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Don’t fear retirement; prepare for it and get going

With more time to travel, Judy Tolan of

With more time to travel, Judy Tolan of Bayside and her boyfriend, Enzo Lombardo of Dix Hills visited Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., in 2015. Credit: Judy Tolan

The very thought of retiring sent me back to my therapist for two months. Was I ready to make this monumental decision? Was it the right time? Would I have enough money? Would I be able to find enough things to do that would be meaningful to me? Would I be happy? Would I be able to find new meaning in my life?

I had given 35 years to teaching children with learning disabilities, in Fort Green, Brooklyn, in a middle school. My life had meaning. I woke up Monday through Friday, leaving by 6:30 a.m. to get a parking spot near the school. Parking was a big issue with teachers. Once, a Mister Softee truck took the front bumper off my car while parked. I watched as a thief stole my car battery for a second time right outside my classroom window. I was given a ticket for parking on a mound of ice outside my school because I was blocking the bicycle path.

Then we had the lottery to get a parking space near the school. I started daily prayers for months before the lottery. Miraculously, I got a parking pass for six out of the six years I needed one. Would I miss this part of my life? I didn’t think so.

I would miss the students, but I had accumulated many important skills that would later help me establish new things to do in my community, as well as helping others in many different ways.

As a resource room teacher, I had become adept at multitasking. I generally had about six students in each class. I could focus on what each one needed, and was able to find innovative ways to help them learn a skill or accomplish a goal. I did research, and I would find books and other materials to help my students. I also led many individual educational plan meetings with teachers, students and parents. This helped me to become adept at communicating with many different people, solving many problems and challenges. I became a good listener. This helped me to lead many adult groups in my church.

Would I have enough money to live? I spoke to my pension experts. I made a list of teachers who retired. I called about eight of them, and picked their brains with many questions. I moved some money out of my pension, so my children would inherit it, in case I died. I bought some life insurance for them, too, so they would be taken care of in a difficult economy.

I started making new friends with people who were retired, or would retire soon. I made lots of lists. What things did I have in common with them? What activities could we share together? The lists became endless: Volunteer work with a group that sent rice and beans to Haiti a few times a year. Taking cooking classes together and eating the cooked meal together. Joining book clubs at the library or at church. Going to library music shows, talks, art and jewelry making classes; art museums. Learning to swim better. Finding out about all the restaurants in the area with great lunch specials. Sharing information with others about Alzheimer’s disease. (My mom had it before she passed away.)

I now have time to do something I have wanted to do my whole life: writing. I write letters to the editor and to my union newspaper. I write book reviews for my church magazine. This activity gives me a great deal of pleasure.

What else did I now have time for? I have a downstairs neighbor who is old enough to be my dad, and he became a friendly voice in my life. I volunteered to do his wash a few times, and sometimes I would go shopping for him when he was unable to get out. He gives me his newspapers when he finishes with them. He writes me cards, and once sent me a fruit basket.

I retired four years ago and before my mom died, I had many special days with her. We played old church hymns together. My children came to visit her, and we spent lots of times singing or reminiscing. My son is now a music therapist because we were able to spend time with his Grandma and learn how valuable music can be to older people.

When I retired, I had a big party, and danced the night away with my friends. I sang “Hey Jude” with my son, surrounded by those people in my life that I love. I am now able to travel whenever I want to, no longer limited by the school calendar. Trips to the Virgin Islands, Nashville, New Orleans and Florida, have added many happy memories to my life.

I have had the opportunity to participate in many life-giving experiences at my church, including this year, when I became the environmental group leader at my church.

When I retired, a close friend gave me a book. The cover says, “The good things about getting older.” Open it, and it is empty. It is supposed to be a joke, but I have done, seen and experienced many new adventures, which have been entered onto those pages. I was finally able to take the step, and have been encouraging others to take the next step too.

Judy Tolan,


READY OR NOT Is the retirement clock ticking? Are you on the brink of putting in your papers? Ready to take things down a notch — wake up late, meet friends for lunch, play more golf?

Or is your current job too enjoyable to leave? Are your retirement funds too low to go? Is the thought of not clocking in after years on the job intimidating? Without work, do you have a social life?

Are you staying put or putting in your papers? If you’re retired, how’s it going? Share your thoughts for possible publication. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include your name, address, phone numbers and a picture, if available.

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