Do you have plans for one day, someday or for when you retire?
What have you always wanted to do or see? What are you waiting for?
Because here’s the thing. We don’t know our expiry date.
Most of us are aware when we get to our best before date. The aches and pains of middle and older age remind us of that. It is also something that we can do something about. But none of us know when we will die.
Save to retire or plan to pretire.
This is what we are told, almost as soon as we start work. Save for your pension we are told. Most of us spend years saving for our retirement. Working long hours, buying bigger and better, Proving we are successful, chasing promotions, and working past 60 or 65, all with the eye on the pension pot. Defining who we are by the job we do.
With dreams of what we will do when we retire. What if we lived out those dreams now, at 30 or 40 or 50? Why not pretire? Instead of buying bigger homes, newer cars, the latest phone, accepting perceived and built in obsolescence go shopping for new shoes/handbags/ gadgets, and slob on a diet of take out and Sky, use that money to pretire. Cook instead of dine out, make you existing home bigger by having less stuff, use public transport or a bike instead of a car, Borrow don’t buy, stop shopping for things you don’t need. How much would you save?
My Grandad dreamed of the cottage by the sea
My Grandad used to say when he retired he would buy a cottage by the sea. The nearest he got to this was a caravan at Uphill near Weston Super Mare.
He had worked hard all his life. He left school at 12 or 13 and worked on a farm. During the Second World War, too old to be drafted, he was a volunteer fireman. At some point he worked at ‘The Austin’ as did most people who lived in Birmingham. There were times of unemployment, I know. When I went to live with him and Nan he was a painter and decorator for ‘The Parks’.
The Austin as he called it was later known as British Leyland, one of the biggest employers in Birmingham in the 60s 70s and 80s. Renowned for its strong unions and strikes. And birthplace of the Mini.
The Parks were the Local Authority managed parks. He painted fences and greenhouses. At some point in the past he painted Lightwoods House, and rescued books that had been thrown out to be burned.
When not working he would be tending to his dahlias and veg, studying the form of the horses whilst chain smoking. He also made wine that could strip paint.
He had smoked since he was 8 years old.
The last 10 years of his life he was dependent on an oxygen machine and spent his days lying on the sofa. Removing his oxygen mask to have a cigarette.
I guess he was in his late 70’s when he died. He never left the UK. Never had a passport and had no desire to do so. In the 1940’s he would borrow a tent, find a friend with a Charabanc and pile his family into it and go camping at Highley. Today you can get to Highley in about 30 minutes or so. Back then it would have been a couple of hours away, at least. It was a big adventure. Later on, his eldest daughter organised extended family holidays, 10 to 15 of us from Granny to toddler, friends of the family and anyone who wanted to tag along would come. We would rent a house in Tenby, or 3 caravans at Brean. Days full of sun, making dens, building sandcastles, putting pennies on the railway line, flying kites Grandad had made, with Monopoly or Rummie at night.
Those were when he was at his happiest I think. He would get up early to pick the mushrooms for his breakfast. Make another kite (we seemed to break them regularly). If they crashed, he would follow the string to find them. When he was at work he was up first, making tea for everyone, leaving by 7 to get the bus in the cold and the dark and be home at around 5 for his ‘tea’. He wore Long Johns and a vest all year round, had a bath on a Sunday then put his best clothes on for Sunday Tea.
A different view from the kitchen sink
My nan, his wife, was a thrifty make do and mend house keeper. The 25 shilling leg of lamb we had every Sunday was stretched to make numerous meals. Nan only ever had a drink and a cigarette at weddings. She outlived him for another 15 years or so. One Christmas my mom surprised her with a Santa Flight. That was the first and only flight she had made. She did love her holidays but looking back, as we always self catered, she merely moved kitchens. A different view from the kitchen sink. I never heard her grumble or raise her voice. Not once. She was at her happiest with her family around her.
Her great sadness was that three of her four children died before she did. About a month before she died she had her health check and the doctor pronounced her fighting fit. We enjoyed a family lunch out to celebrate her birthday and mine, and my Silver Wedding anniversary.
A few weeks later she was gone. Determined not to see her only remaining child (who had just had a diagnosis with a respiratory illness, and like her father and sister to become dependent on an oxygen mask) die before she did. She took about three days to leave us, barely conscious yet I know she was checking off all who visited her in that time. Her daughter, my mom was by her side constantly. Once every grand child and great grandchild and great, great grandchild who possibly could get to see her had arrived, she demanded to get out of bed and sit on the chair with her family by her side.
