Pat Minor's grandmother was a strong and spiritual woman, a longtime nurse who could knit and crochet beautifully, who felt at home in any kitchen and would treat her loved ones to wonderful cooking such as her famous homemade egg noodles and chicken.
But after Minor's grandmother retired in her 60s, after her husband died, Minor "saw the loneliness and separation set in." Her grandmother lived alone until two years before she died, at 96. Although the older woman "never, ever, ever would have presented herself as sad or lonely or a victim," Minor sensed that her grandmother didn't see family members as often as she would have liked, and may have lacked opportunities to get involved in the community.
"She was alone a lot, maybe alone more than she wished," Minor said. "Maybe she didn't know how to go about reinventing herself with a social circle."
Now Minor, 65, an executive administration assistant at the University of Minnesota, has announced her own retirement in December. She's busy making plans in hopes of avoiding that sort of loneliness.
"It's somewhat scary, in that you want to make sure that you're not at a loss for something to do," said Minor, who lives in Minneapolis.
Americans planning ahead for retirement can access a wealth of information on how to prepare financially. But strategies for filling the free hours and maintaining social engagement get far less attention. Yet more and more of us will be living post-retirement at least as long as Minor's grandmother did, perhaps alone or with no family members nearby. And for older people — unlike, say, kids starting college, surrounded by like-minded peers and bountiful activities — this major life transition is rarely accompanied by an easy entree into a new social circle.
Minor plans to start an exercise program and get involved in church. She wants to do some traveling, including day trips with friends and longer excursions with her brother and his wife. Activist friends have long urged her to get involved in their social-justice projects, and she's looking forward to finally taking them up on it. She has told her son, a stay-at-home dad who'd like to return to work, that she'd be willing to look after her 2-year-old grandson two or three days a week.
"I really enjoy being with my grandson," she said. "As a divorced single mom, raising my son, he was in day care from the time he was 4 months old on. [Now] I would get a new chance at caregiving a young child. I can imagine having him stand on a chair while we make cookies together, things like that."
Originally, Minor worried about how she would fill the days. But officially announcing her retirement date forced her "to not just stew about it" and instead develop some concrete ideas.
"I gave myself permission to start thinking more about how it will play out," Minor said. "Now I feel more comfortable knowing it's going to fall into place. I'm feeling excited about turning a page in my life, having a new chapter."