It happened. It really happened. The day that was always so far off in the murky unknown future came rushing up full force and smacked me right in the face. Retirement. There it was, standing before me daring me to blink. I didn’t blink; in fact, I welcomed it with a traditional North Carolina pig pickin’ and career slideshow that was self-indulgent and way longer than necessary. You only retire once from military service and I am button-busting proud of my sweetheart. However, retirement didn’t enter our lives without turning the volume up on my anxiety either.
That was a few months ago for us. How am I now? Surprisingly the same person I was the day before my husband retired. I expected to fall apart and have a nervous breakdown. I don’t think that’s happened (unless I am in denial), and I have to tell you, if you’re nearing retirement — come on in, the water is GREAT! You just have to be able to roll with the waves that come from directions you didn’t expect.
How retirement changes you
A long time ago, when we were nearing 20 years, my husband said he knew it would be time to retire when it was no longer fun. It took almost eight more years for us to know it was time to make the transition. So what is life like now? It’s different, but it’s not.
We may have left active-duty service, but quite frankly, active service has not left us. We just perform it differently. Years of moving, deployments and various other separations and challenges provided us with personal and family skills we fully engage in our “new life.”
The day after
The day after his retirement ceremony, my husband carefully packed away all his uniforms.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a little bit of panic in my voice.
He said calmly, “I am packing.”
I became more agitated. “Are you sure you want to do that right now? What are you going to wear? Are you really done?”
I think he had a lot of responses he wanted to give, but he only said, “Yep” and kept packing.
I think that was his actual moment of transition. Watching him pack away the only clothes he had really worn for more than 27 years was powerful!
The new look
I will tell you that shopping with an old Marine for the first time for something more than BBQ clothes was not pleasant. I was left on several occasions standing alone in the men’s department watching my husband move toward the exit. I learned very quickly to catch up or I would be left altogether. My takeaways:
- Go in separate cars.
- Be patient.
- Let your service member find his or her own new style. Most likely he or she went to a transition class that had a whole module on dressing for the civilian job. They will temporarily think they know more than you…just let it go.
The new job
It’s important to give your recently retired spouse support and encouragement as he or she embarks on a new career adventure. Here’s what I did.
Every day when he came home I would ask, “So, did you make any friends?”
He’d look at me and say no.
After two or three days, I changed my question. “So, did you meet anyone you liked or didn’t like today?”
“I like them and dislike them all equally.”
So I changed tactics again. “How was your day?”
Once I quit being more excited than he was for his new job, he started sharing again. I recommend you leave the communication channel open for when your service member can process his or her new world and then share it with you.
The new life
It is weird being “retired.” I feel the same as I did when we first married, but then I look in the mirror, or at him, and realize we are truly better versions of that young couple, and our years as a military family are a big part of who we are now. In our new home, in a new state with a new job, we still fly the American flag with the eagle, globe and anchor emblem embedded in the flag holder. Our vernacular stays the same too. We don’t own guns; we have weapons. We drive vehicles, not cars. We back brief or debrief each other at the end of each day. I’ve even mentioned perhaps we need an operational risk management workup or ORM.
The strange new life
The strange things I’ve noticed: We see woodland hunting camouflage everywhere, but not the digital pattern of the last almost two decades. We can pick out another Marine NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE WEARING. At a convenience store the other day, I looked at the guy in front of me and thought, “He’s a Marine.” His hair was regulation, but not enough to be a definite marker. As I left, I glanced to the vehicle he was getting into. Sure enough: a set of Charlies (the tan shirt with the dress blues trousers) was hanging in the backseat and on the bumper was Semper Fi. I wanted to shout “OOH RAH,” but as it was twilight in Texas in the middle of nowhere, I thought better of it.
You will never be alone
Finally, the best thing of all, the brother/sisterhood and instant family that existed during our many years has not left us and from what I’ve seen, never will. I saw this firsthand as my mother, the widow of a retired Air Force service member, traveled from one Morale, Welfare and Recreation RV park to another and had instant friends the moment she pulled in and hooked up.
So as retirement approaches, face it with all the gusto, gumption and gungie-ness you have each step of your active-duty life. It’s just another transition, and after all, military families are the royalty of transition!