Many years ago, Before Children, I worked at what was then called Social Welfare in the National Superannuation section. I gradually became aware that many men died within a year of retiring from work. I talked to many co-workers about this, and the conclusion we came to was that basically, these men had lost a sense of purpose, and with it, the will to live. If they made it through the first year, they'd generally live to a ripe old age. No statistics to back any of these up, just observation. Women of that generation (who were turning 60 back in the Seventies) were generally not working in paid employment, so never retired, just carried on doing what they always did.
Farmers were particularly likely to die early. The farmer usually lost not only his purpose, but his home and playground. They retired to the beach they'd dreamed of for decades, built a beautiful home that the wife had dreamed of for decades - and he found that there was nothing to do! That fishing, which had been relaxing when it happened just occasionally, was terminally boring when he had to do it for hours every days because the wife chased him out of the house, not wanting him underfoot all day. He no longer had his exercise routine (farming being hard physical work), and his mates. He was lost.
It's over 28 years since I left paid employment, but since I decided to homeschool 22 years ago, I have felt that I had a job, a career, a vocation, even if I didn't get paid money to do it. Before Mac and I had children, I had insisted that I was not going to be a housewife: that once we had children my primary job would be looking after the kids, just as his was earning money. That we should go on sharing the work as we always had.
But here I am, 57 years old, redundant, and untrained for any paid employment. Most of all though, I feel like those farmers: lacking purpose, lacking mates, lacking a sense of day to day usefulness, and living a fairly isolated life.
Living in the country, I feel that there is not much point in trying to get a job: at my age and without any relevant qualifications, any job I could get would be unlikely to pay for much more than the costs of getting there and back. Which might be okay if it was an interesting, stimulating job, but that is not a likely scenario.
I have lots of things I want to do (growing food and developing our land, making books and doing other craft work, learning again to make my own clothes) but it is the people factor that is the problem. I want to be available to my children when they need me, or just want to spend time with me - but that is very irregular, and I will not inflict nagging demands to visit on them the way my mother did to me. I want to spend time with my grandchildren, but with petrol the cost it is that cannot be a weekly arrangement, and with them going to school, weekends are the most practical time - but that is also the only time I have to spend with Mac.
For 28 years my social life has revolved around my children: from antenatal classes, through La Leche League, Playcentre, Kindergarten, homeschool groups, dancing, Jazz Society evenings, almost everything I have done has been for, with, or focused on my sons. I don't really know how to relate to people outside those boundaries, without the excuse, the reason, the purpose, of my sons. Of my three best friends, all made within that world of children, two live in other countries now. And then there are my relationships with my sons, who I also feel are my other 'best friends'. Well, now it seems I need to find new friends - and I haven't a clue how!
In the past I have laughed at jokes about women suffering from 'empty nest syndrome', but now I know it isn't funny, and I think perhaps homeschooling mothers may be hit particularly hard by it.
This all sounds so whiny! I'm trying desperately not to fall into a whiny, self-pitying, weepy heap - after all, there are so many people who would love to have my problems (as someone commented recently to another woman I know who was complaining of problems that would seem insignificant to billions around the world).
However, feelings cannot be looked at in terms of other people's situations. Years ago when I was recovering from a D & C after a third miscarriage, weeping quietly under the covers, a nurse told me not to be so self-centred - that there was a 70 year old diabetic blind woman at the other end of the ward who had just had her leg amputated, so I should be happy I wasn't her. More recently a friend told me that I should be grateful that I see my sons as often as I do, which is more often than she sees hers, and that I don't have the same problems in my relationship that she has in hers. These kinds comparisons and belittling of my pain don't help me feel better, even when I am not suffering a bout of depression.
But depression is an illness, and I have been struggling to keep afloat these past six months. One of the things that helps me keep my head above the waters of depression is spending time with people I care about, but with friends overseas and sons growing up and out into their own adult lives, I need new relationships. I am socially inept, I don't know how to find them, and I am scared of investing in relationships only to find rejection when they too see my depression as self-centred, unreasonable, intolerable.
I can't blame them: it is self-centred, unreasonable, intolerable - and very, very lonely.
I wonder if I will make it through my first year of 'retirement'.