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                            Retirement Talk for Boomers, Seniors, and Retirees

Episode 042 A Death in the Family

           Each of us finds a balance in our lives between private and public activities. I like to take a walk with my wife or read or make stuff in my workshop or write on my word processor. Sometimes when I wonder what I think about something, I use the keyboard and find out. I enjoy private moments like these.

But I also like spending time with friends and family, going to a ball game, playing golf or going to a play or concert. Less enjoyable are the memorial services for friends that seem to be more frequent lately. These old friends were often ill and unhappy and we comfort ourselves that they are out of their misery. We hope to follow as painlessly as possible.

A high school graduation is a welcome diversion. My granddaughter Jasmine just graduated from the deaf school. It was a raucous affair conducted in sign language and interpreted for those handicapped by not knowing sign language. Waving our arms in the air indicated applause.

Two nights later we arrived home to find a note taped on the door. “Call 911, ask for Sgt. Flynn.” We exchanged a worried look and went to the phone. A minute later he pulled into the drive. He had been parked waiting for us. He was a big man in full uniform and went directly to the point. “Your son Ron died in a traffic accident. It was medically involved.” That meant he had a fatal heart attack during the accident.

We were in a state of shock and Sgt. Flynn kindly stayed with us to be sure we were able to function. As he left I said that I now could appreciate how a parent of a soldier would react to that knock on the door by a man in uniform. He calmly replied that his boy was in Afghanistan. Clearly he knew how I was feeling at that moment.

Later at a crowded memorial service, I realized that I had thought that the death of a child was the worst thing that could happen to anyone. But thinking about Ron I now think that the death of both of his parents when he was very young had affected him far more seriously. He had lived a tortured life for many years until finally revisiting his relatives and the graves of his mom and dad.

He was only 57 years old and died without a will which is stressful for his wife and family. I had bugged him to do it and he said he would do it soon. I am now updating my own will. At the memorial service, family and friends were invited to speak about him. Work friends described him as a hard worker and a mentor to many of his younger colleagues.        

I remind myself that this essay is part of a series on retirement. I began by saying that we needed a balance between public and private activities. That is particularly true when death strikes unexpectedly.  My wife and I took a short walk together after returning from a very public memorial service. We needed to return to a normal private setting to regain our composure. 

Younger people sometimes expect us to be wise old sages, always capable of thinking straight with our emotions under control. I don’t give out much advice these days. I have been wrong too often. A good way to handle the needs of the junior members of the family is to say, “Some people would be overwhelmed by all this but I know that you will be strong enough to handle it.” It is their world and they will be able to survive in the same way that we have, with the support of relatives and friends.

We have become aware that our circle of friends is diminishing after every memorial service and we have determined to cherish those who remain and to find some new friends to keep us from retreating into solitude. We also remind our friends to update their wills.

This is Dick Smith.