June/July 2013.) At the VRTA state meetings, we often had speakers from NRTA or AARP who shared how to be ready for changes at different life stages.
In early 2022, my late husband Jon and I took advantage of a program sponsored by the Virginia Retired Teachers Association (VRTA) to get estate planning documents (Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Medical Directive) prepared or updated at a discount price as a member benefit. At the time, we did not anticipate that these documents would be needed so soon. In October, 2022, Jon passed away. Thankfully, I had the documents which are so important when a spouse dies.
During the pandemic, many spoke about the “new normal.” Personally, I refused to use this terminology; I thought that we would not be returning to normal, but instead to a new reality. As I transition to life without my partner, many feelings emerge in my new reality that I had not planned for and with which I now have to deal. Some things just cannot be planned for; one has to deal with them as life happens.
Living alone is a new experience for me; for the first time in 74 years, I now live by myself. For an extrovert who gets her energy from talking and interacting with others, this transition has been difficult. Thankfully, friends and family connect with me often to see how I am doing. I realize not everyone has support when they move to a new phase of life. For the first month of living alone, I posted a daily message on Facebook starting with “Day 1 of missing Jon” with a small everyday thing that Jon did that I took for granted and missed. The idea came to me from my late friend Cindy Earhart Rinker, a professional writer who posted daily for a year on Facebook “Day # WK (Without Kenny.) The posts were meaningful. On Day 265, Cindy posted: “So, I have made it through this first horrible year. I am going to continue to write on Facebook, but I am going to retire WK. I don’t need to count the days to miss him….” I did my Facebook posts for myself, but others expressed to me that they appreciated reading them, just as Cindy’s posts had spoken to me although I had no idea that I would be going through the sadness of losing a husband myself just a year after Cindy’s last post about living without her late husband Kenny. (Sadly, Cindy died just days before my husband did.)
My advice is to plan for your future without putting it off, explore rewiring instead of retiring from life when one retires from a job, and reimagine your life with new realities when life presents challenges. Help others who are rewiring or reimagining too.