Some moments or days, I wake up feeling sad or empty. I think of what we have lost and not knowing when it will end. Is it days, weeks, months, or years? Time lost that will never be recovered. Time that we no longer have the luxury of losing. Time that we have earned to enjoy our family, friends, and leisure. Time…
During the day, I suppress those feelings. At night, the fears and frustrations come out in dreams; different scenarios- each one a metaphor for feeling trapped, helpless, lost, boxed in, and always leading to the same result… a protective hand comes out of nowhere and places it on my shoulder to smother the fear and the darkness. I am screaming in my dream and apparently in my sleep. My husband’s hand is on my shoulder pulling me away from the nightmares. I fully realize that everything in life has a double edge. All the time that is being robbed from me (us) has led to incredible bonding time with my husband, my partner, my best friend…What an opportunity, what a gift… Susan (63)
Fast and Furious Retirement
January 25, 2019 was the day I retired from 30 years of teaching from a Long Island School district on my 62nd birthday and my husband Bob’s 70th.
Bob had been retired for 8 years, after 39 years of teaching, and was extremely involved in helping with our four grandchildren, while I was still working. I retired mid school year because of my immune system and all the sicknesses I had contracted during my tenure. Between September 2019 and January 25, 2019, I had been ill four times with various viruses and upper respiratory illnesses. I asked myself “Would Bob and I make the celebratory trip with close friends?” I had been coughing for a month and was on medication. Bob and I planned this trip to celebrate my retirement, his 70th birthday and our 40th wedding anniversary which was the following June. I was seriously contemplating postponing this momentous trip, but Bob kept telling me to wait and see how I felt. We were set to leave the following Tuesday- so much pressure, and the transition would be a whirlwind between my retirement celebrations, packing and actually leaving for Shanghai within a few short days.
Family and Work
Bob and I had met in 1977 and married in 1979. He was a teacher, and I, a struggling actress, trying to pursue one of my dreams (actress, teacher, psychologist). Shortly, after we met, our relationship took off. Although there is exactly an eight-year age difference between us, it seemed to work. We saw each other 6-7 times a week. I was still in college and Bob was teaching English in a Long Island high school. We married 2 years and 2 months later. I gave birth to my oldest daughter Lauren, 1 year and 1 month after we were married and one month after earning my diploma from Baruch College in Special Education, Elementary Education and Psychology. Two years later, I gave birth to my second daughter Brooke in March of 1983. We had decided that I would stay home to raise the girls until they were in nursery and elementary. In retrospect, I now realize we literally had nothing. I lived in sweats, wore my hair in a long ponytail rarely visiting the salon, and shared one car with Bob. We only ate out once a year at a “real” restaurant while usually ordering in pizza, and entertaining with other families for our social life. I became an expert at preparing baked ziti and eggplant parmesan and the local hero place was on speed dial. Summers were consumed with the snack bar and the camp lunch program at a family owned New Jersey camp and swim club in the summer, seven days a week. In between our regular responsibilities, Bob worked several jobs to make ends meet such as selling table pads, coaching, tutoring and an SAT Prep course which he (an English teacher) and a math teacher owned. We did whatever we could to create a happy environment and upbringing for our children. It makes me feel relieved when they tell me they have good memories of their childhoods despite the fact that we didn’t take as many family vacations as we would have liked! Maintaining our house remained our top priority. (New carpet, home repairs or revisions, always seemed to take precedence over the vacations!)
