Yesterday we buried my father-in-law, John Bicksler, and yesterday also marked the end of my almost-23-year career with the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the beginning of full retirement. Two endings and one beginning; emotional overload.
With Dad Bicksler’s passing, Dale and I are now the patriarch and matriarch of our respective families – he as the oldest son, and me as the only daughter. All four of our parents are now gone. Yesterday at his funeral, I had the honor of delivering the tribute to Dad Bicksler on behalf of his three children. I prepared by listening to stories from Lois, Dale and Dennis about their growing-up years and reflecting on my own experience with Dad over the 45 years I’ve been part of the Bicksler family. I was struck by the fact that as far as we know, he reached the end of his life without regrets. He was a man who was comfortable in his own skin, loved “the marvels of this life,” to quote a phrase that he almost always used in prayers, and was generally an optimistic and forward-looking person. He was ready to die, having long ago made his peace with whatever would come in the next life. He leaves a strong legacy of three children and spouses, seven grandchildren and spouses, and 12 great-grandchildren who will remember the many attributes he taught and modeled. In my tribute, I highlighted a few of those attributes: hard work, frugality, ingenuity, active lifestyle, healthy living, strong faith.
I too am in the process of making peace with what comes next in my life, although certainly not in the same way. Almost 23 years ago, I was hired part-time to create two new publications that would tell the story of the public children’s mental health system in Pennsylvania. Through changes in state administration and shifts in job responsibilities, one thing remained constant – my role as editor of those two publications. I retired from full-time employment three years ago, but kept a small part-time contract and continued to edit the newsletters.
When I began to think that I wanted to fully retire, one big thing standing in my way was my own worry about what would happen to those newsletters. Would they just die for lack of anyone with the time, skill, or inclination to continue them? And if so, what would that say about their value for all those years I kept on as editor? Over the years, I have received lots of positive feedback for the work I’ve done to fill the need for regular, consistent and educational communication, but what would it mean if that was all for naught and the newsletters were “retired” along with me? These questions are not meant to suggest that I think I am indispensable, but are indicative of how hard it was to become willing to let go of something in which I had invested so much of myself. I finally made the decision to retire before I knew whether or how the newsletters would continue. And now, even though I have been assured that they will continue in some form in the future, I am able to say that I’m okay with whatever happens. I’ve made my peace with what comes next.
At the end of the summer, I’m looking forward to another ending. I have served on the same committee at my church for about 30 years, the last six years as chair. I’ve been in some kind of major leadership role in the congregation for a significant portion of my adult life, and as of September 1, I won’t be on any committee or board for the first time in a very long time. Just as it was difficult to imagine those newsletters not continuing if I stopped editing them, it was also hard to make the decision to step down as chair and member of the committee. The issues we’ve been responsible for are ones I’m passionate about, and it wasn’t at all clear at one point that anyone would be willing to take over. Again I wondered, what will happen if I step down? And again, it has been hard to let go of something in which I’ve invested so much time, energy, and strong conviction. But other voices in my head – those voices that were expressing my weariness with the responsibilities of committee work and a growing awareness that it was time to “pass the torch” – got louder and I had to listen. And now I’ve made peace with what comes next, even if it might not be the same as (and quite possibly will be much better than) it’s been for 30 years.
So what does come next? It will certainly be a change not to have to think about those two newsletters or any other work-related responsibilities, and it will feel very different not to be in any leadership role at church anymore. I will likely miss some things, and perhaps even find myself second-guessing methods or decisions made by others, but I really am looking forward to being free of certain responsibilities and the weight of multiple deadlines. I know people who talk about five-year or ten-year plans for their lives, but I don’t have any grand plan for what to do next. I am simply looking forward to more space in my life. More space is something I’ve needed for a long time, and so right now I don’t feel the need to find anything new to fill the space. I still have two ongoing volunteer editorial responsibilities that are creatively challenging enough to help keep my mind sharp (I hope), and I’m looking forward to having more time for other things I enjoy – my family (especially the grandkids), books, writing, friends, knitting, traveling.
Endings are always difficult, whether it’s the end of a long and well-lived life, or the end of a 23-year career. And even though beginnings sound like more fun, they’re also sometimes more difficult than you would think. But I’m ready for what comes next.