Thursday, February 28, 2013

Way to go! Pope

If anyone is setting an example of how to retire and still feel good about himself,  it's Pope Benedict XVI.
Unlike most of us leaving a job --  who feel we have lost our identity along with our ID badge  -- the Pope gets to keep a lot of the trappings of his office.
Way to go!
He's still got a big title -- indeed, a unique one -- "emeritus pope." He'll still be called "Your Holiness." He still gets to wear the papal white cassock instead of reverting to a cleric's basic black.
And, get this, he gets to keep his secretary,  Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, even though he has to share him with the new pope. Not to mention digs in the Vatican, with, as one journalist put it "a lovely view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica."
Is that continuity or what?
Leaving a job at a high point is also critical to how you feel about yourself afterward, and Pope Benedict did it in style  yesterday, cheered on by about 150,000 people crying,  "Grazie," thank you.
Imagine anyone thanking you for all your years of hard work as you walk out the door.
I tried to make my own exit smoother by taking a buyout, rather than hanging around waiting for a possible cudgel to fall. (Thank you, friends, who urged me to do it that way!) And I get to still  see my colleagues because I keep on going to a yoga class held at the office. Though I usually just slip in and out, it's nice to feel a connection to my three-decade career.
Still, the Pope has work to do. As Marjory Zoet Bankson says in her uplifting book, Creative Aging:
"The search for identity is not limited to young adulthood. Each time we make a major shift, we revisit these early identity questions. Now, as we age, many of us are living beyond the definition of a career. Our new questions are: 'Who am I without a title, a parking space, a regular paycheck? Who am I now that my wife is disappearing into the fog of dementia? Now that my body is changing? Now that my partner has died?"  Leaving a job, the "task of release," she says, "involves making peace with what has or has not been accomplished. We need to acknowledge that the time and opportunity for making a difference in the world through our work will never be repeated in exactly the same way."

How about you? What was your exit like? How did it make you feel? What's your identity now? Want to vent? or share?  Email me at to share your story.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

C. Everett Koop: Little Known Stories

Dr. C. Everett Koop and wife, Cora, at he Painted Bride
It was a play, based on himself.  And so former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop --not short on ego --- traveled from Hanover, N.H. to Philadelphia last winter  at age 95 for a reading of it. It's an evening I've been thinking about since I heard of his death today.
For the several dozen people who gathered to hear the play -- about the extraordinary surgery he attempted in 1977 to separate twins conjoined at the heart and chest -- it was an intimate gathering.
Afterwards, he and my husband, who was training at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia when Koop was chief of surgery, shared some war stories.
Koop confirmed that he always kept his right  index fingernail long to use as a tool in surgery for pyloric stenosis -- it was blunter than a scalpel and it allowed him to feel what he was doing, he explained.
Koop also talked about a memorable night when he was laid up at home with the flu and the phone rang. A pediatrician at the hospital told him that one of his patients needed an appendectomy and the grandfather was insisting that only Koop could operate. "I can't operate," Koop said. 'I've got a 102 fever."
"You have to come," the pediatrician said. It was an offer that Koop decided he could not refuse: the grandfather was a top ranking wise guy -- a big shot in the Philadelphia mob.
So Koop dragged himself out of bed. showed up at the hospital, introduced himself to the family, and then went to take a nap while someone else operated.
You can read more about the play and its ethical controversies by Donald C. Drake and my original blog about his visit to Philadelphia last year.

Friday, February 22, 2013

UnRetiring -- Check Out the Numbers

Work: Until death do us part?
For the record, how many people age 65 and over are -- officially --  working?  And why are they doing so?
 New data for 2012 from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,  shows that 30 percent of those 65 to 69 are employed and another 7 percent consider themselves still in the labor force and unemployed.  When you parse those numbers by sex and race, it turns out that Asian men are the longest working -- 36 percent of those 65-69 still bring home a paycheck.
Many folks even older are only slowing down a little. Take a look at those 70 to 74: for that group, 18 percent are working and another 6 percent are job hunting.
Why are they working?
Check out National Public Radio, which is reporting on these diehards in their ongoing series, "working late".

Clearly, some of those counted by the BLS have never left their careers or longtime jobs. But others are "working in retirement," a phrase you might consider an oxymoron. The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce quantified the reasons why"working retirees" still work. The study looked at people 50 and over and apparently allowed them to cite multiple reasons. It's likely that even a larger percentage are now working for the money since this 2008 (pre-recession) study.

