The next time you're considering retirement, think about psychologist Dr. Hedda Bolgar Bekker, who at 102 is still seeing patients for about 20 hours every week and doesn't have much time for retirement planning.
Dr. Bekker has been a psychoanalyst for 50 years. She was honored last week as one of America's Outstanding Oldest Workers by Experience Works, an organization serving older workers. I interviewed her by phone from her Los Angeles home. She reflected on the pros and cons of retirement.
"Most psychoanalysts never retire," she said. "I have always earned my own living. I'm still earning enough to get by. My house is paid off, and I have quite a bit of Social Security. So, I'm still paying my own way."
People in other lines of work sometimes can't wait to retire, she says, until they actually quit working -- and then they don't have anything to do. "When you get to be older, you lose friends and you lose connections. One by one they die, and you survive. If you don't have interests, avocations, family, you don't know how to use your time."
Dr. Bekker was born in Switzerland; she came to the U.S. in 1938 from Austria, immediately after Hitler invaded. After she was settled here, her mother and her fiance, later to become her husband, joined her. Her mother lived to be 96; her husband died in his 60s, almost 40 years ago. She's lived in the same house for 50 years. She has four adopted daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"Some things haven't happened the way I expected they would, but I never thought about not getting old," she says. "I took it for granted. It just happens. You just keep doing what you want to do, and what you have to do, and eventually you wake up and you are old.
"I haven't given up. I still buy clothes -- I still love clothes. I have manicures and haircuts. I still care. In that sense, I don't feel particularly different than I ever did."
She says that her schedule isn't quite so tight as it once was, although she still sounds busy. Besides working 20 hours a week, "I entertain a lot, and I have a lot of meetings here. I teach every Tuesday afternoon at the institute that I founded 37 years ago. I do a lot of interesting things. Life is rich."