September 5, 2008

How Will You Spend Your Retirement?

By Helen Ardan

The Roanoke Times has presented a comprehensive review of the second stage of retirement, the years when illness and worn-out bodies or minds begin to have a major impact on independence and vitality (Beth Macy's occasional series "Age of Uncertainty"). It is scary and depressing. None of us want to burden our children or spouses with having to go through this.

The best we can do about the inevitable is be as well prepared as possible, being sure our family knows our wishes, has all the documents they will need and as many resources as we can gather.

It is my observation that the retirement years have two stages. The Times has shown us the second stage of retirement. Yet to be explored are the early years in which retirees are still productive, vital and independent. Retirement is one of the major life changes in our culture. People plan throughout their lives for many things.

They plan where to go to college, what career to seek, weddings, how many children to have, and when and where to purchase their first home. They make shopping lists and to-do lists. But, not many people think about what it really will mean when they no longer report to their work stations.

When asked, people looking forward to retirement say they look forward to traveling, spending time with their grandchildren, fishing or playing golf. These are all good ideas. But when probed about specific areas of living, such as their current living arrangements and their plans for the future, there is often no specific plan for shifting from this house to that house.

In today's world, retirement planning is solely about financial planning. Little attention is paid to the other aspects of daily life. People may amass wealth, but without knowing what they will be spending it on and whether it is going to be adequate for their needs, wants and dreams. It is like saving to buy the car of your dreams without knowing how much it costs.

Each retirement life plan is flexible to accommodate changing life situations. It addresses the today, tomorrow and the late years when our competencies are limited.

Having led a number of seminars geared toward life planning for people facing retirement, I have seen time and time again the joy people have when they finally have a clear idea of what they will do and how they will do it. Couples finally know how to talk about the future in retirement.

There is no way of knowing how many years each stage of retirement will actually contain. While we cannot, nor do we wish to, plan each minute of our lives, we can maximize the best of each year we have left while making every effort to minimize the difficulties.

What greater legacy than to live our retirement years well and to leave them with as much grace and dignity as we can?

Ardan provides life-planning seminars to assist people who are planning for retirement. She lives in Roanoke.

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