Two old guys sat at a corner table at Brunetti, Flinders Lane; each making their long macc last.
The younger, 64, had arrived first ­­– the older, 70, five minutes later, wobbling a bit, favouring his left leg. Hip or knee, thought 64.

‘How long has it been?’ opened 70.

‘Probably two-and-a-half years,’ said 64.

They traded pleasantries and gossiped about some shared friends, bemoaned the general state of the world, health department, global health challenges, oppressive regimes.

Seventy confessed to a knee replacement, and 64 to bowel polyps and type 2 diabetes. Wives and families were status quo, though 70 hinted at pending grand-fathership.

Sixty-four was already retired; had been since age 60 plus one month. Seventy had triggered the get together because he was contemplating retirement and fancied a chat with someone who had already crossed the line to the afterlife; someone he’d known since registrar days and on the floor across a string of emergency departments.

‘I need you to tell me about this retirement caper,’ led 70. ‘I’m nervous about it, and seeing that you’re the last person I’d have picked to retire young, I want to hear your thoughts.'

Sixty-four thought for a moment. ‘OK, but right up front, you need to remember that retirement is just another life phase. If you sweat it up into something unrealistic, you’ll waste a lot of time and emotional energy. The way I see it is that I spent the best part of 30 years learning stuff and being educated, then another 30 years working my butt off for an employer who didn’t really notice when I left, and now it's time to spend the last 30 years reaping the rewards! I want to enjoy the people, places and activities that have come second until now. Maybe that's just my construct, but I suspect it's a common one for people in our business.’

‘I know what you mean,’ said 70, ‘but how did you decide on the timing?’

I guess everyone has their own way of reaching that decision, but for me, it was something that was always there in the background. It was a kind of arbitrary point I had tagged, but I know others reach the decision in different ways. I was determined to be on the younger side – relatively healthy and active when I entered retirement – to make the most of it. Some of us get shifted sideways, some get crook and don't have a choice, some get tired and just need to stop. Some just don't get around to deciding and someone else makes it happen for them.'

‘I agree,’ said 70. ‘I think I've waited too long to decide, but until now I just haven't been able to figure how I'd fill my time… what I’d do without work. My missus took me to task the other day. She said, “what do you mean you don’t know how you’d spend your time – you’re already half retired, and you don’t die in a ditch on the days you don’t have work? Fill your life with twice as much of that and treat everyday like annual leave or a weekend – you’ll get used to it".'

‘I couldn’t put it better myself,’ said 64.

They went on talking for over an hour – about the time it takes for a waiter to develop that ‘would you like me to draft the rental agreement’ look on their face. Easy fixed, order another coffee, or hell, why not an early afternoon chardonnay?

They talked about the fear of retirement a bit more, then relegated it to the irrational basket and moved on to how-to-keep-the-brain-occupied ideas. Sixty-four spoke about the strangeness of letting medical and specialist registration lapse.

Seventy was keen to do some more study, just because he enjoyed learning – maybe a new language, and thought he’d like to link into professional groups run by the college and AMA for retirees.

Sixty-four said he’d had similar thoughts but mostly did nothing about them because after the first six months he’d started discovering more new and energising things and people than he’d expected.

He’d moved on to explore fresh things and to leave a lot of the past where it was – in the past. Work had been hard, too hard sometimes, and had eaten a good part of him. It took a while to accept that leaving it behind was also OK.

‘Don’t you miss all the people?’ asked 70. ‘It was the best part of my career. Being part of the team, seeing the newbies come and learn, grow, then move on, hanging with a crew that you knew you could trust, have a joke with, depend upon.’

‘I do,’ said 64.‘So I stay in touch with some; less now than at the start. For me, it’s also an OK-to-let-go thing, but I know some others who stay closely connected. Some teach, some examine, some go to the conferences still – there’s plenty there to link with. It’s horses for courses like any loss or big change. The difference with retirement-grief is that after you mourn your career (for however long it takes), you know you’ve got a whole new phase of living ahead of you. The thing I’d say is don’t leave it till you’re a wreck or can’t enjoy your dreams–treat retirement as a reward for all the hard yards and fill it up with growth and experience and pressure-free wandering. Relax more, smile more, listen to some music, travel, create things. How tough could that be?’

It was time to go. Both had errands to run in the city. Sixty-four needed a part for a clock that he was restoring. Seventy had to meet his financial planner. They moved to bump elbows but ended up shaking hands.

‘Stay in touch.’
Marcus Kennedy is a retired FACEM. Writes a bit, consults a bit, enjoys a lot.
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