Cover Story

Staying in the Game

 by Audrey T. Hingley, Contributing Writer

Thinking about saying farewell to the workforce? Here are some insights from seasoned retirees about life beyond the business world ...

Some people dream of retirement — but dreams and reality are often very different.

Your life’s work may be over, but your life isn’t. Retirement is actually a life transition, moving from one phase of life to another. What’s retirement really like? What do current retirees wish someone had told them? What about all the emphasis on retirement planning?

Experts like psychologist/author Nancy Schlossberg say the biggest mistake people make is not realizing the psychological component of retirement. Schloss­berg, who authored Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life, says work gives people identity, routine and even social life and relationships. Many feel a sense of loss after they bid adieu to colleagues. Other experts say most retirees are happy at the beginning of retirment but this initial happiness can wear off — and then what?

Vivian Chasin

Vivian Chasin, 77, lives in Albemarle County and retired nine years ago, at age 68. A former hospital psychiatric registered nurse, she remembers retiring as “very hard.” In her case, morale at her workplace had been low and she felt it was time to retire.

“It was very impulsive ... after I retired I thought, what am I going to do?” she recalls. “I had no plan for retirement.”

Chasin heard about a program at the University of Virginia that provided health information for people and she started volunteering twice weekly. Today she has a paid position with a child-assault-prevention program and is an administrative volunteer at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging in Charlottesville . She also takes a water aerobics class three times a week.

Chasin says the biggest surprise about retirement was that she missed the structure of work. She also discovered the things at home she thought she’d do in retirement don’t always get done.

“Your closets are still a mess [in retirement] and you never get to the picture albums!” she says, laughing. “I was able to spend more time with my husband, which was great. He had his stuff he did and I had mine, but it was wonderful at the end of the day to share what we did.”

Those memories are dear to Chasin, who lost her husband two years ago, bringing another life change: widowhood.

“A year before my husband died, we moved to an independent-living place. After he died, I had to get out of there, it was very depressing for me,” she explains. “I kind of went with my gut. Many people are afraid of change but I just did what I had to do. When I bought the house in a 55-plus [age] community where I now live, the broker showed it to me and I said yes in 15 minutes.”

She says retirement would likely have been easier with a plan but notes, “You can plan and plan and things just happen.”

Chasin, who has adult children in Northern Virginia, adult stepchildren in Florida and eight grandchildren, says she sees her Virginia family fairly often. She’s grateful for a large circle of supportive friends.

She joined a drama club and is in her third season of acting. She says she hasn’t done this since college. “It’s really fun. It’s a great way to meet people, express yourself and have fun.” Her most recent role was in a play based on the Golden Girls television show. She played Sophia, the Estelle Getty character in the original television show.

Dorothy Lambert

Staying active is crucial for another Albemarle retiree, Dorothy Lambert. Now 89, she retired at 62 after a professional career in Mississippi in advertising, sales promotion and tourism. In the 1970s she also hosted a local 30-minute TV show in Jackson, The Dot Lambert Show, where she interviewed celebrities like Bob Hope.

“I lost my identity because I had quite an identity in Mississippi ... my husband Bob, who was 14 years older, thought we should move here so I could be near my children in Virginia . We moved into a condo, bought a pop-up camper and traveled. We were here two years when Bob died very suddenly.”

Of widowhood after 43 years of marriage she says, “I owed it to my children that I would not be a sorrowful mother who depended on them. I’ve always been very independent. Bob had always said to me, ‘When I die I don’t want you to grieve’... I took him at his word. He died in May, and in September of that year I had a date with a gentleman friend.”

Lambert organized groups to travel to Germany in 2000 and Alaska in 2001. In 2002 she traveled to Scotland with a group from her church. She’s involved with her local AARP chapter, where she does publicity and program planning, and plays bridge weekly at a senior center.

“I’ve had my second pacemaker — wore out the first one. I broke my hip in 1999 and have several screws in my hip. I’ll keep doing things as long as my health holds out,” she explains.

She advises, “Don’t be afraid to do something. Don’t say, ‘why did this happen to me?’

