After my parents retired in their 60s, they became snowbirds. Right after the fall Jewish holidays, they drove down to Florida; then right before Passover, they drove back to New York. They had the best of both worlds: holidays with family and basking in the warmth of retirement in the tropics. They did this for many years; enough time to establish set stops for snacks and overnight stays. Once I moved to Virginia, we became their first stop south or their second stop north for a few days of rest on their migratory journey. When the 1,300-mile drive got to be too long, they took the Amtrak Auto Train, which cut down the driving by about half, and we became their only stop. They did this for around 10 years.
Over the half-years in Florida, they developed another full social life with new friends and some New York friends who also spent part of the year in Florida. They went to plays and attended social events, they played tennis and my mother learned how to golf, and they were active in their synagogue. Their retirement years were good ones.
But change happens.
My father passed away.
My mother tried being a snowbird on her own, but after a highway patrol officer in Florida noticed that she looked awfully tired behind the wheel, she was forced to come to the realization that she couldn’t do the journey by herself, even with the Auto Train. That forced her to decide whether to stay full-time in New York or in Florida. Friends in New York were getting sick and dying, and making moves of their own. New York City’s cultural life, which she had so enjoyed with my father, lost its appeal and ease. Just getting around felt more like work than pleasure. And the home she had lived in with my father for most of their 50+ years of marriage became too lonely on her own. So, a couple of years after he died, she moved to Florida full-time.
Soon, she noticed that there were fewer interactions with some friends who were still married. It turns out that widows can create uncomfortable dynamics for couples, even when they’re in their 80s. Is it that friends feared that their husbands would suddenly find my widowed mother irresistible or did they not want to be confronted with the possibility that they, too, may soon be alone? Other friends, though, became more available. They were also widowed, some having lost their husbands and then their boyfriends, who they had thought they would get to grow really old with and not have to be alone again. Alas, things didn’t work out that way.
Then, COVID hit and the busyness came to a halt. People isolated at home. Some died.
When the world opened up, it was clear that things had changed. People were frailer and others were dealing with memory loss issues. The number of people who were available for lunches and matinees had diminished. But still, a few friends were available, some who even knew my father, which made her feel less alone because they could reminisce about shared experiences.
It turns out, though, that the active retirement lifestyle in sunny Florida is a phase; it’s not a smooth glide to the great beyond.
No, many people go back north. For some, it’s to where they raised their children and where they still live, for others it’s to where their children now live. And for those without children, they seem to stay down here, keeping the doctors they have come to trust and (hopefully) not feeling bitter that they’ve been deserted by their friends. But how can you begrudge a friend who goes to live with or near a child? For my mother, I moved to down to her when I retired in 2021, but the planned next step is for me, and then her, to move closer to my daughters.
It’s not a bad thing, this cycle of life. For many people (depending, of course, on finances and economics and the way of the world), people have around ten to twenty years when they can enjoy themselves, as themselves, without work worries or raising a family concerns, and then, boom, overriding health issues (which often result from the normal wear and tear of the human body, and not necessarily something dramatic).
To me, understanding this cycle has set me at ease. There is no inertia. While sometimes I think that I’m in control of my life, I see now that it simply means to be prepared to accept what comes next.