COVID a pressure-cooker for retirees

COVID Chronicles. This column appeared in The Sault Star April 25.

COVID isolation has been really hard on retired people.

I don’t mean the appalling death rate in long-term care facilities. That’s the topic of a serious column. Let’s try for something a little lighter here.

I’m referring to younger older folks, those prone to taking small naps but probably still a fair remove from the big, eternal sleep.

People who have not yet retired seem to imagine the COVID lifestyle is a lot like retirement.

Don’t let the snoring fool you:
Retirees are really very busy

Some have told me, a relatively recent retiree clinging to the facade of self-employment, that I should be accustomed to not doing very much.

Sticking to our own houses for the most part and trying to come up with stuff to relieve the crushing boredom: isn’t that what retirement’s all about? 

In a word (because the two words that spring to mind are vulgar), no.

Sure, retired people might get a little less done in a day than working folk (though I suspect they don’t waste any more of their nine-to-five on social media), but they still accomplish meaningful tasks.

The difference is that they do things on their own schedule, if they have a schedule at all, not on the timeline of an employer, customers or clients.

They shuffle to the beat of their own drum.

Right now, for example, I’m working on my income tax return. Even if I was hiking in the bush or reading a book or snoring I’d be working on my taxes. Sometime today I’ll actually get to taxes. Or maybe tomorrow. 

That’s how working works when you’re retired.

COVID confinement is putting retirement under pressure.

We’re all encouraged, if not expected, to make the best use of this sudden surplus of free time and emerge from COVID a much better person. Retirement does not give you a free pass from this societal imperative. 

I’d say many retirees are ahead of that curve — the self-improvement curve, not the COVID curve. We’re not all snoozing on the couch.

Some seniors already were learning a new language. It’s supposed to help them remember things. Remind me later and I’ll look for that list of things a new language will help you remember.

Some retirees develop new hobbies. Some fix up their homes. Some just do more jigsaw puzzles, listen to more music, play more sports or games, catch up on a Netflix series, re-read books by their favourite authors or see their favourite people more often.

Because of COVID, a lot of younger people are following these fine examples. In effect, they’re rehearsing for retirement.

But there’s a difference. 

For younger people, COVID retirement likely will end with them going back to work. 

Older folks know that ultimately they’ll be leaving retirement feet first. But they like to think they have a lot more time to strike things off their to-do list than the piddling few months (or maybe year-and-a-half) of the COVID contagion.

Lofty achievements are great, but why rush things? 

COVID has deprived retirees of some of those delightful activities that we use as intervals in our symphonies of self-improvement. 

Such as sitting in a coffee shop, restaurant or bar with cronies and arguing over the name of a Grade 3 teacher.

Or going to the supermarket every day for an item or two. And driving 10 kilometres under the limit in the passing lane on the way there.

And COVID is making it harder to get our retirement chores done. More pressure.

For example, I plan to put siding on my bunkie.

Normally I’d start by measuring things up. Then I’d measure things again, because I’d lose the paper with the measurements.

I’d put the new paper in my truck, where I’d discover that first paper with the measurements on it.

Then, when I felt like it, I’d go to the lumber store, show the order desk one of those pages of measurements, we’d figure out what I needed, I’d drive into the yard and they’d load it on the trailer.

Then I’d pick away at the siding job an hour or two at a time because a) my body can only take so much and b) what’s the big hurry?

In the COVID era I have to make an appointment to pick up probably not quite enough materials. And when I get them I’ll have to bust my butt on the job. Because we wouldn’t want to waste a second of that precious COVID time, would we?

The ultimate pressure on retirees is the fear hanging over our heads that we might have contracted the virus. That’s because one of the main COVID symptoms is “unexplained fatigue.”

If unexplained fatigue isn’t a cornerstone of retirement, I don’t know what is. 

And if I ever did know, I’ve forgotten.

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