Over the years I’ve had the joy of planning for a number of life transition celebrations, mostly for others but a few times for myself as well. I’ll be honest; I love planning a good party. I like the time spent imagining what a celebration should look like and feel like. I like exploring recipes and finding that perfect gastronomical delight that will remind everyone of how delicious food can be. I like the details and the drama. I have fun picking a place to celebrate and a way to celebrate. In the end, I guess in some ways I am a party girl.
Many “life cycle events” have some pretty standard celebration rites: sweet sixteens, showers to celebrate impending marriages and births, and ceremonies that shape bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals.
Retirement celebrations, however, seem to be more about colleagues gathering to say goodbye. It’s a way of acknowledging that you’re leaving, but it doesn’t necessarily honour what you’re leaving behind. In my workplace we often gather around the reception “bar” and, coffee cups in hand, we speak a few words of acknowledgement and then it’s chat and cake. Every time we’ve done this I’ve wondered about how that really celebrates the work that someone has done for five, ten, or maybe thirty years. How are they really being honoured both for the work they’ve done and the lives they’ve lived?
Think about it. What is being celebrated when we hold a wedding shower? Two people have met and have fallen in love and are prepared to bring their lives together into a new, shared way of living. This might come at the end of many, many years of being a couple, or it might come after a brief meeting and some rational thinking. Not much personal effort is being celebrated; rather it’s a celebration of good fortune. The celebration of the birth of a child is quite different. It, too, didn’t require that much previous effort and, hopefully, that effort didn’t feel like work. This one is a celebration of potential; it’s the joy of someone new joining our lives and the hope for their future. Birthdays – well we get to celebrate them just by being around for another year. Retirement is different though. You’ve had to have had a certain longetivity for sure. Some good fortune is involved for sure; you either chose to go into a profession that came with the promise of retirement at the end or you’ve been able to make enough/save enough money to be able to leave the workforce.
But acknowledging a retirement should go well beyond that. It’s a landmark moment. It’s a shift from one phase of life to another. It’s an end and a beginning. It’s about saying goodbye and saying hello. It’s a moment to reflect on what’s important to me, how I just might have been able to make a difference, and it marks my entry into a new part of life. It’s a time to reflect on the roads travelled and to dream about the journeys to come (more about that later). Celebration is defined as the observing of a day or event with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing. Marking the day of retirement is certainly a time for celebration, and I’m guessing that women have done this in many different – and wonderful – ways. I wonder how?