Finding Life in Retirement

living-in-madison-wisconsin-progressive-culture-in-the-capital-4  I retired about a year ago. I worked at a brokerage firm in Madison, Wisconsin. It was my 25th year with the company, and I thought it was about time I moved. I lost my wife five years ago to cancer and our three kids had all moved away. My son, James, moved to Florida because he wanted to get away from the cold. He used to live in Hawaii, but he got a great job offer after graduating with his psychology degree from the University of Hawaii in Manoa. My daughter, Ashley, moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and opened up her own gelato store. She lives there with my wonderful son-in-law, Miguel, who is a web developer. They have three beautiful kids, Angie, George and Kelly. And lastly, my youngest child, Marc, has been living in Canada for the last year and a half one a hockey scholarship at the University of Toronto. He was studying graphic design while trying to be a professional hockey player.
2011-03-01_13-58-48.572I told the three of them that I was retiring and selling the house. They knew it was time, but I asked them to come to the house one last time to gather anything that they wanted to keep. Anything that they didn’t want to keep, we would sell or donate. I took to cooking that night. I wanted to make them their mother’s famous turkey dinner. We only ever ate the turkey dinner during Thanksgiving. But, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to have Thanksgiving together this year because everyone was scattered. They all came over and we had a wonderful dinner. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about the times we’ve had in the house. Ashley cried the most. She was UofT_Logo.svgclosest to my wife, Amy.

We went through all their old rooms and we spent a lot of time digging through their various belongings. And then came the worst part, we went through my wife’s belongings. I hadn’t touched any of her clothes, her jewelry or her night stand. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the clothes; they still smelled like her. Ashley was the bravest one and really she reminded me so much of her mother. She was so strong, she was kind, and she looked like Amy. She began rummaging through all the clothes first. She pulled out a blue dress, and I grabbed Amy’s blue dress from Ashley because I couldn’t let that one go. That was the dress Amy and I renewed our vows in. I cried as I held it close to my nose and mouth. I breathed in the faintest smell Amy had left on the dress. My kids sat around me in a circle and hugged me all at once. The boys silently shed tears and Ashley held her sobs in to be strong for her blubbering father.

After days of clearing things up, I called Advanced Disposal for bulk pickup. We had a yard sale and it was a success. We raised quite a bit of money that I gave to Ashley for the kids’ college funds. Whatever we couldn’t sell we donated and whatever else was left was sitting on the lawn waiting to be picked up. Ashley asked me to move in with her and Miguel. They had a guest house on their property that no one was using. I told her I’d pay her rent for it and she could put that money in the bank for the kids’ college fund. Once I sold the house, I gave each of them part of the sale. And now, I live in Raleigh.

My Love for Roger Rabbit

When I was fifteen, I lost my best friend. His name was Roger. He was a golden retriever that my family had given me for my fifth Christmas. It was Christmas morning in 1978, I remember getting up earlier than usual that day. The smell of Mom’s chocolate chip waffles pulled me out of bed. I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs. I saw my Dad sitting right by this big, red package under the tree and he asked me to come sit next to him. Mom came through the kitchen and sat down right next to Dad and they told me to unwrap the present carefully. As I was pulling the wrapping apart, I felt the box move and heard scratching and yelping noises coming from within. I quickly pulled the ribbon off and opened the box. There was a little golden retriever in it, who stood up and licked my nose the first chance he got. He tumbled over, bringing the box on its side with him, and he climbed on top of me and licked me. My parents asked me what I wanted to name him and I said Roger because Roger Rabbit was my favorite cartoon character at the time.

What I didn’t tell you was that I would be diagnosed with cancer by my sixth birthday in September. I was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma. My parents were devastated. I didn’t really understand what was going on. My parents only told me to be strong because I was about to endure the toughest battle of my life. I spent a lot of my days in bed after starting my chemotherapy. I spent a lot of my time in the hospital as well. My parents told me that Roger was waiting by the door every night. He wouldn’t budge because he was looking for me. I got to use my wish to have Roger come to the hospital and stay with me during the day. He made all the kids happier. He was so friendly and he wouldn’t leave my side. He slept in the bed with me and refused to move. If there is such a thing as a soulmate, then I’ve met him. Roger understood me and when I was in pain, I could see it in his eyes how much he wanted to make everything better. He would lick my face, put his paw on my lap and then try to lift my arm onto his head. I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it without him.

After several months of chemo, I was given the all-clear to go home. I still went back to the hospital to visit my friends and I would take Roger with me. Roger eventually became a service dog and we would both visit people at the hospital to help cheer them up. We did this for a few years before I got busy with school and Roger enjoyed becoming a lazy house dog. His playfulness never faded. He wanted to make you smile even with his last breath. And he did. He was my rock. He taught me everything I needed to know about compassion and empathy, and for that I will be forever grateful. He was also the reason I started my service dog training company. I also created the Roger Tilden Cancer Foundation that helps pair children with service dogs to help them during their times in hospitals. Roger helped me and my family through the hardest part of our lives, and I want nothing more than to be able to help families the way Roger helped us.