Reasons for Working among Workers 50+ -- Working Retirees
I want to keep earning money to retire more comfortably.                 53%
I would be bored not working.                                                             31%
I keep working because income from other sources is not enough. 18%
I want to feel productive, useful, helpful.                                             18%
I have a job that is fun, enjoyable.                                                      15%
I want to interact with people.                                                             13%
I want to stay physically/mentally active.                                           12%
I need health insurance.                                                                       6%
I am pursuing my dream: I have a job doing what I want to.               6%
I want to learn new things.                                                                   2%
Other                                                                                                    9%
Source: National Study of the Changing Workforce, 2008

In my own reporting, I've found a lot of people who say they're working even if the federal government isn't counting them. They're working but not for pay. Some just can't break old habits and slow down.  Take Flora Wolf,  who, a year and a half after leaving Common Pleas Court,  can't shed her work ethic.
Says Judge Wolf, "I still can't read a book in daylight."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Laughter a Year Later

How Nancy and Hal celebrated in Naples, Fl.
On Valentine's Day a year ago, I brought you a love story-- a tale that has become the most often-clicked story on my blog.  Hal Kessler and Nancy Florin met in high school. He was a young, enthusiastic history teacher. She was one of his admiring students. One reason, probably, was his hysterical sense of humor. But Nancy and Hal didn't become an item for another 48 years. And, guess what? Some relationships are meant to last.
"We are still together," Hal told me yesterday. "We celebrated my eightieth birthday last October. Nancy and I spent 5 wonderful days in Naples. Thursday we will have dinner at Capital Grill (NJ) to celebrate Valentine's Day. 
"Early in March, we are going to Clearwater to watch the Phillies. I wanted to be the the backup for
Jimmy Rollins, but management could not afford the insurance. The front office kept mumbling
about Octoman's (my alias) fielding ability."

Nancy sent along the photo above, taken in Naples, Fl., "to celebrate Hal's BIG birthday.  It's sunset taken from the Gumbo Limba restaurant at the Ritz Carlton through my cosmo!  Only the best for my teacher and 'babe.'"

Hal and Nancy -- the celebration continues

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Pope's Gutsy Choice: Would You Do the Same?

Pope Benedict XVI: Time to say "Vale!"
The Pope has given us pause. When is it time to step out of a job? Why did he decide to toss his lifetime gig? Illness is cited as a reason. Also, and perhaps more importantly to him: the inability to meet his own high standards. Pope Benedict XVI is leaving before the world realizes it's time for him to quit, before he disappoints himself or is an embarrassment to the Church.

Even those still functioning at peak performance struggle with the decision to pack in a career. Also, the timing and manner of that departure are critical to how they feel about themselves afterwards, not to mention their transition to something else.  

Here are some previous posts on the question of when to leave a job and the emotions surrounding it:
On leaving at the top of your game: Elaine Woo
On leaving when you don't want to: Sofia Escobar
On the difficulty of taking a buyout: a blog about my own decision
And here's a study of contrasting decisions (or lack thereof) and their life-and-death consequences : Happy Fernandez and Ariel Sharon, in The Forward

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Monday, February 11, 2013

On Being a Daughter's Temporary Glue

Tiring, trying, a bit terrifying (read on) – also terrific.
That has been my week as the Grandma-on-Duty-with-two-year-old as daughter has her second child.
Speaking of UnRetiring, this may be the most challenging time I’ve had since leaving my job. (Maybe more so. At work, at least I could sit.) Call it Grandmalympics.
Among the tests of brain and brawn: figuring out how to wheel a large-ish stroller three blocks to Washington, D.C.’s red line (after remembering to bring Big Bird, the old Iphone with games on it, the hat and mango chips),  then two elevators, the metro, another elevator, another metro, two more elevators. Whew, 30 minutes later I’m wheeling him through the maze-like Ronald Reagan building, searching for the daycare center near daughter's office where she won't be for awhile. (I'd found it the day before -- where did it go today?) Finally find daycare and fish through my purse for the code to open the door and sign in the lad, (oops, I never signed him out the day before), and place him in the loving hands of his daycare moms.
Then return home via supermarket to buy newborn diapers, lunch, and the makings of dinners to stock their freezer. Oops, went to Giant instead of Whole Foods for those diapers – they need to be organic or recyclable or something. Good thing I kept the receipt. Back to the Giant to return it and to Whole Foods to buy the right thing!
Cooking, cooking, cooking.
Laundry, laundry, laundry.
Pick up at day care (half hour each way on metro); lad is not happy to see me. He approaches me, head down, like a prisoner returning to his cell. Good thing I brought a cookie.
New baby only home one day when medical problem emerges and we’re all racing to the ER. She lands in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. All of the above continues –now with visits to the hospital -- and then it’s Saturday. No daycare. It’s me, alone. Off to a toddler Shabbat service (he lasts through about half before remembering that it’s me -- not his daddy – who is with him). Then the communal lunch. I give him a bagel slathered with cream cheese and help myself to hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and other great looking stuff.
Oh no! Screaming, screaming.
Whazza matter?
Oh, he wants my plate. He sits there licking the cream cheese off the bagel, guarding the plate he’s commandeered. I sit there, hungry. Fortunately, some other grandparents take pity and get me food.
Back home, it's nap time. We both climb onto his bed where he reads me Goodnight Gorilla while I close my eyes. After 40 minutes he nods off…. And here I am. Waiting for mom and dad, with baby, to walk in the door and so grateful my daughter and son-in-law trust me to be their temporary glue.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Insisting on the Final Word

Happy Fernandez, a joie de vivre
She had polio at age 10 and fought back to become a competitive tennis player. Seeing her on the court, even at age 73, was like watching a performance of balance and grace, her friends said. Then there was her mind – sharp, engaged.
And if anyone had a question about her stubborn determination, it was answered by her extraordinary living will.
When Happy Fernandez suffered a massive stroke recently, her family knew exactly what they had to do. She left no possibility that she might continue living if it were not in the fullest possible way. Plus, she didn’t want to be the recipient of extensive – and futile – medical care.

