Yesterday I received my retirement medal. It was four years arriving, and I prefer to think of it as lost in the mail as opposed to I was lost from people’s memories.
For me, this nondescript piece of metal with my name and birthdate inscribed on one side and the ‘NSW Department of Education and Communities – Service to Students’ inscribed on the other represents for me closure. My working life is over. Whilst I’d moved on it now I have something concrete to show for all those years at the chalk face.
One aspect of retirement that did worry me as I counted down the days to the big day was the loss of identity.
For those of us who worked in the same job all our lives, it was our job that gave us an identity. We were school teachers, bankers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Within our respective communities that as our identity and once retirement occurred, you stopped being that and became “Bill/Mary Bloggs”, a man/woman on the street.
So, it was important to know that I needed to retire to something, not from something. I had a work colleague who retired a year or so before me and after six months was in the doctor’s surgery getting help as he’d lost his identity as a Maths teacher. I was lucky in that I was able to continue to write and discovered blogging.
Receiving this medal was laced with two pieces of sad news. One man, I’d worked all nineteen years at my last school had died during the previous week, and one of my fellow teachers from within my own faculty has been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer.
It reminded me that as we age, the loss of friends and colleagues is going to be a more common occurrence.
It’s what happens in life, and we struggle to deal with it, especially when the friends who succumb to terminal illness are years younger than you are.
It makes you wonder why this is so. I know genetics play a part as is the case with my health but when you recall colleagues as being energetic, vibrant and wonderful teachers in their own ways, it does make you sit back and reflect on what life is all about. And sometimes, “shit happens”.