Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Retirement: Resilience is key to successful retirement

Here’s a topic that if you want to scare the hell out of most people, especially men (myself included), bring the topic up.  Most people would say that they want to retire, but most don’t understand how to or doubt they will ever be able to.  To or not to retire may be the question.  And, if so, when and how?  For most people there is a question of how to finance retirement.  If finances aren’t an issue, then the biggest question quite often, especially for men in our society, is what will I do with my time?  Will you start a second career?  Find a new job?  Volunteer?  For most of us, fishing and playing golf will not be enough.

To have a successful retirement, we need to find a sense of purpose.  It is not about just keeping busy.  Or staying out of our partner’s way.

Moving into retirement for myself has meant cutting back some of my clinical work and doing some things that I’ve wanted to do, such as write.  I found some success with this.  A second novel, First Night, which is a continuation of a story that I began in my first, Reaching Home, has just been released.  For most of my life, clinical work as a psychologist has provided a great dealing of meaning to me, and still does, as does the role of father and husband.  But writing has added another sense of purpose to my life.  Reaching Home was about finding a place we feel at home.  Not a physical place, but a place within our lives.  First Night is about the conflict between hope and cynicism which is an issue most of us must confront.

So as we get older and as we retire from certain areas of our life, we continue to need to find a balance.  We need to focus and live for today and for the future and remember the lessons that we have learned from the past.  We also need to keep a sense of humor, take care of ourselves and others, and create purpose and meaning in the things that we do.  If we continue to do this, retirement may be a wonderful experience, and getting older may be much better than we thought it would be

The Adoption Story Part 4: Meeting your biological family

Like our first day in Peru 24 years ago, we were tired and jet lagged but we were up and out of the hotel after just a few hours of sleep.  Instead of meeting our daughter for the first time, she was going to meet her biological family.  We had met her biological mother and grandmother on our first visit.  Her grandmother had passed away a few years ago.  But our daughter had never met her biological mother or her older sisters.

Our friends had arranged the meeting at a small club they belonged to.  It was a simple place.  Nothing fancy.  We would talk and have lunch.  When we arrived, her mother and family were waiting for us.  The mother had brought along ten other family members to see the baby who had been adopted by the Americans.

The visit went well and I believe  helped our daughter flesh out and, as she would say, put more closure on this part of her life.  It was a bit overwhelming for all of us.  I won’t say more about this since I would like to respect the privacy of all concerned.

For the remainder of the week, we did what tourists do.  We ate.  The food was great.  Went shopping, much more expensive than 24 years ago, and we saw the sights:  the churches, presidential palace, the museums and the Pacific.

What amazed me more than anything, now as it did 24 years ago, was the connection with the Peruvian family that we had made and maintained over all these years.  It certainly wasn’t through language, since I know only a small bit of Spanish and his English isn’t always that good.  It was a way of knowing each other without words.  I recalled how this connection with my friend had helped me keep going years ago when some days were really difficult.

Peru has changed in the years since our first visit.  But the majority of the population still lives in poverty and remains illiterate.  Their average wage, I was told, is $700 a month.  But the kindness and the spirit of the people remain strong.  Many, including my friends, are optimistic about the future.

Hopefully, we will all return to Peru someday.  Our friend and his family say they will visit us in Maine.  I hope so.  But whether they do or they do not or whether we ever return to Peru, I will remember my good friend and his family and always feel grateful to them for the love and the care they showed my family.

The Changing Seasons: Preparing for Mother Nature's Fury

After this winter, most of us are very happy to see spring.  The days are much longer now.  In general, there’s a lot more light and lot less dark.  It’s warming up slowly in some parts of the country, but it is getting warmer.  The snow and the ice have melted.  In many places it’s gone.

         But, unfortunately, spring brings some adversity of its own.  Flooding comes to mind immediately for many people in many areas of this country.  In Maine this has to do with ice jams on rivers as the spring comes and the warmer temperatures produce snowmelt.  And for us in Maine, mud comes to mind.  No, it is not as catastrophic as the mudslides on the West Coast, but it certainly can be annoying.  And then, of course, there are the storms that come with the spring.  Heavy rains, thunderstorms, lightning and tornadoes.  You can do some preparation for these potential disasters such as creating a ReadyKit for you and your family, which includes enough food for a few days, drinking water, flashlights and batteries, a hand-crank radio and other items which the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)  would be happy to list for you.  Go to their website or your state EMA.  But other than that, there’s not much you can do about the weather, except control your reaction to it.

So enjoy the things around you, such as the flowers pushing their way (for some of us) through the remaining snow and ice.  The longer days.  The warmth of the spring sun.  And the realization that summer is just around the corner.  And for those of us in Maine, summer is a wonderful season.  We have the occasional lightning storm and tornado, but in general it is a wonderful time to kick back and enjoy being alive.  So enjoy the spring and look forward to the summer and congratulate yourself, even if you enjoy winter sports such as skiing and snow-shoeing, for having made it through a long, cold and icy winter.

The Adoption Story Part 3: A daughter returns to meet her biological mother

It was 3 a.m. and we were on a flight from Boston to Peru.  We had been delayed two days in leaving.  The northeast had just had one of its largest snowstorms in decades.  Our plane had been one of the last out before Logan closed.  We were returning after 24 years.  Below us the city of Lima looked calm and welcoming.  It stretched our for miles to the south and the east.  There were no blacked out areas or fires.

