"My daughter and I are victims of a husband who retired 7 years ago at the age of 49, with no preparation on his part. And I spent three years of financial preparation so that I would be able to help, and he went into this depression and just drove us out of our minds. All he could do was sail and he never once thought about us and our needs, and it was all his needs. We were a tight family but now we are all separated. And he is sailing and he is retired and I have no money. So now I'm faced with never retiring." -- A radio listener calling in to station WAMU-FM during a program on retirement planning

Retirement is a time bomb for many people. They've known almost forever that it is coming, but they don't want to look at it until the wrinkles set in -- and then, sometimes, it is too late.

When the woman called to discuss her "victimization," Albert E. Peterson, public affairs coordinator for AIM (Action for Independent Maturity) was the speaker on station WAMU-FM.

Peterson believes the woman was victimized most by the couples' failure to communicate way ahead about their differing concepts of retirement.

"There are so many options to discuss, so many things to work out," he says. "And it is particularly important for married people to plan together, because, after retirement, they'll be together more than ever before."

With changing attitudes toward work, and the lifting of many mandatory retirement ceilings, the issues are becoming even more complex, with more of a need for long-range plans and decisions.

"When people delay planning their retirement," says Peterson, "sometimes the decisions are made for them."

The ramifications go beyond individuals.

"The Pepsi generation has come of age," says Clifford Fichtner, AIM's national director.

"There are now 45.7 million people in their middle years and most of them can look forward to living into their 70s and 80s and beyond."

These people, according to AIM, can become either active, independent, contributing members of society, or they can act as a drain, becoming principally the recipients of services provided by others.

In an effort to promote a more positive situation both for individuals reaching the "golden years" and for society as a whole, AIM (a nonprofit pre-retirement division of the 12-million-member American Association of Retired Persons) has produced a comprehensive series of courses to help groups learn to plan for retirement.

Already used nationally by 3,000 business and service organizations, AIM materials go far beyond merely financial questions many people equate with retirement. Other issues include role concepts, use of leisure time, health and sexuality, housing, second careers, voluntary activities, social relations, legal questions and estate planning.

Among D.C. area businesses and organizations offering AIM's programs are Giant Food, Riggs National Bank, Rueben H. Donnelley Corp., Montgomery County School Board, Western Electric company, Agency for International Development, Washington Gas Company, Providence Hospital, Equitable Trust Company.

The only area AIM program available to the general public was put together last year by two Montgomery County Public School officials, retirement counselor Jack Hill and adult education coordinator Sarah Pascoe. The courses are offered on an intensive seminar basis to school employes and in county adult-education classes.

"In the schools, perhaps more than elsewhere in society, there is a lot of stress associated with mid-life," says Hill. "When you come into the job, you are young and gung-ho, and have a lot of energy. After 10 or 20 years on the daily firing lines, it just gets to some people, and they need encouragement."

Hill says he sometimes advises people to "hang in there." Other times he encourages them to retire or seek other jobs.

Such conseling, he says, buttressed by the group sessions, "seems to remove the fear and trauma associated with retirement. This has improved employe morale, loyalty and performance."

"People need help in planning, in advance," says Pascoe. "If they have lots of hobbies and outside interests, it isn't so bad, but people accustomed to working all the time often go to pieces when it is time to quit."

When the programs began in Montgomery County last year, there were only 11 takers.

"But once the word got around," says instructor Judy Ginsberg, "the program expanded rapidly."

Registration doubled this fall, and another significant increase is expected for the new program beginning Monday.

"Although the setting does not lend itself to individual counseling, I do encourage participants to interact with one another so they can learn to put the experience into personal terms," says Ginsberg. "I keep emphasizing the tremendous number of adjustments that will be required.

One of the strongest cases for retirement was made by a speaker Ginsberg scheduled principally as "a successful role model." Dorothy Dutton, a retired teacher with a pink-scrubbed Norman Rockwell demeanor, bowled over the audience.

"When I saw how happy Dorothy was," said classroom participant Anne Murray, 56, of Potomac, "I wasn't to turned off by the prospect of retirement."

Murray, who attended the course with her husband Joseph, 60 -- "to focus on the next phase of our lives after raising 11 children" -- is busy (following Dutton's advice).

"She said to choose something different to do each day. So far, I've been doing work with the elderly, taking luncheon trips with friends, and doing all those creative things I considered selfish when the kids were growing up." a

Another student, Jim Lowe, 59, of Bethesda, reacted differently to the course. Formerly a high-pressure production distribution manager for the Chevrolet Motor Co. in Baltimore, he's decided that "retirement means it's okay to do whatever I want."

Right now, he's sitting around, he says, "not doing a damn thing and loving it."

In her classes, Ginsberg warns about just such a honeymoon period:

"Many people are happy just having a break from the rat race, she says, but eventually they have to find some sustaining kind of stimulation, either a second career or personal growth activities like continuing education."

Despite the hundreds of people involved in area pre-retirement programs through work or adult education, and the thousands involved nationally, there still may be millions who are avoiding the question altogether.

"People are too busy earning a living," says Peterson. "They put more effort into planning a two-week vacation than the rest of their lives."