The act of becoming involves a sort of death. When we realize that we can no longer return to a former life once responsible for our prosperity, identity, and validity, there is a process of grieving and release that must take place. Reaching the one year anniversary of my departure from that former life surprised me. As I looked back at that former life, I could find no regret for its loss. It was interesting that the lunch date I had with my former work partner was postponed by two weeks, and on that rescheduled morning a facebook memory revealed the 2017 announcement of my departure. It was poetic to be sharing that anniversary afternoon with the last meaningful work relationship I had in that past life. Together, we share a sense of warmth and love that transcends traditional roles in the corporate world. After lunch she texted a photo to the man who hired us both, and bragged that we were together. Minutes later, her phone rang, and the three of us were instantly connected, as if no time had passed, and yet all of our lives are vastly different from when we last walked those halls at the same time. It had been nine years since his retirement, which informed me that his second grandbaby, who arrived on the day he announced his pending retirement, was indeed the young girl in a photo he sent, playing golf with her brother. We talked about that day, and he said that it was at the birth of her big brother that he decided he would retire. As an executive, he was expected to make a presentation at a board meeting which was being held out of state on the same day his eldest daughter was giving birth to her first child. His grandson, who was given his name, was born an hour before he hopped on the corporate jet. The role he committed to in corporate America meant missing much of the growth of his own daughters, and he realized that being a grandfather was a sacred opportunity he was not willing to miss. I remember him saying to me on the day I helped load his car as he left the office for the last time, “Melissa – I feel like I’m getting a second chance!” His sacrifice afforded his family great comfort, but I’m not sure if he would have chosen a different path if he’d known what he was to miss… so many hours of work and three college degrees, his wife feeling like a single mother of three, much of the time. I think he was a little nervous about his decision to retire, at first. What I know for sure, is that once he was on the outside looking in… he never looked back with regret for leaving. He now has five grandchildren, and keeps very busy with travel to three different states to spend time with them.
As for my most recent partner, she too had given up her personal life for the commitment she had made to the corporation. I can recall a certain corporate crisis that had her calling in from her 30th anniversary cruise with her husband. In the last couple of years of our partnership, she was experiencing almost daily migraines. When we were finished with the lunch she had prepared for me, including fresh baked bread, she brought out a huge stack of professionally printed photo books, which documented at least a dozen trips she has taken with her husband and her adult children in the last four years. She hasn’t had a migraine since she retired. She acknowledged that her daughter, a doctor, has chosen not to pursue her own practice, which would require a greater commitment of time. She has chosen to live her life for herself, rather than living for running a business. She didn’t struggle with that choice her child had made, she honored it. Like her predecessor, she recognized her personal sacrifice, and though she loved those years in a meaningful career, she is happy to be living such a full and active life with her family now. She and her husband will continue to travel for as long as they are physically able… or until grandbabies come along to join the granddoggies.
So, at my one year anniversary of what I’ve dubbed ‘retirement rehearsal’… with one partner nine years retired and the other three years retired, I worried a little about what each might think of my choice not to return to the corporate world in a role that I have held for the last 25 years. After all, it doesn’t seem like a rational choice. And yet, I was met not with reproach, but with complete understanding and support. It was even suggested (among other ideas) that I consider renting out a room in my house, and simply working part time, so that I can have the freedom to do what really makes me happy. Of course… they get it! They get me.
These two people were pivotal in my personal growth and development of an identity that helped me to feel valued, appreciated, and worthy when I could not find that for myself. Having witnessed the extraordinary burden they carried at the end of their careers makes getting to see the beauty of their full and joyful lives in retirement that much sweeter. I’m so grateful for those years and for these relationships. I have no doubt that we will continue to celebrate all that flourishes in the lives of one another for many years to come.
Of course, I’m nowhere near actual retirement, but I am happy to follow their lead. I don’t have children or grandchildren to follow, but I do have a plethora of passions. My intention is to create a future from which I will never wish to retire. In the tarot, there are two cards that would symbolize the last year of my life. The first would be The Tower, when lightning struck and my whole world changed in an instant with the end of a sixteen year career from which I had once imagined retiring. The next would be The Death Card, which is where I am today. Before I understood that I would not be continuing on the path I had traveled for the last 25 years, I sat down to connect with my creativity guide, and drew a random card from the deck. It was Death. And this is what I wrote:
In the tarot, the Death card symbolizes change or transformation. It reminds us that everything changes… one season passes into another, the mother becomes the crone… without the dying leaves, we would fail to witness the rich beauty of autumn, which briefly awes our senses with a multitude of colors and textures before each leaf falls to the ground, transforming into rich fertile ground that will feed the roots of the tree from which they’ve fallen.
Throughout our lives, we come to our own autumn season – when it is time to reflect on the beauty and the darkness of what has gone before… to honor those moments and lessons, to give thanks – even for the darkness (for it has shown us the light), to let them gently fall away, and to prepare for what is yet to come. Remember that once the leaves fall from the tree of life, there is a period of rest, followed by the surprising POP of new growth, so vibrant and stunning, stark contrast from the nakedness of dormancy, that we cannot help but celebrate the utter joy of new life being presented.
So here’s to the coming of autumn… to the beauty, to the sorrow, to the gratitude, to the slumber, to the waking, and to the rebirth. Gather it into a great big cushy pile and fall back into it. Bury yourself in the memories… and finally… emerge with a smile, brush yourself off, and move forward… into the light.
All three of us have experienced a form of death, if you think about it. The souls that once existed in the corporate world have all been reborn into something different… Formerly serving the expectations of shareholders, and now serving the hearts of our beloved families and spiritual communities. There is not regret for what we may have missed, only gratitude for all that we gathered… And great anticipation for all that is yet to come. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
(The Death Card from Colette Baron-Reid’s The GOOD Tarot)