The Day After
I am writing this from the Palm Springs area, where Tim and I will be doing some dog-and-house-sitting and hanging out with friends for the next 10 days. We had a lovely Christmas weekend, having cooked a killer Christmas Eve dinner (that’s when the Queer Village celebrates; more on the QV in future posts). On Christmas Day, after watching the grandkids and adults open presents, we packed up and headed for the desert.
This Monday morning begins my second official week of retirement from my full-time position at UCSD. The first week was alternately busy and quiet, and just felt like an ordinary holiday vacation. But now its week two, and I am beginning to feel the change. I think about work less and less; there are far fewer emails to keep track of, and of course I worry and obsess less about things I should be doing. Most friends and family have advised me to take some time off, to de-tox, to not worry too much about “what’s next” too quickly. That’s a hard sell for me. In my first 5 days of retirement last week, I interviewed with a local university that wants me to join their adjunct faculty, and have interviewed twice with a small-but-growing Hospice Program that wants me as a part-time chaplain. I have also reached out to my friends in the organ donation world, hoping to build a training and consulting practice. So much for rest and relaxation.
Of course i knew these things would happen, as I never really intend to “retire”. I expect I will work till I’m dead, and that is really fine with me. I am bored easily and want to continue to make a contribution. And it’s not like a career in public service has made me independently wealthy; I have a small pension and healthcare from UCSD but I will always need to supplement that. And, as Tim often reminds me, I am not in this alone.
It seems to me that, even as I try to slow down a little and reflect, what I really wish to do is honor the memory of people who have allowed me to be a part of their final journey to Whatever Comes Next, as well as their families who allowed me to briefly walk with them during what was surely among the worst moments of their lives. My forty-plus year career in health care has included EMT volunteer, Paramedic, Firefighter Volunteer, EMS Educator, AIDS Chaplain, ICU and Emergency Room Chaplain, and finally Chaplain for an organ donation organization. My patients were often dead or dying, and their families in extreme crisis. Something in my DNA allows me to be at my very best in these situations, and my very best is pretty damn good. I hope I helped; I hope it mattered; I hope they all knew that I considered it the privilege of a lifetime to be standing next to them in those sacred spaces and moments.
There will be more of these moments, but I’d like them to be a little less of what I spend my time doing. Perhaps some teaching now, and maybe working in the slightly more controlled and peaceful setting of Hospice seems like a good fit. This work that I have loved for so long has aged me and made me a little tired; I think I deserve a break.
I wish I could construct a ritual of some kind, remember the names of every person and family, say them out loud and lay a rose in some beautiful place for each. It has been too may years and too many names for me to do that. But there was a moment, after we arrived here in the desert last night, when I looked up at a clear night sky full of stars and imagined that they represented those people and those families. I got a little teary-eyed, and I just whispered “thank you”.