Jim Bishop: Winding up the lowly estate as the biological click keeps ticking

It was another reality check, the day aided and abetted by spritely spring like weather to soften the blow.

I hadn’t planned to raise the subject of retirement again in this space anytime soon, but am finding that the theme is saturating my marshmallow mind to the point that speaking about it publicly is energizing and cathartic for me – and hopefully for others who chance upon these ramblings facing a similar quandary, er, opening the metaphorical window of opportunity.

As earlier noted, yours truly plans to retire in June after 44 years in communications work, the past 40 as public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. We didn’t plan it this way, but wife Anna will retire the same time after 29 years of public school teaching, most recently in kindergarten at Cub Run Elementary in Rockingham County.

A week ago Thursday, Anna and I both took a “personal” day – if that’s what they’re called, then should I be talking about this? – to tackle some retirement issues head on. We had a rather intense, sobering but helpful session with our financial counselor at Mennonite Mutual Aid (now Everence), looking squarely at what we feel we’ll need to carry on, not lavishly but adequately, in our retirement years, and setting the machinery in motion to that end.

In the afternoon we met with a gracious staff member of the local Social Security office to formally apply for benefits. It’s a bit sobering to realize that the monthly amount we qualify to receive will scarcely cover our fixed expenses, and then we’ll turn around and give some of these hard-earned funds right back to the government in the form of income taxes, with another portion going for Medicare Part D for high-priced pharmaceuticals and related health care costs, which will only continue to rise. Some part-time work for each of us seems almost mandatory.

Oh, yes, it’s a lot of fun, and while it all heightens anxiety levels, it’s preferable to the alternative of little or no income trickling in.

Our “day off” – aaaah, is this what retirement will be like? – was proceeded by a special event during the previous Sunday’s worship service. Pastoral team led a “retirement ritual,” recognizing members of the congregation who have recently retired (Terry and Sandy Burkhalter) and another couple who soon will, which happened to be Anna and me.

It proved to be an evocative, much-appreciated affair – except for the part of the liturgy that inquired whether we’ll feel “lonely” or “bored” and made subtle references to “turning gray” and running out of energy. (At least there weren’t any allusions to Geritol, Depends, Viagra, Metamucil or enlarged prostate glands). It’s hard enough getting used to the idea of a completely different schedule and living on a fixed income, so such “helpful” reminders weren’t necessary. And, aren’t fruit baskets, which each of us received, often associated with old people? Hey, that’s us!

Through these and earlier experiences, several words of counsel emerge – take ‘em or leave ‘em. Don’t put off as long as we did making explicit retirement plans.

One action we did take early on was drawing up a simple will. It’s a prudent move, an exercise in good stewardship and a statement of priorities for you and loved ones, outlining your wishes for distributing your assets should something happens to you. Otherwise, your/my Uncle Sam will be pleased to help himself to most of your worldly possessions. Make sure you’ve designated an executor to carry out your desires, name a power of attorney in the event you’re unable to “speak” on your own behalf and include a living will to address life-prolonging medical treatments.

We, early boomers that we are, never expected this life stage to arrive as quickly as it did (surprise – dates on calendar are closer than they appear). We knew for some time that we won’t have any wealthy relatives, other inheritances or investments to draw upon to provide discretionary income for travel, contingencies and unforeseen expenses. And, what about long-term care insurance? Hmmmm, wouldn’t that be nice?

Sooner or later, each of us will need to address these questions and issues, and the more pre-planning that can be done, the lesser the shock when the time arrives to work through them. I’m grateful for the professional counsel received in making some major decisions as well as the helpful advice solicited from persons who are retired and see things from that vantage point.

We’ll manage, especially if we continue to be blessed with reasonable physical and mental stamina and don’t face unexpected major financial outlays anytime soon. Somewhere in all this is the issue of willingness to take a certain amount of risk and to relegate our faith and trust to the arms of a loving Heavenly Parent who cares for all his children.

Column by Jim Bishop. Jim can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

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