LOSING EVERYTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

A lot of people figure that everyone “retires” on their own terms in their proper time. That hasn’t been true in our world. Certainly not in Garry and my world. Garry lost his job because the company he worked for decided to move on without “the old guy.” I lost my job because my bosses son needed one.

Many of the people I know were “laid off” which feels exactly the same as getting fired, except there’s no legal reason for it. They just feel like doing it. In Garry’s case, it was clearly age-related. In mine, it was just smarmy.

I’ve known at least half a dozen people who got forced out of jobs they’d held for as long as 40 years. They had no preparations for retirement, no significant saving, and no plans. They all figured they’d work until they hit the official “date” … but it didn’t turn out like that. Not even close.

All the awards you want … but no pension you can live on.

Garry, after 31 years at channel 7, was shown the door in literally five minutes. When he came home, he looked like he’d been bludgeoned. I should mention that Owen lost his job during the same week. It was a hell of a week.

I hadn’t been at that job for very long, but the boss had me “showing the kid” how to do the job. Sneaky. I was in my 60s. There wasn’t another job waiting for me and I was ill.

For two years, we lived on what Garry got as his union payout. No medical insurance — and I kept getting sicker. He was miserable too. He was terribly depressed and demoralized — while I was wondering if I was going to die.

He went to rehab. I found a doctor who would treat me for free and actually invented a surgery to “fix” me because I was very broken. We had no money. To keep afloat for those two years before Garry got his pension and I got disability, we refinanced the house multiple times which bloated the mortgage payment to an impressive amount we couldn’t pay. There was the HARP Program — which Obama started. The problem? The bank didn’t have to let you into the program. Great program, but all you could do was beg. Weird, right?

I had been negotiating with them for months. When finally I got cancer in both breasts, I called and said, “Well, now I have cancer. Can we please get into the program?” I think I actually shamed a banker because a couple of months later, our mortgage payment dropped by $1000 a month. That was the beginning of survival.

I found a doctor who treated me for free. A hospital that never asked for payment. A bank program that cut our mortgage in half. Finally, Garry started getting Social Security and his (very small) pensions … and I finally got Social Security Disability. We went from having no money (blessings on food banks everywhere) to almost being able to make it through a month.

I remember the day when we no longer needed the food bank. It was a small, but meaningful triumph.

Garry stopped drinking. I didn’t die.

These days, when I hear how people are melting down over getting laid off from their jobs and basically losing everything. I’m sympathetic … but mostly, I figure they’ll get over it. Not immediately. Eventually.

You have to get over it. It’s a terrible time. We went for two years without any income. None. Zero. Nothing. Whatever little we had put away disappeared. Somehow, we survived and damned if I know how. I got any help I could from anyone who gave help. I don’t even know how I did it.  We are both alive — and we still have the house. At some point, Mass Health (our version of Medicaid) kicked in. It was the idea on which Obama built his medical plan.

It was designed by our Republican governor. That’s one of many reasons it baffles me that the GOP has been so against it. It was their program.

When this was taken, I weighed 93 pounds. An XXS was too big for me. I wore a size zero and it was loose. It was not an attractive look.

Most people don’t get to retire like in the movies, with or without the gold watch. We get ditched, usually around age 59, typically 6 months before pensions fully vest.

For all of you who got dumped because you got “too old,” yes it was illegal to let you go. It’s called ageism, but it’s done all the time. You can sue, but unless you’ve got money to live on while you sue, by the time you get paid off — and you will get paid off if you can hold out long enough — you’ll be up to your lips in debt.

Did we have mental meltdowns? Sure we did. That’s why Garry needed rehab. I would have been more melted down, but I was trying to save my life and it was sheer luck I bumped into a doctor who introduced me to another doctor who took me in. I was days from my demise by then.

I developed a sort of yellow-green complexion. Which was also not very attractive

If you have had a life calamity and everything gets taken away, it will take a couple of years before you pull yourself together. It’s not just your finances that take a hit. Your soul gets maimed. Your self-esteem goes down the tubes.

When anti-medical care legislators say “no one dies from lack of medical care,” that’s bullshit. Lots of people die without care. They don’t get written up because they aren’t in the hospital or seeing a doctor. They just die. Kids, old people, and all the others in the middle.

Why am I talking about this?

Because those of us who had this terrible disaster overwhelm them need to know we aren’t alone. It wasn’t just us. It’s lots and lots of people many of whom used to be solidly middle class before their world collapsed.

So try to remember one thing:

It gets better. Somehow, someway, it gets better.

Categories: Marilyn Armstrong, Money, Photography, poverty, Retirement, Social Security

Tags: , , , , , , ,

33 replies

  1. I probably should refrain from commenting on this very personal post because I spent many years in HR. I was the one who made the lists of employees when it was time for a layoff to provide dividends to the shareholders – yes, it’s all about the bottom line. I was the one who sat around the board room table listening to the justification to pick off the higher paid employees which also meant the older ones. I was at least 10-15 years older than the ‘guys’ making the decisions. It was a surreal experience in how corporate life works. And, you are right – help is not coming. Every person has to pick themselves up and figure out a way to survive. It is not easy. It is demoralizing, and it is somewhere way beyond stressful. As you two so aptly proved – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but no one in their right mind want to learn anything that way.


    • I don’t think it made me stronger, but it sure made me more cunning. And also, more aware of who I could call! And not everyone gets through it. There are suicides, people who wind up on the street. Most of us, though, find a way. How? Who remembers? I just did the best I could on that particular day. Short of winning a big lottery, we’ll never be really “set” for survival, but we manage. Sort of.


