Was the pandemic a preview of your retirement? A solo ager discovers the fragility of her social network

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org

When we first went into lockdown, I remember the fear in people’s voices as we grappled with our sudden loss of freedom and the anxiety about the possibility of losing loved ones.  Gradually, my own fear was replaced with monotony, punctuated with minor inconveniences. 

I’m 62, still employed as a civil servant, and I live alone. Masking, handwashing and sanitizing have become stylized rituals, easily reversed. If anything has changed permanently, it’s my perspective on my own social life. 

In the before times, regular interactions with coworkers, neighbors, friends and a few relatives kept me from feeling the sting of loneliness. I scoffed at occasional allusions to my being perhaps a just a bit too self-reliant. 

I like my own company and although I don’t advertise it, I often look forward to long weekends and holidays to satisfy my introverted need for battery recharging. But even for me, a year of alone time has been a challenge.

Also see: Whether you’re 55 or 25, do this to secure your future Social Security benefits

I’ve learned how important even the people you don’t know well can become when there’s a crisis.  Just noticing one of the regulars in my landscape can give me a boost, like the kid down the block who works at a costume store. 

For several years, I’ve occasionally caught sight of him standing beside his car, smoking a last cigarette before he heads to work, dressed as a different character each time (a chicken, a vampire). I used to shake my head with embarrassment for him. Now I feel oddly sympathetic and also reassured that there’s still some normalcy in the world because he apparently hasn’t lost his job. 

Or that young woman who moved into the unit at the end of the hall whom I used to regard as a nuisance, with her silly invitations to join her for a margarita on Friday afternoons. Her kindness has been a lifeline for me this past year.

Without the noise of the usual hubbub to distract me, I’ve become painfully aware, and frankly, terrified, of how thin and fragile my social network really is. I depend too much on too few people. I catch myself trying to forecast what it will be like when my job is in the rearview, more family pass away and friends move to be close to their children. 

Will my life become like an endless weekend of watching TV, reading, emailing, an occasional Zoom

call, home projects…kind of like, um, now?  

As I write this — knock on wood — I’ve been able to make necessary adjustments to keep my life working and no one close to me has gotten sick or lost their job. Even luckier may be this unpleasant preview of retirement.  

Read next: Live positive, age positive: The secret to wealth and health as you grow older

Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve found my next mission, which is to build some redundancy into my support system, starting NOW. I hope my next submission will be about that process and how I’m succeeding in saving my own life.

Author Cindy Andersen: I’m a 62-year-old, long-divorced female, still employed full time. Two fat cats let me live with them in a condo near downtown Denver. I plan to retire in 8 to 10 years and until then, I have to fit in a social life — including occasional dating — around my job writing contracts for the federal government.

This essay is part of Telling Our Stories: Reflections on the Pandemic. We invited readers to share their experiences of the past year, and selected 12 essays for publication on Next Avenue. Read the full collection.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

More from Next Avenue:

Source link