Stage 1: Denial - On May 19th, when I received the "Early Retirement Pre-Offer Package" from my employer, I was so sure I was not interested in retiring that I almost did not open it. I had my beach bag packed and was half way out of the door when Jim brought in the chunky white envelop from the mailbox and waved it in the air.
Jim, "It's here!"
Me, "Just toss it on the kitchen counter."
Jim, "Don’t you want to open it?"
Me, "Maybe when I get back from the beach."
Jim, "You're not dying to see what it says?"
Me, "I am not going to retire so why bother?"
Stage 2: Anger - Why did I open it? How can they give us only 30 days to decide? What makes them think someone else can do my work after they kick me to the curb?
Stage 3: Bargaining - If I take it, could I stay through the fall? What if I could come back to do some consulting? If only I could get a part-time job. What would it be like to have more time with Jim and to write and publish my novels? Would more beach time this summer really be so bad?
Stage 4: Depression – Have I left a legacy, and if it is this easy for them to let me go, will anyone remember? How will I say goodbye to so many dear friends? Am I abandoning the people I coach? What is the point of going to meetings if I won't be here to see the results?
Stage 5: Acceptance – I think I can, I think I can.
My official retirement date is just 1 week away. The 3 months since opening that package and moving through denial to anger to bargaining went by in a blur. I still feel like I have one foot in the stage 4 sadness of letting go, but the other is pretty firmly planted in acceptance--And amazingly, anticipation, hope, and excitement, too.
It turns out I will not be a full time “housewife,” writer, and beach bum. By a fortuitous twist of fate, I have found what looks like the perfect part-time job in Organizational Development at another healthcare organization, as well as an opportunity to do contract teaching at my local community college.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross may not have been thinking about early retirement when she developed her 5 stages of grief, but they are relevant to any significant change or adjustment. One thing I learned as I moved through the stages is that doing the hard work to pry myself open and let go leaves my hands and heart and soul open to embrace what comes next.
As I look ahead to next week, I know that I will have some "carry a tissue-box moments.” I hope I can let myself feel all of it and come out the other side with my palms wide open to the sunlight, ready to grasp what comes next.