Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus pandemic is not over
Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coronavirus pandemic forces older workers into involuntary retirement

The abrupt end of a career is about more than missing out on retirement cake.


This week feels like a good opportunity to pause and meditate on loss.

Last week I responded to a disappointed reader whose retirement was largely overlooked by colleagues who were presumably distracted by trying to function during a pandemic.

It’s true, that reader’s loss was minor in comparison to what many are experiencing. But it’s also about something deeper than a forgone cake or plaque. The celebration of retirement places a capstone on a lifetime of effort, connections and service, a monument to show that it all mattered. Without that monument, the builder feels forgotten, lost to history.

For some workers, the coronavirus pandemic has preempted their entire end-of-credits sail into the sunset. With furloughs and layoffs cutting wide swaths through the workforce, an uncertain recovery timeline and a job market already saturated with age bias, many workers near the end of their careers have essentially been made involuntary retirees. As with newlyweds and graduates, their major life event — for many, the last milestone of their careers — has been swamped by a rising tide of grief, fear and unrest.

The following letter, reproduced with minimal editing, is a poignant account of one such abrupt ending:

"I scrolled your article Sunday at 5:25 a.m., my standard wake-up time since 1999 when I returned to the workforce after a seven-year hiatus to raise my young daughters. Minus those seven years, I’ve held a job every year of my life since I was 12. I’m 63. I like to work. I always have. I like the ritual. The smell of the coffee brewing, the familiar sounds of my “Morning Joe” friends, calibrating the time it takes to put my makeup on, pour the second cup of coffee, start the car for the four-minute drive to the Goldens Bridge train station to catch the 6:57 into Manhattan. But mostly, I like to work. I held a unique position in HR in learning and development for a young, successful cosmetics company. I spent most days onboarding new hires, product training, coaching young leaders, mentoring or hosting office events. Bringing people together was my ‘thing’ and often came with a hug.

On Friday, March 13, the New York metro area shut down with shelter-in-place orders from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On April 16 I was furloughed. On May 26 I got my first unemployment check.

I had not planned on retiring. I loved my work. Retail has taken a devastating blow, and furloughs impacted all departments. I am realistic and doubtful I’ll be called back. If they call, I’ll be there.

I still wake up at 5:25 a.m. Brew the coffee. Watch “Morning Joe.” No makeup. I hear the 6:57 train whistle in the distance and think of the sweet-faced conductor who always met my gaze. How are all of my fellow commuters on the platform doing? How are my friends and colleagues coping? Do they know how much I miss them? My work wasn’t finished. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

My new ritual includes a 9 a.m. three-mile walk and consuming news. I cry daily for the lives lost and for all those families and loved ones that didn’t get a chance to say goodbye."

— Laura Filancia, Goldens Bridge, N.Y.

My continued sympathy to all who are suffering losses, great and small, personal and professional. Let’s all keep our eyes on the horizon and keep each other afloat until the day when celebrations will once again be possible.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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