It's good to have conversations on retirement

Posted: Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Senior News By Marianne Mills

Retirement is one of the most stressful times in a marriage, second only to the birth of the children.

When Barbara Belknap retired in 2002 after serving as the executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for five years, she learned a lot.

Three major issues hit at once: 1) Identity: Who are you when you are not working? Persons who have spent years in intense, full-time employment often find that most of their identity is tied up in that job. 2) Couples: When both are retired and at home, are they on the same page? Have they ever really talked about their post-retirement plans? Are they driving each other crazy? 3) Elderly parents: For many, this time also coincides with caring for parents in their final years. Housing, services available, getting paperwork (such as wills) in order, are just a few of the considerations.

To help others make a smoother transition, Barbara decided to organize a series of seminars which she calls "Conversations on Retirement."

The events are sponsored by the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, are free and open to everyone.

The first was held in January of 2004 and was presented in two parts: 1) The First Year/Retiring For Couples and 2) Caring For Your Elderly Parents/Staying Involved.

A family counselor was brought in to help assist couples with planning for retirement and communication. A care coordinator talked about options and services available in Juneau, as well as long-distance caregiving. NARFE sponsored a similar event in April 2004.

Both retirees and people in the planning stages of retirement attended the 2004 events.

The most fun part of the seminars is Barbara's sharing her humorous personal stories of the first year of her retirement. She makes it clear that "Conversations on Retirement" is not a lecture but rather a "guided discussion."

Participation by those who attend contributes great ideas and tips. Barbara believes that this type of gathering is unique in the way it deals with the emotional and life issues surrounding retirement and aging, as opposed to a single focus on financial issues.

Since facilitating her last retirement event, Barbara has become very interested in the topic of "Aging Well." This refers to those factors we can control to affect our happiness and health. "It also relates to our responsibility to others as we age," tells Barbara. "If you take care of your paperwork and your health it will help not just yourself but your partner and your grown children as well." For example, making your funeral wishes known in advance and having a will that's fair to all helps to minimize family conflicts.

On Saturday, Jan. 29, from 9 a.m .to 1 p.m., a "Conversations on Retirement" seminar will take place at the Nugget Mall Community Room across from Hearthside Books. Topics will include The First Year, Retiring for Couples, and Aging Well. Handouts will include book recommendations, helpful articles, checklists from NARFE, the new Advance Directives, and local resources.

Barbara believes that retirement is a gift to discover what you really want to do with the rest of your life. As she invites all interested persons to the January event, she adds, "You could live another 30 or 40 years - what are you going to do with that time?"

For information, call Barbara Belknap at 209-8602.

• Marianne Mills is the Program Director for Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.

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