When Hurricane Irma (to be followed shortly after by Hurricane Maria) struck the US Virgin Islands, it hit on the very day that school was scheduled to re-open, September 6, 2017.
In actuality, with our school being used as an emergency shelter for an indefinite time period, the school was the last in the entire territory to be re-opened post-storm. We remained closed to the students until mid-November. As employees of the government, we were ordered to report back to work for 2-3 hours each school day, in order to qualify for our full bi-weekly pay. Needless to say, getting up, in almost total darkness, with all of the island’s electricity off, riding through devastated streets and roads to reach the school, which was still being used as a shelter, absent of our students, and then being dismissed by noon, caused me to go through an extreme period of self evaluation.
I’d been living on St.Thomas during four major hurricanes and several smaller menacing tropical storms. I knew that, without a doubt, I was still going to stay here and not fly to the mainland on the “Mercy Flights” nor cruise up on the “Mercy Ships.” No, my self assessment had to do with many other factors. First, my body was not as strong as it was before due to several occurrences and conditions. Second, our local retirement program was showing signs of collapsing within the next several years. I’d been mandatorily paying into that system for 15 years. Third, I found out that after working somewhere for some part of each work day for the past 50 years of my life, I was fully qualified to claim my full Social Security annuity upon my approaching birthday.
Then, as an added blessing, I was notified that I did, indeed, qualify for a small, but greatly appreciated monthly retirement check from my former stateside job, as well as a rather large savings from that former job also (I left a mere $69.00 in my account since 1984, and they’d expected me to claim it since 2014. When I contacted them in 2017 – care to “do the math” as the saying goes?)
So, during the period of “recovery” after the last big hurricane, I found myself at the deciding point which led me to retire. I got up one morning and saw my hubby still peacefully and happily sleeping, as he’d been retired for several years. I woke him up and as I waited for my ride to take me to work, declared, “Babe’s I’ve decided that at age 65, I don’t like leaving the house at this time of morning anymore. And coming home at noon has spoiled me. So, I’m ready to retire.”
He chuckled and answered, “It’s about time! I told you to retire 5 years ago.”
So, that is exactly what I did at the end of the 2017-2018 school term. And I never knew what freedom felt like until I had the chance to sit on my porch, not worrying about being late, or what to wear, or anything of the like. Some mornings, I’d purposely sit outside early to gleefully wave to my neighbors who were going to work and the students who were going to school. But after a few weeks, I began to feel a very strange sensation…
I felt guilty because I had absolutely no place to go or anything to do, unless I specifically planned to go out and do something. Every single day of my life, since I was a pre-teen, my days consisted of keeping busy. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself now.
So, I had a long comical chat between me, myself, and I, and began to rekindle my love of writing. The additional money sent to me from my former home state afforded me the opportunity to have my hurricane journal, two poetry books, and my very first children’s story book published. I also began making frequent trips to what has become my favorite “get-out-of-town” resort, due to great food, good prices, and a soothing pool (which is free to use by restaurant patrons ) several times per week. I resumed designing and sewing my own beach fashions, as well as designing stationary and greeting cards, and hand fans. I realized that I’d become so used to working for so many years, that sitting on my porch just to chill out and relax felt so foreign and uncomfortable to me. Has this happened to anyone else?
I found myself feeling extremely uncomfortable if I woke up and didn’t want to do anything for the day, and simply watched TV instead. The guilt was heavy. My husband and his retired friends go out and fix car and boat engines, or work on other ventures like photography and videography for special events, but he has no problem hanging around the house if no one calls him to go and help out. But for me, my first year as a retiree felt weird!
Then, too, I began to miss my former students. So, I began to revise another role that Mom had forced upon me in my pre-teen years that became a meaningful part of my young life: volunteerism. I had been using my love and talent for the performing arts and handicrafts-making to help children turn to these types of activities to avoid getting involved in negative leisure time activities. And I had 34 years of experience successfully organizing Kids Activities Clubs throughout our island. So I decided to resume my position as a Volunteer Recess Club Organizer and I reported back to school two days per week for 2 1/2 hours per day. That’s what I had previously done for the past few years during neighborhood summer camps.
I’ve learned that now, in my mid 60s, my prime hours of productivity are between the hours of 10am and 1pm. And this schedule not only works out for my volunteer work with the students, but it also works well when I voluntarily take my dancers on Saturdays to entertain the elderly residents at a few neighborhood senior centers. So, this has made me an advocate for my fellow retirees.
If you, too, have moments when you feel an attack of “Retirement Guilt” creeping up on you, do exactly what I do – become a volunteer! If you’re anything like me, you won’t regret it!