When retirement turns ugly

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When retirement comes to mind, we usually think of all the wonderful things we will be doing when we are no longer bound by our jobs. We will have the time and freedom to travel, do the things we love, and to spend time with our loved ones.

However, I was proved wrong today. It suddenly hit me that retirement can be scary and you can never really be prepared for it, mentally, emotionally and physically. Yes, you can be financially ready, you might have have enough passive income every month to sustain your lifestyle, have enough savings to last you for the next 20 years, or comprehensive insurance plans to protect you from emergencies, but it takes more than just money for a happy and fulfilling retirement.

By the retirement age of 62, we may no longer have the energy to travel all we want, when we want, and where we want. The long flight to Europe or the States can make us physically tired. We feel tired from the endless walking and exploring of new places. Our stomach may no longer be accepting of cuisines different from what we usually consume.

How about we forget about traveling and focus on our loved ones instead? Our children and grandchildren? By 62, our kids have turned into adults and might already have a family of their own, or be too focused in their own careers that they hardly have time for us. They might not need us as much as we need them now. They have a life of their own and we may only see them during the weekends, or worst, they may only visit us once a month or only during special occasions like birthdays and Father/Mother’s Day.

How about the sense of loss we will feel when we no longer have a career? Suddenly, something important is taken away from us, something which we have been focusing on for the past 40 years of our lives.

I had been trying to get in touch with my ex-boss since her retirement early this year. Finally today, my ex-colleagues and I were able to pay her a visit her at her place. After her retirement, we heard news of her falling sick and was hospitalised for awhile. We texted and called her, and tried to get in touch with her, but she replied saying that she wasn’t ready to face us. Until today.

It was only this day that I finally get to hear her story. 3 months before her retirement, in November 2012 , she was approached by our CFO that the bank is giving her 3 months notice for her retirement coming January. There is no other suitable positions for her within the bank except for the post of a filing clerk. A filing clerk! I couldn’t believe my ears when she told us that. It is a total insult for our Head of Management Accounting. There was practically no retirement compensation for her as well, only one month salary and an additional 10K. She was with the bank for more than 10 years and this is what she received for her retirement.

Shortly after, she went into depression and started getting really unwell, having to call in sick for most of the last 3 months at work. She did not even turn up for her last day at work, and a colleague had to collect her belongings and couriered them over to her. That was when she was being hospitalised and was being treated for anxiety and depression. This is what retirement can do to a person. Having worked with her for 4 years, she had always been a strong person physically and mentally. She hardly goes on medical leave and was quite a workaholic. Of all people, I can never expect her to go into depression because of her job loss. Her total medical bill for 40days cost her 16K.

I guess that it didn’t help that she was single and that work had always been a top priority her whole life. It was just too much for her when she loses her life focus. With the additional insult of offering her the position of a Filing Clerk, she lost her self worth completely. She did have supportive siblings, nieces and nephews constantly around her though.

It was fortunate that she had always been financially savvy. The medical bill was mostly covered by CPF and she only had to fork out 5K in cash. She also owns properties, has money in her fixed deposit account, and an investment portfolio. At least she does not exactly have to worry in the financial aspect.

LESSON LEARNT
I always thought money and being financially secured is the most important thing in enjoying our golden years. Money can solve most problems like medical bills and can fly us around to many different places and keep us from worrying about bills. However, it is equally important to have good health, a loving family, and still have passions and goals to lead a fulfilling retirement. We need to still feel useful in our old age, to be able to help others or contribute to the society. Money in this case is just a tool. A tool to make our lives easier, more comfortable and have less worries. We need life purpose to keep us strong and happy.

So now, besides saving, investing and growing wealth, I am going to commit myself to finding other life passions, and also to continue building and maintaining meaningful relationships with people. In my quest for wealth accumulation, I noticed that I had been a little aloof with friends and colleagues, and had preferred my time alone, reading or thinking about things in general.

I thank my ex-boss for helping me realised that money is important, and that many other things like good health, friends and family, and having passion are all equally important as well. I hope she’ll recover soon and be able to fully enjoy her golden years.

Oh and one more thing.

NEVER EVER RELY ON YOUR EMPLOYER FOR RETIREMENT. TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS AND START NOW.

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