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A Veteran’s Take on Getting Older

In the summer of 2016, my wife and I took a trip to the Oregon coast and rented a house for the week. The house was located just south of Lincoln City, a good locale for day trips up and down the coast that we were planning to take. One of our favorite places down there is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. If you haven’t been there, you’ve gotta go—if nothing else than to smell the fresh waffle cones!

While we were there, the gift shop had a great variety of souvenirs to purchase, such as mugs and t-shirts emblazoned with Holstein cows and the Tillamook Creamery Association logo. Nearby, a rack of books caught my attention. They were all entitled “Things to Do When You Turn…”. I was 69 at the time. The one entitled “Things to Do When You Turn 70” caught my eye so I perused it and found a series of short essays such as “Being Mindful of Living Fully,” “Keeping Active and Caring for Your Body,” and “Nurturing Your Soul.” I went to the checkout counter and bought it, along with the obligatory Tillamook keep-your-beverage-cold-forever cup with straw. I read the book that week and especially enjoyed the essay on “The Fine Art of Napping.”

But wait, I need to back up the story before I go any further.

In 2001, I started working as a senior administrative assistant at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Sometime in mid-2014, I was put on what is called a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) because I had not completed tasks I had been asked to do and I didn’t realize it. I was surprised, to say the least, but nevertheless I worked on strategies through which I improved my ability to remember tasks that needed to be accomplished. I used lists and other tangible reminders, like post-it notes, throughout the work day. The short story is my performance improved. Then, at the end of March 2016, I was informed that my performance had slipped again. I was put on paid administrative leave and asked to get a medical explanation for what was happening.

Karin—my bride of 44 years—and I met with my doctor who referred me to a neurologist. I had an MRI and discovered that sometime in the previous year and a half—unbeknownst to me—I had experienced two small strokes. These affected my memory slightly, enough to cause work performance problems.

I have been off work since the last week in March 2016, receiving short-term disability, paid time off, and long-term disability, so a paycheck was still coming in; however, I looked for another position at Children’s and was told that they didn’t have a job that could accommodate the restrictions my doctors indicated. I decided to officially retire in September 2016.

A new adventure was beginning!

It’s really like an adventure or journey. I have never been retired or 70 years old before, and I have never felt so good! Some of the things I planned to do included work out at the gym regularly and accomplish several projects around the house. My Medicare plan comes with a membership at LA Fitness (other Medicare plans have memberships to other clubs through the Silver Sneakers program), so I take advantage of the time I now have to exercise and control my Type 2 diabetes—presumed to result from Agent Orange exposure while serving in the United States Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. And I write regularly—it’s a new experience to actually have time to write.

In 1998, I connected with many of the guys with whom I served in the Army almost five decades ago. I’ve discovered that one of the advantages of getting older is appreciation of longtime friends. We meet regularly at annual Army Association reunions around the country. These gatherings include our spouses and we always have fun! I also keep in contact by writing a blog and alerting folks through e-mail that something new has been posted. I began the blog in 2007 and have had nearly 57,000 page-views on it to date.

What else do I do to get my weekly “military fix?” I volunteer once a week at the Sea-Tac Airport USO facility. There are many older persons who regularly serve today’s service men and women who are on their way home or to a new duty station by providing a place to temporarily store their luggage, catch a nap, eat a meal, or just relax between flights. I pull a regular 6 a.m. to noon shift on Thursdays. When I get home, I usually take advantage of what I learned from the essay on “The Fine Art of Napping.”

My faith fits in with this new retirement business

There have been many instances when I know God intervened in my life, as if God had a plan for who I was becoming and was to become. I believe there is a plan, even for this new retirement chapter in my life. I don’t know what the ending chapter of this adventure is—it’s not up to me to minutely plan it out, but rather, to live day-by-day and enjoy and deal with what each day brings.

I would sum it up by saying my goals as a veteran retiree on a new adventure are to take care of myself, maintain my health, have fun in my relationships, do fun stuff, and grow in my faith.

Contributor Gordy Darragh lives in Kirkland with his wife Karin. Two of his three grown sons and their families live in the Puget Sound region while his youngest son and his wife live in the other Washington.

Top photo: Gordy Darragh on Zuiderdam