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

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

2021-04-08 08:58:00
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This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org

When we first locked up, I remember the fear in people's voices as we struggled with our sudden loss of freedom and concern about the possibility of losing loved ones. Gradually my own fear was replaced by monotony, punctuated by minor inconveniences.

I am 62 years old, still working as a civil servant, and I live alone. Masking, hand washing and disinfection have become stylized rituals that can be easily reversed. If something has changed permanently, it is my perspective on my own social life.

In the past, regular interactions with co-workers, neighbors, friends and a few family members kept me from feeling the pain of loneliness. I scoffed with occasional allusions to my being, perhaps a little too self-reliant.

I love my own business and while I don't advertise it, I often look forward to long weekends and vacations to satisfy my introverted need for battery recharging. But even for me, being alone for a year was a challenge.

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I've learned how important even the people you don't know well can become when there is a crisis. Just noticing one of the regulars in my landscape can give me a boost, like the kid down the road in a costume shop.

For years I saw him occasionally standing next to his car, smoking a last cigarette before going to work, each time dressed as a different character (a chicken, a vampire). I shook my head in shame in front of him. Now I feel strangely sympathetic and also reassured that there is still some normalcy in the world as he apparently hasn't lost his job.

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

Without the noise of the usual hustle and bustle to distract me, I've become painfully aware, and frankly, terrified, of how thin and fragile my social network really is. I am too dependent on too few people. I catch myself trying to predict what it will be like when my job is in the rearview mirror, more family dies, and friends move to be close to their kids.

My life will be an endless weekend of watching TV, reading, emailing, the occasional zoom lens
ZM,
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calls, home projects … kind of like, um, now?

As I write this – knock on wood – I have been able to make the necessary adjustments to keep my life working and no one in my area has gotten sick or lost their job. Even better luck can be this unpleasant retirement outlook.

Read the following: Live positive, age positive: the secret to wealth and health as you age

Thanks to the pandemic, I have found my next mission, which is to build some redundancy into my support system, starting NOW. I hope my next entry will be about that process and how I manage to save my own life.

Author Cindy Andersen I am a 62 year old long divorced woman who still works 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 into a social life – including occasional dating – around 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 from the past year and selected 12 essays for publication on Next Avenue. Read the complete collection

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

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