  2. Man’s inhumanity to man is what I call it. Greed, lack of consideration care, I could go on, and what happened is beyond tragic, inhuman and I am thrilled delighted and astounded you made your way through it all. Those are what I’d call some of the toughest times in life, and you managed to weather them. Your both strong courageous people and you set a fine example for others. I’m proud to know yu both.


  3. A great and very important post Marilyn. I just wish that way more people read your writing – and think about it.
    When we lived in the UK, I literally ‘pushed’ a woman friend to pester her doctor regularly, every week or 10 days. Clearly, the chap just waited for her to drop dead before she got a hospital treatment she needed. She DID get it, about 8 months later, after having tried the ‘shy and quiet way’ for 3 years, with zero results. Sometimes, we MUST stand on our hind legs and bark! And we NEED to know that we are not alone, others have done it and are alive to tell the tale, while we still ‘only moan and groan’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m always shocked at people who just can’t get it together to save their own life or their partner. I believe in being civil. I also believe in surviving. When you are sick, you really have to protect yourself any way you can. If I had just sat here and moaned, I’d have been dead since 2009.


  4. I’ve walked in your shoes (sans the cancer and the husband who agreed to help himself). In the last two years of hubby’s life, I lost my job due to a pin-head ‘supervisor’ who, despite being LDS (we embrace marriage and supporting our spouses above most other things), gave me crap and more crap about my caring for my ill husband. She tried to make me quit. I refused, and told her she’d have to fire me. She wouldn’t do THAT because it meant the company would be on the hook for unemployment payments. Finally our HR guy (a true arbitrator) settled on the ‘laid off’ road. I got limited unemployment, that horrid woman got her way. I never tried to seek work again, even though I was only 50 years old. I saw the writing on the wall in regard to where my husband was headed and I assumed the role of full time care giver. I sought disability and thankfully got it. My mental health had deteriorated and continued to deteriorate. It’s not healed now, but I think I cope better. I can’t work though. Stress is something I can no longer handle, not even minimally. My physical self has deteriorated too – it began to fail the year I got ‘laid off’. Somehow I too survived. When hubby did die, I had no money. We had nothing in place for me to take care of his mortal remains…I was broke, in danger of losing my house, had an old car that was starting to die, four animals dependent on me for their lives too. I don’t know how we, firewalkers I call us, make it across those miles and miles of live coals, but we do. Maybe we’re supposed to be examples that it IS possible – anything IS possible, if one endures. But damn, isn’t it an ugly road to have to walk?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know how we survived, either. We did, so something happened, but we were usually helped from an entirely unexpected source at the last possible second before we blew up. But you have to work at keeping alive. You can’t just sit there and wait for help. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with The Bad Stuff. They don’t know who to call, who to pressure. They don’t know how to beg. I think begging helped a lot, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well that activity – begging – leaves one more humbled than before at least. I’ve done my share of begging. Like you I found the holes in the system and made use of them. I knew in some ways where to turn and for once my church didn’t let me down. It is amazing. Thanks for sharing your story!!


        Liked by 1 person

        • I figured I needed to survive and how I did it? I could deal with that some other day if I had another day. Getting into a program to lower our mortgage required massive amounts of begging. No one was more surprised than I was when it actually worked. But you feel around the territory, figure out what might work (and what probably won’t) and use whatever you think is most likely to get you where you want to be.

          In our case? Housed and alive.


  5. I’m glad you’re still here and going, Marilyn! The fact that your story is not unique is something that is swept under the rug. I recently went to a talk by the author of the book “55 underemployed and faking it” that deals with this same topic regarding ageism and being laid off adding health issues on top of all that is a living hell. These are the stories AARP doesn’t tell you about!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It isn’t rare at all. I think it’s almost common, actually. The moment you cost more than entry-level salary and then, God forbid your health begins to fail, you’re gone. Legally, they can’t do it, but who’s going to stop them?

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for sharing your story Marilyn; this could help others see that there’s hope!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think this forced retirement is more the norm than the exception. It can be very rough, financially and emotionally.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m glad you got through it. We’ve been there and came through too and like you, you wonder how you did. It’s an awful feeling, being kicked out by an employer that you’ve been very loyal to.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You’ve gone through a rotten time. I know ALL about that stripping! I hope that things get MUCH better for you Marilyn. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One day I will pick up the courage to tell my thoughts and story of when I got to old for the company, although still had two years to go to retirement, and felt I had been pushed onto the scrap heap, although my company did keep me going for a couple of years. I think I was one of the lucky ones. You feel you have achieved nothing and just useless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t even COUNT the number of people I know to whom that has happened. I thought that was a uniquely American thing and that European employers treated their people better. Our employers don’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s all about the bottom line. Theirs. NOT ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a tough struggle you had to go through.


  12. It sucks to be told you’re no longer needed or wanted or are worth what they are paying you. Fortunately, I retired on my own terms, but it’s still scary and it takes a while to adjust. Keep hanging in there, you two.


  13. Well I, for one, am particularly glad you both survived, what must have been, a kind of HELL. Fortunately when I was being bumped and prodded into unemployment by a very vindictive boss who felt I was costing the department budget too much, I had the choice of retirement with a full pension etc. I had also taken advantage of an independent retirement program in the form of one of the 4XX K investment plans. So, while I hated the air this bastard breathed, turns out I was pretty lucky in the end. Please continue to survive guys.

    Love, your lifetime friend.


    • College employees — of our retired group — have done better than others. They have very good retirement plans. We missed a couple of opportunities or at least Garry did. I never worked in one place long enough — and so many places I worked went bankrupt — that there WERE no retirement plans. But Garry paid into his and you’d think, after 31 working years at one place, it would have been better. Mark and Tom got out with their skin intact. Better unions.



  1. Survivor.. | sparksfromacombustiblemind

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