Fast-Forward 2019 (Premonition and Urgency)
My father said that as long as he could put one foot in front of the other, he was going to travel with my mother. That left an indelible imprint on my mind. After our three week Asian Cruise (Shanghai,Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore), I felt the urgency to do anything and everything. We even booked three more cruises while on the last one. I also have a passion to memorialize everything in pictures. When I reviewed the 2019 images on my phone, I was flabbergasted at the innumerable amount of activities and memories that floated on my cloud!! Within the next 14 months, we were involved in a myriad of experiences and activities at a breathtaking gait. We booked numerous concerts including (Pink, Cher, Hugh Jackman,Celine- we/they, won’t be doing that for a while), Broadway (including Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen) off-Broadway, and regional theatre, museum exhibitions (including Dalí and Warhol), pop-ups in NYC (where I found my new favorite wine at Rose Mansion), and a most memorable five day Disney trip with the entire family. I even took a watercolor course resulting in my sketches and paintings and bought a guitar to renew my love of songwriting and playing. My husband and I both became Certified Life Coaches in May 2019. We had unofficially coached many family and friends for years as individuals and as couples. Right after the September family Disney trip, I told my husband I really wanted to go to Los Angeles. I have been obsessed with film and theatre all of my life and knew that is one of the places I had to devour both mentally and physically. Have you ever felt like you can’t wait to do something- that something that keeps nudging you until you actually take the plunge? There was a strong urgency and I had no idea why! “We have time, we have so much time to do this,” Bob repeated often. I think I was exhausting him with my pace and inner hunger ready at a moment’s notice to ravish it all! I announced that I was going online anyway and maybe we could find a good deal! After a little research and a few clicks of the keyboard, I made it happen! We did, we went, we conquered! We were able to enjoy so many meaningful experiences. We even met up with my life coach mentor and his significant other. It was a trip to remember. Shortly after our return, our dear friends and travel partners were trying to coax us into coming to Florida for a visit in January of 2020. We were going to spend time with them in April on our European cruise, but we decided to go anyway. Leave it to me, who literally hates the sun and the beach to visit every museum and cultural site in Sarasota, Tampa, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg and Key West which boasted The Little White House, The Hemingway House, and The Tennessee Williams Museum!! Thanks to our amazing hosts, we had the time of our lives. Little did we know, it would be the last trip for a long time…My Premonition…My Urgency… Was Stirring Within…
Early Covid Warnings
After returning, we continued to balance our lives with visits to New York City for a few more shows and events. I always believed in balance. Our greatest joys involved our children and grandchildren and our socializing with our dear friends.
Something was beginning to pepper the news with a strange virus overseas. It was starting to overtake the ever-present political debacles. There was a peculiar feeling beginning to permeate our lives. Bob and I decided we can’t be afraid and decided to just live our lives with caution. Our last show tickets were for Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway on March 10, 2020. So that Tuesday evening, we took the Long Island Railroad into the city. We were being extra cautious. I took additional hand sanitizer. We were told not to wear masks, because they would not help us. We were told to keep washing our hands and not to touch our faces. We were able to walk in no time to the theatre. The city was eerie that night. The caution was palpable. People were naturally socially distancing themselves on the line outside of the theatre. It was the second night of previews. The show was uproariously funny, but there was an inherent fear present. I could not fully let myself melt into the moment.
The World Stopped
That Thursday, I made an appointment to get my hair done at 1 pm. At about 3:30 pm, as I was finishing up my services, I received a text from Bob. All of Broadway had closed. I knew at that moment, life as we had known it, had changed… On March 15th, It was one thing after the next. NYC closed the schools, restaurants and bars. The world stood still. Life felt daunting…
Shock Not Awe
The first realization that encapsulated my mind, was the fact that we would not be able to see our children and grandchildren. I cried uncontrollably for an hour. My body pulsated, with grief. Then, a number of movies flashed before me- Groundhog Day, Anne Frank, The Twilight Zone and About Time. I looked at my husband and kept repeating 2 years…2 years. I knew how long it would take for a vaccine- if they ever even found one. Prior to quarantine, there was a balance, but I always loved the element of surprise to our days. We saw or helped with our family but believed in always creating new fun moments. We are both lifelong learners and loved to discuss the latest articles of the moment whether it was political, psychological, or theatrical. We are both basically, “go with the flow” and flew into NYC (a 52-minute LIRR train ride) at a moment’s notice to various events since my retirement. Our favorite and frequent alone date was massage and sushi- both places only a few doors away from each other and a 15 -minute ride from our home. We cherished our “extraordinary ordinary” moments. We loved our new found freedom as a retired couple. I thumbed through our social photo books which I make regularly from my Facebook postings. I love to capture every ephemeral moment so I can cherish them over and over again. I couldn’t believe what we had done in such a minimal amount of time. I told Bob, that if my life stopped now, I would have no regrets. We basically truncated ten years of activity into 14 months. It was unprecedented glee and urgency in our 43-year relationship. Now it had come to a sharp halt…
Historically, even our mundane errands and self-care appointments gave us a structure to our day. Now, there was no beat, there was no rhythm. Though we are both “go with the flow” people, we always had some semblance of structure.