As the three of us deplaned, myself, my wife and our daughter, we didn’t know what to expect.  What we found was a modern and efficient airport.  To our surprise, we quickly found our luggage and passed through customs smoothly.  We met our friends, who had been waiting for hours, since our flight had been delayed three hours in taking off.  (Some things never change.)  The parking lot outside the airport was a model of efficiency and security, not the chaotic and dangerous place it had been 24 years ago.

Our friends drove us to the Hilton, a hotel we had avoided 24 years ago because of the bombings and the attacks on Americans.  They would meet us the next morning.  They had arranged a meeting for our daughter with her biological mother and sisters in the early afternoon.  They would pick up her mother and her relatives and meet us at a small club where they were members.

As it was 24 years ago, the hotel staff were just as welcoming as those at the small Peruvian hotel where we had stayed so many years before.   The room, to say the least, was considerably more lavish.  But we still weren’t sure about the water.  We called the front desk and sheepishly asked.  The clerk sounded surprised.  “Of course, the water is drinkable,” she said in perfect English.

And so began our week in Lima, the primary purpose being for our daughter to see her biological mother for the first time and for us to visit with the family that had taken us into their home and their hearts so many years ago. I’ll talk more about our visit in the next blog.

Boston Strong: Resilience in the face of adversity

Since the marathon bombings a year ago, people of Boston have demonstrated in an inspiring and courageous manner, the application of the skills and the attitudes of resilience.  They have shown us how  to come together and connect with others and stand together against those forces that would divide and separate us.  They have shown us how to manage strong feelings and how to find purpose and meaning in tragedy.

Boston Strong has been about finding confidence in ourselves and our community, that we will not be frightened away and give up those things that are important to us.  The recognition that we gave on April 15th to those who were there on April 15, 2013 -- the first responders, the victims and their families and the people of New England -- is proof that we will bounce back in the face of adversity.  We will care for ourselves and others both physically and emotionally.  We will not allow the acts of terrorists to achieve their goals.  We are strong.

Ron Breazeale

The Adoption Story Part 2: Finding resilience under the threat of gunfire

When we arrived in Peru in early January of 1990 to adopt our daughter, Lima was a city under siege.  We knew before leaving that we would be spending the next two months in Peru.  But we really didn’t know how difficult it would be for two Americans who had never lived in a war zone.  And in the process of surviving we would have to figure out how to take care of a 3-month-old child.

We met our daughter in the late afternoon.  Because of concerns about security, we cut our visit with her foster parents short and headed back to the hotel.  We were immediately aware that things were crazier than they had been when we had left the city earlier in the morning.  Our interpreter told us that the Minister of Defense had been assassinated near our hotel.   The young soldiers that we met every few miles at checkpoints appeared frightened.  When we got back to the hotel, the National Police were waiting for me.  They were interviewing every male who had entered the country in the last 24 hours.  They were especially interested in me since I was an American and wore a prosthetic hook.  The young officer who interrogated me kept asking me if I had lost my hand through explosives.  Finally, after what seemed a very long time, he appeared satisfied that I was not a terrorist.  That was the first of a number of interactions we would have with police, including Interpol.  Peru, then and now, takes the adoption of their children out of country very seriously.

The main challenge, however, that evening was beginning to care for a 3-month-old on the third floor of a hotel with no electric power during the day and with water that was unsafe to be used in any way without boiling.  (The water district employees were on strike and had been for months.)

The currency had been inflated in Peru to being almost worthless.  Thankfully, we had brought a lot of what we would need.

And then there were the bombings and the gunfire at night.  The third night we were there, a bomb went off in the plaza outside our hotel.  The lights went out and we placed our daughter on the floor between us and covered her with our bodies.  That night, the “Shining Path” blew up the barracks for the U.S. Embassy Marine Guards and took the power out for most of  Mera Flores, the suburb of Lima where we were staying.

So what kept us going in those two months?  One of the main things was a Peruvian family of about the same age who decided, for whatever reasons, to befriend us.  And, of course, we had a very strong reason.  Our purpose for being there.  Our daughter.

As for our own skills and attitudes, we were and are both optimists and were confident that together we could handle what might come, which is helpful when you have two or three bouts of dysentery.  And we  kept our sense of humor.

My wife and I had disagreed about the level of risk we would be taking when we went to Peru.  I had talked a few months before we left with a pilot who had flown in the jungles of Peru and had told me that a major Shining Path offensive in Lima was planned for January.  My wife had discounted this and accepted what the agency had said, that all would be fine.  The night of the bombing in the plaza as we lay on the floor with a firefight going on outside our window, I turned to my wife and said, “Told you so.”  We both laughed.  What else could we do?

To make a long story short, we survived, through our efforts and through the support that we received from our friends in Peru, from the staff at the hotel and the adoption agency.  Our daughter has grown to be a fine young woman, and at 24 she decided she was ready to go back to Peru to meet her biological mother and older sisters.  Our old friends were delighted to hear that we were coming.  The new Peru had changed, but we were not prepared for how much it had changed. We will discuss these changes in the next blog.

 Ron Breazeale