She wasn’t going to die lying down.
My aunt said to me, the day before she died, that she wished she had spent less time taking care of others and spent more time seeing the world. She was in the ‘sandwich generation’ for most of her life. As the eldest of 4 she cared for her younger siblings when her mother was ill. She married young and had four children, ran the family business, cared for her ageing in laws, looked after all her nieces and nephews and organise the aforementioned family holidays. And looking back she wished that she had put her needs first, occasionally. She spent her last few months on a bed in her kitchen with a portapotty at her side, reliant like Grandad, on an oxygen machine.
What happens if we don’t reach retirement age – what if our expiry date was sooner than any of us anticipated? What then of the dreams of the cottage by the sea we never bought, the cruises we never went on, the climb we never made to Everest base camp or eating Pizza in Italy?
Yes you can
You can’t do that it is selfish. Does anyone ever say this to you?
You can’t go to Australia and deprive your parents of time with their grandchildren.
They can fly out and see them and there is Skype. Seriously there are people who have grandchildren in the same town and only see them at Christmas and birthdays.
You can’t sell all your stuff and live in a campervan.
You can’t throw in a good job just because you hate it.
Hating your job is a very good reason to leave it. Always.
You can’t stop watching the news.
Yes you can. You won’t change the world by watching the news. It may change your view of the world though.
You can’t start your own business.
You can, if you really want to.
You can’t take your children out of school.
Yes you can. They will learn anyway, they managed to walk and talk and eat and play, all without school. They will learn more important things out of school that they ever learn in a school.
You can’t go on holiday when your mother is ill.
She will be ill whether you are there or not. You being there won’t change that.
You can’t (insert here what you have been told you can’t do).
Yes you can. If you want to. It is your life. As long as you are not deliberately hurting people out of malice, killing or physically harming people you can do what you like. Yes you can.
What others do is lay on the shame to make you feel guilty. Judging you by their own values. Not yours. Guilt is social control. It is not love. You frighten them when you want to be different.
I was told it was selfish to go away for 5 months when my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I asked her if she wanted me to stay. She would not hear of it. She knew it was what I had wanted for so long. Mom was one of the few people who were genuinely excited about the trip. How can you leave your mom, your son? Easy I said. They will be just fine. And they were.
Note, no one said this to my husband, because apparently the welfare of elderly relatives and grown children is the responsibility of the female of the species.
Build memories today
Before our next big trip, my mother in law was very ill and we all knew it was only a matter of time before she died. No one knew when of course. He worried that it may be when we were in Australia. How would he manage, would he have to fly home? I shared these worries with the Pastor of a local church, who was also a work colleague of mine. ‘He has a brother’ he said. ‘He will be there for her. You can’t change the outcome. You could cancel and she may die or she may not. In 5 months you will be home’.
Another friend who is in her 80’s said to me ‘You can’t put your life on hold for what may be. You only have one life. Live it’. In her last few weeks we made numerous visits to ensure she got the best care. Every spare moment was spent travelling to see her. Even if she didn’t know we were there, we were.
And we knew that when she was well we had spent time with her. She had seen her grandchildren grow. We did our best. We had family holidays together. Days out, Christmas and birthdays and graduations. Family time. We did with both grandmothers. We built memories. My mom took us all backpacking around the Greek Islands in the 1980’s and on travels to Spain in the 1990’s.
Tell people your dreams
Last year the DH and I went to Sorrento. The view from our hotel room was of Vesuvius. Mr Travelling Coral said then that it was his childhood dream to see Vesuvius. I never knew that. 30 odd years married and I he had never told me that. His mom died (not unexpectedly) while we were there. He had thought of cancelling the trip as she was so ill. the nurses told him not to. It would not change the outcome. If we had he may never had seen and climbed Vesuvius. It would have been one of his ‘if only’s’. Sorrento had been on the ‘someday’ list for too long.
Some day and one day are the same as when I retire wishes.
When I retire/one day/someday I will go on a cruise/sail around the world/drive Route 66/eat pizza in Naples.
But we don’t know when our expiry date is. So do it now.
Tell other people what you have dreamed all your life of doing because that is one way to make it happen. Isolation is the dream killer. Surround yourself with people like you who will support you. And if the people around you are not like that, go find them.
And that is when the magic happens.