Sunday, August 17, 2014

Retired


On Friday, Ron retired. Pass the sedatives. Never mind, tonight we’ll go dancing.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. I mean, he actually managed to keep working this long with the challenge of his health issues and he actually chose his retirement date and left on his own terms. We’ll be pinching our pennies, but we can make our finances work if we’re careful. He will get social security and a modest pension. Plus we (and Sudi, thank you Obama) can stay on our medical plan (we have to pay for it ourselves now, but the cost is reasonable). We are among the fortunate.

I’m thinking today about my former Berkeley neighbor Eula. In 1989, Eula was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 63 years old. She and her husband had operated a childcare center in Berkeley for about 30 years and our two older children attended. She died within a few months of being diagnosed. Yael was in kindergarten by then, but Akili still attended the childcare center fulltime. Eula was about the most exceptional preschool teacher ever and her loss was catastrophic to us families who sent our children to her center. When she died, she was two years shy of retiring after a full career. Eula’s death changed my life:  it was one of the biggest reasons I moved to rural Mendocino County. Ron and I had been talking about living in the country. I imagined it would be a great thing to do when we retired. Out of curiosity, I had started to look in the newspaper to see how much country property cost and I had started to research rural communities in northern Cali. When Eula died, I realized that it was entirely possible that I could put off living in the country until I retired and I could die before reaching retirement age. So we subscribed to Mendocino County newspapers in order to read the real estate section and we enlisted the services of an excellent realtor in Potter Valley. The rest is family history.

It’s a good thing we moved to our 40 acres at the Ranch when we did. We had a super fantastic run up there, loved every minute of it (not so much the skunks or rattlesnakes, but it was all part of the package), and raised our children in paradise. As it turned out, Ron’s health problems necessitated our move off the Ranch and into town before he reached retirement age. If we had waited to move to the country, we never would have done it. A dream up in smoke. Yes, this is a seize-the-day lesson.

How lucky we are to have any retirement income. That’s something. Not so long ago, people worked into old age, until they dropped dead in their tracks. Old folks moved in with their children or other family members if they couldn’t work anymore (still happens, of course). Otherwise, if they had no one to take them in, they pretty much curled up and died (this still happens too). The Social Security Act was signed into law by FDR on August 14, 1935. (Is that an interesting coincidence or what? Ron retired one day after the anniversary of the signing of the Act.) I looked it up. Taxes were collected to pay for social security starting in January 1937 and the first (one-time, lump-sum payments) were made that month. The first person to receive a payment was Ernest Ackerman. He received a whopping 17 cents. Seriously. Regular ongoing monthly benefits started in 1940.

I will always believe that Ron needed to retire to save his life. Taking care of his health is a fulltime job. He has put in a heroic effort to remain a productive member of his team on-the-job over the past couple of years. (For instance, it’s hard to get up for work on time in the morning and to function when you have spent two hours awake in the middle of the night trying to get your blood sugar to stabilize.) Figuring out the paperwork and how to leave gracefully, properly, and in the best possible financial situation was a whole other hurdle. I can hardly believe we arrived at Friday. Actually, I can hardly believe we are this old. How can I possibly have a retired spouse? I suppose if I try to do a jumping jack it will all become clear.

I am coping as well as can be expected. It comforts me to periodically shout at Ron (as if I have Tourette’s), “Get a job, ya bum!” Which is actually probably what he’ll do eventually. But now he has the option to work part-time or as an independent contractor doing something fun whether it pays anything much or not.

I’m not sure it will ever be financially feasible for me to retire completely. Ron is the one whose life depends on his ability to have the time to manage his health conditions so right now I’m feeling like we made it to home base “safe.” I feel grateful to FDR for setting up social security and I feel grateful to the Union (we’re stickin’ with it, alright) for securing Ron’s pension from his many years of service so that he could get out while he’s still alive. I have started the honey-do list. It’s getting long, but I know I can count on Ron to totally ignore it.

Someone took this photo with Ron's cell phone at a bar on Friday evening 
where some of his co-workers took him out for a drink to celebrate. 
I think the plan was to get him drunk, but he didn't oblige. Great folks. Lots of fun.

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