Then I thought- routine…we needed a routine, a new routine.
Bob and I are both morning people and I mean morning people. We awaken naturally between 4:30 and 6:00 am. As a big picture person, I saw the whole day in front of me. I am a top down person, as is Bob. The first thing I thought of is how to “bookend” our days. A strong beginning and end to a day is essential. After coffee and a light breakfast and a morning discussion, we separated to do our two-hour workouts- me in the bedroom on our treadmill and he, in the den on the spin, recumbent bicycles, and the weight room. We never loved the gym and preferred our own equipment. Then breakfast #2, news of the day, some phone calls, Netflix, and lunch. I had bought a basic guitar online and intended on reteaching myself a hobby I hadn’t pursued for about 40 years. I had also just started to sketch and paint the previous October and could literally lose myself in the meditative art for hours. This was our alone time; our time off in our own minds and our own individual universes. I bid Bob farewell, as I left for the kitchen or the guest room to pursue my hobbies. I told Bob I would be “home” in a few hours. Bob would read, write, or nap during this time. I would put social dates on the calendar for almost every night. These were our Facetime Happy Hours which bookended our evening and would occur between 5-7pm or 6-8pm. I always arranged for our social engagements, and this time was not different. “Who are we getting together with tonight?”, Bob would ask, preparing his drink of the evening. We would both get ready in our respective bathrooms, as if truly going out to socialize. We found that our virtual visits left us emotionally fulfilled. Our den became our social arena and “going home” meant that we were climbing the stairs to our room. Each room became a new and different destination linked with varying experiences and sensations. We had a new paradigm; a new world… We realize that we are both introverts and this type of change must be different for us than for other couples. The following are suggestions to improve your lives during this crazy time which can apply to all personality types!
· Look for the things/ activities you enjoyed as an individual and as a couple and try to recreate them within the confines of your home
· Create or recreate individual spaces/environments. Accessorize and let your mind do the rest!
· Remember your passions as a child, teenager, young adult. Revisit them. You will bring new richness and perspective to them
· Comfy clothes are fine, but use dressier clothing, makeup, jewelry or whatever makes you feel “normal.”
· Virtual Visits/Happy Hours with friends and family
· Reunion Zooms
· Reconnect with old friends
· Go out on “dates” and get dressed up
· Create extraordinary ordinary moments within your confines
· Take online classes for the mind and body
· You Tube can teach you anything and keep you entertained for hours
· Garden/ Cook together
· Exercise together
· Appreciate the simple things and reflect on all the superfluous activities you were involved in or spent money on
· During the Westward Expansion, think of all the people whose life’s belongings were crammed into those wagons. All of their entertainment revolved around singing, dancing, cooking, storytelling and laundry. No internet or Facetime!!!
· Create your own concerts experiences by purchasing DVDs of your favorite groups. Play it on your largest screen TV. Sport the T-Shirts, pop the popcorn and indulge in your drink of choice while simultaneously taking pictures and videos of your favorite songs!
· Do the same with Broadway DVDs / Memorable Sporting Events
· Relive days gone by- thumb through yearbooks/old pictures
· Respect your partner’s Introversion/Extroversion
· Reflect on what gives you joy as couples/ individuals
· Remember why you chose your partner and rediscover them in this new normal/paradigm
I live each day within the boundaries of my mind. It lets me relive experiences I have had in my past. Going forward, my psyche works that way too. It’s where my imagination has free reign to take me to places I’ve never been, meet people I’ve never met and create the illusion of experience. I am able to sustain my mind with a variety of adventures which become empiric and so real that the sensual participation too, is seemingly palpable. This buoys my dispirit when I get low. It is a control which never allows me to plummet from the joy of life. The dream sustains my reality; even if I never actually get there, it is enough for now…Bob (71)