“When I looked at [my husband] Bob, there were no regrets. There was nothing I wish I would have said or done. I knew he wanted me to go on with my life.”

Guy Lewis

Guy Lewis, 84 and married to wife Margaret for 62 years, retired in 1988 after a lifetime electric cooperative career. Former CEO of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and former acting CEO of Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, Lewis in 1983-’84 served as board president for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  

“It was wonderful!” Lewis recalls of his early days of retirement. “I managed to stay busy ... it’s important to stay interested in other people and things in the community and not just sit. I stayed active.”

Lewis says the most surprising part of retirement was “how quickly you are out of the scene ... when you’re out, you’re out. You think you’ll be right on top of it, but it fades away and you’re out of the loop quickly. I realized I was entering another chapter of my life.”

Lewis said he slowly evolved into retirement. After traveling the U.S. extensively during his work life, he and his wife embarked on a series of exotic trips. They have visited China , Japan , Fiji , New Zealand , Australia , Tasmania and made three trips to Alaska . The Lewises have cruised the Caribbean three times and enjoyed riverboat cruises down the Blue Danube to Budapest , a London-to-Paris river cruise, and a cruise via Norway , Denmark and Sweden to St. Petersburg , Russia .

“One of the best cruises started in Venice and went to Athens, Greece, to Turkey, Naples, Isle of Capri, Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo and ended up in Barcelona, Spain,” he recalls. Four years ago the couple sold their Bowling Green home and moved to Imperial Plaza , a retirement community in Richmond . “The house and upkeep just got to be too much and our [grown] daughter and grandchildren are here,” he explains. “We also have a son and grandchildren in Virginia Beach . We love it here ... we have everything you could possibly want. I’m president of the residents’ foundation, a board member of the Volunteers Association for the Virginia Science Museum and I volunteer one day a week at the Virginia Aviation Musuem.”

A B-24 pilot in World War II, Lewis was able to fly in a B-24 again in 2006 when a group that restores historic warbirds brought one of their planes to Richmond . The experience resulted in a local newspaper article about Lewis titled, “For A Vet, Sensation Restored.”

He advises, “If you plan to travel, do it while you’re still physically able. Be sure to look after your health and get one good physical every year. My daughter, who’s a doctor, insisted I get annual checkups when I was in my 50s, and I’ve done that ever since.”

Cecilia Epps 

Nelson County resident Cecilia Epps, 81, says retirement isn’t what it’s cracked up to be — after a 29-year career as a case manager with the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, she switched from full-time to part-time employment two years ago.

“I still work because I love what I do and I also need the money ... if I quit, the [health] insurance would be too high and I need that,” she explains. “I enjoy what I do, I like being with people and staying active. I assess people for services they may need.”

Epps was widowed in 1999 after 54 years of marriage. She lost her oldest son last year and has five living children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“Losing my husband was very tough ... I would go home after he passed on and it seemed very lonely. I was very emotional and upset in the house, but God helped me get over [his loss],” Epps says. “My job kept me motivated; while I was working I didn’t dwell on [his death].”

Epps has attended a yoga class for the past 19 years and notes, “I think my physical condition would have been much worse if I had not gotten into yoga. If you must retire, volunteer. Get into some kind of program where you’re with other people, take an exercise class or walk. I see people working much longer ... I think they are realizing going home is not the answer.”

She adds that retirement is different in rural areas like hers: “People lose the ability to drive and have to depend on someone else. We need volunteers who can just take someone to the grocery store. Other retirees need help with paperwork, since many don’t know how to use the Internet.”

Creating a fulfilling life in retirement appears to be a mix of challenging ventures, family and, sometimes, travel. Barring serious illness, many people are realizing there’s a whole new world in this latest life transition.

“I have clients who’ve retired and tell me they were wrong; they want to do something else,” Epps says. “You need someone to discuss with you why it’s important to stay active instead of sitting in a chair.”

Chasin agrees, noting, “You need to be part of a community. You must have a plan for yourself, even if it’s just a plan for the day. I have seen too many people who spend their time in the house watching TV and getting old.”

 

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