Have you written your living will? Would you make such a choice?    
With her family’s permission, here are excerpts from Happy’s living will, written several years before her death last month (the bold is all hers):                                                                                  
"I want this letter to supplement any living will to make clear how I feel.
Seeing … many older people … 'ware housed' and kept alive by drugs and food at great expense to the public via Medicare and other health care systems, I do NOT want to be kept alive by any machines, medicines or other means when I have lost mental and physical abilities to care for myself. If I am in a state where I no longer am able to ask for assistance to die with dignity, this letter should be taken as a directive and request.
I do not want health care services to be wasted or used to keep me alive when by accident, stroke or other mishaps I am not able to speak, feed myself, walk, see, hear and/or otherwise function as a human being. Please do not use any means to keep me alive surgery, nutrition, drugs, etc. I am appalled at “wasting health care resources” to care for me if my mind and/or body are so wasted. I have lived more than a full life every day is a gift after having polio at age 10 and the scare of post-polio syndrome in 1992. I have lived a full and useful life and feel ready to die if a stroke, heart attack, brain tumor or other terminal disease strikes me.
I want any public or private family or insurance dollars to be used to nurture the development of the next generation, here in the United States or in other democracies such as India, who are faced with huge problems of poverty and the mistreatment of women and children.
I would like to be allowed to starve to death or die quickly of pneumonia or an infection if I have some such disease or accident. Please take this as an honest and binding addendum to any living will that I have signed.
I realize that this is very difficult for my sons and my beloved Dick who I have loved so much since we met in 1959 at Sebago, but please respect my wishes and do not prolong my life, which has been filled with so many joys of loving you and your families.
A Happy Life Partner, Mom and Mama.”

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Monday, February 4, 2013

For Judge Flora Wolf, a Liberation -- and Love

Flora Wolf, former Common Pleas Judge

In trying to find “purpose” and “meaning” in later life, some folks act as if they’re cramming for the test of their lives: if they don’t study really hard to figure it out, they’ll be failures in retirement. True has-beens.
Such is the pressure.
Former Common Pleas Court Judge Flora Wolf, though, sees this next stage of her life as “reinvention,” and one that comes with a sprinkle of luck, love and poetry.
Of reinvention, she told about 50 people at Philadelphia’s Cosmopolitan Club the other night,  “I’ve done it more than once.”
“When I was 33, my husband died, leaving me with two small kids, a dog and several cats. The dog had puppies -- eleven!
“It became apparent to me that I needed to work but I didn’t want to go back to school. So I got involved in a political effort, a ‘Recall Rizzo’ campaign,” she said, referring to the city’s cop-mayor of the 1970s. “It was a wonderful experience for independence, self-confidence, political connections and general friendship -- and out of that came law school.”
After a decade practicing law, Flora morphed again. She ran for election as a judge, building, she said, “another level of confidence.” For 20 years, it was “the best job I ever had.”  In her late 60s, she contemplated running for a third term, but it didn’t seem worth it.
“You go senior at 70 and somebody else gets appointed to take your place. So I said no. I had almost a year and a half to think about the next reinvention.”
In reading, The Third Chapter by Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Flora was struck by her discussion of the “liberation” of this time of life, of “not having the same urgency, not having the same financial pressures, of not having the same ego, and I thought that was very appealing.”

While Flora was determined to work part time on a meaningful project, “my goal for the first day of retirement was to stay in bed all day. My goal for the second day was to go to [the restaurant] Parc and sit in one of the windows and drink cappuccino and be entertained by all the passersby.” 
Her plan had been to help social workers deal with “dependency” cases in the courts, involving children and families, but with bureaucratic changes, that idea went out the window.
Instead, serendipity flew in. And Flora was ready to embrace it. Or rather, him.
“I didn’t know that I would find a new relationship, and that we would travel together. It’s been an enormous pleasure. We went to India last year,” she said.
A year and a half into her transition, she’s still finding her way.
Yes, she’s on too many boards and committees – something she says she’ll “have to sort out.”
And no, she isn’t spending time at her desk. “I really need to spend an hour or two every morning doing the computer stuff, doing the reading, doing the paperwork I avoided for the last 50 years. And perhaps I will.”
And yes, there are things about her job she misses.
“I miss the work. I miss the responsibility -- occasionally.
“I miss my friends, but I still have lunch with them -- occasionally.

“It’s a good thing that we get two years in which to figure this out because I’ve now used up a year and a half of my transition time. I have to say it’s been one of the happiest times in my life so far...We’re getting ready to go to France. We’re going to study French. And when I come back I’ll find that project and save some small part of the world.”
Flora closed her remarks by reading from the poem “Ulysses” by Alfred Tennyson:

Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off…To sail beyond the sunset... 
Though much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Click here to read a blog on another Cosmopolitan Club speaker, Dr. Anna Meadows.
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