Life Review?

Yesterday, I sat on the floor of my office skimming through one of my journals. The other 19 5-subject wide ruled notebooks with 200 sheets lay scattered on the floor around me. Okay, a couple were only 3-subject notebooks. The notebook on my lap spanned from May 2002 to May 2004. I had randomly pulled it from the heap. I didn’t intend to open it but when I did, I was back at the VA in Durham, North Carolina planning to retire early. My husband and I wanted to take a special vacation—Italy for five weeks—staying at a monastery in Venice and a villa in Tuscany. Would the VA give me the time off? Maybe it was best just to retire and enjoy this trip.

I began to journal in the ‘80s when my job proved so stressful that journaling seemed to help me cope. In the ‘90s I began to take myself seriously as a writer. Natalie Goldberg (Wild Mind) and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) touted daily longhand writing to prime the creative pump. I never bought into daily journaling. Over the years there were large gaps between entries in my notebooks.

In the journal I wrote that I had given notice of retirement to the Chief Nurse. Then I wrote questions on the last page. Will we take the Italy trip? Will I continue to write? Tap into my creativity? See more of the grandkids? Finally, I asked: What will the future hold?

That was 18 years ago.

Yes, we did go on an unforgettable 5-week vacation to Italy staying at the Casa Vacanza Madonna delli’Orto in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice for a week and later, at the Villa Casa Pavon in Castigline d’Orcia in Tuscany. In a rented Ford station wagon we made day trips to Montalcino, Siena, Assisi and visited the dark, cool altars inside small chapels that dotted the winding roads, stopping along the way at local markets for groceries and wine.

I continued to write, eventually publishing a book about working as a NP in a clinic in Chicago. Most of the stories had already been documented in my journals. 

I took art classes in various media over the years.

Of course, I had discretionary time to enjoy the grandkids.

When I was done reading through the journal, the sun had set, and it was too late for my afternoon walk. However, I felt a sense of comfort in this reminiscent exercise. Or was it a nostalgia trip? Or, as Robert Butler first coined in 1963, did I experience a sort of life review?

Now as I am facing my upcoming 80th birthday, the last question on my journal page still remains: What will the future hold?  I can only hope life still holds many pleasant experiences.

And maybe a trip back to Italy.

New Love in Old Age

I wanted to post an upbeat aspect of aging after my last one focused on death. While we can’t deny that the ultimate conclusion of aging is death, there are many diversions along the aging journey that turn out to be a surprise and delight.

I, for example, would never have predicted that after I left nursing and focused on writing, I would have written a book. And now I’m preparing to take to the road to promote it.

One of my new friends, Margaret, who has recently retired after years at a desk job in human resources, has learned that she has a talent for painting. She also plans to write about her parent’s tree farm, a biography she will give to her grandchildren. Margaret says, “There are not enough hours in the day to do all I want to do!”

Then there is my writing friend I call Helen who found true love with Tom. Longtime friends, they both lost their spouses and reconnected to find a “spark” that ignited “true love.” See a previous post that I wrote about them.

I have heard from Helen recently. She and Tom are now living together in California. “Tom and I have ten children and stepchildren between us. His live on the west coast, mine on the east coast. And he has a fulltime job in California. We haven’t figured out how to navigate these difficulties yet.”

Recently, they traveled to east coast to attend one of Helen’s grandchildren’s graduations. “Thanks for making my Nana so happy,” her fifteen-year-old grandson told Tom during that trip.

“Our love is truly a miracle for us both,” Helen writes. “Tom is one of the nicest people I have ever known, and there is an ease and flow to our days.”

They work out at a gym several evenings a week and they both swim a quarter of a mile most nights. Both have lost weight—fifteen pounds each–and leave the gym “energized and with a sense of relaxed well-being. Not bad for almost seventy-nine.”

Helen ended her email by writing “We have trouble letting go of the evening and going to bed, like two little kids. I joked recently that we need a parent. But all is not lost — we do still brush our teeth.”

Helen and Al should have been included in Ari Seth Cohen’s newest book Advanced Love.

From the creator of the popular blog Advanced Style, photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Love collects affectionate portraits of subjects who prove that love is bound by neither the constraints of age or time. The book includes 40 profiles of inspiring couples from around the world, and more than 200 photos. The profiles explore themes of love and companionship through firsthand insight from the subjects; they share their stories of falling in love, what they have learned after decades of partnership, and valuable relationship advice. Advanced Love is a touching look at the often-ignored partnerships of the senior set. Filled with couples who have built their lives together, it’s an indispensable trove of wisdom on love and the lessons they have learned along the way.

This book only includes couples who have been together for a long time. I hope Cohen considers writing another book about couples that have found new love in old age. Helen and Tom would certainly be an excellent addition.

 

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