This is the second part of my interview with my client, Evelyn, a 73-year-old divorcee and retired high school teacher, who is going through a new transition. In my last post, we touched on Evelyn’s decision to move to a retirement community. In this post, I want to share more of Evelyn’s thoughts on what helped her make this decision. One of the resources that has helped Evelyn is a book called The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. In the chapter titled Adjustment, Chittister says, “A burden of these years is that we must consciously decide how we will live, what kind of person we will become now…how alive we intend to be.” Evelyn echoed this: “This has been an extremely interesting part of my life. It has been a real growth process. I’ve learned more about myself.”
She notes that the transition to retirement was modeled by the women in her life. “I started early. My mother had moved into a retirement center when my father died. She had flourished there. It was really good for her. My model before that even was my grandmother, who had moved into a retirement community and she flourished. She had regular meals and got dressed up every day. There were people that she had known all her life and they were there. There were classes she took – she was very creative. That was my model of what you did when you retire.”
These examples served Evelyn when several things happened that led her to think about her own transition.
“It was critically important for me to maintain my house. I knew I didn’t want to live here if I couldn’t maintain it. My house is nearly 60 years old, there’s stuff that is going to happen and so it was like, it’s never going to be in any better shape than it was.”
Besides realizing it was the right time to sell her home, another factor was Evelyn’s health. “After I was really sick this fall, I realized that I wanted to be somewhere that if I wanted to go to the doctor, I didn’t have to depend on a friend to take me there.” Having convenient access to medical care became an important consideration to Evelyn.
And so Evelyn began to look at her options. She had always assumed she would rely on her children at this stage of life and considered moving to Memphis to be near them. After looking at living arrangements there, she realized that it would be much more expensive and nothing would be familiar. At that point, Evelyn realized that she didn’t need or want to rely on her kids. “I had to realize that I don’t want them to do this. I had to be really grounded in reality and know that I wanted to take care of myself for the rest of my life. And when I was unable to care for myself, the money [would be there] for the assisted living. That was part of my legacy to them.
“The good part of looking and slowly coming to terms with this was that I began to [consider] what was important to me. I can remember saying to my daughter, I can give up space. As long as I have a place to go outside, I can have just a few pots to put my geraniums in and my pansies in the winter.” Evelyn’s other criteria was that it be light with outside views.
Upon visiting a local retirement community, Evelyn knew it was the right place. “When I saw this [retirement community] and it was a price I could afford…and still have the medical care that I need...it was like, that’s it.” After having looked at many other places, “it just felt like home.”
When Evelyn put her house up for sale, she enlisted help to organize her belongings and stage her home. “That part has been helpful.” It was time to decide what to let go of. Evelyn had things taken to her attic and had “one side for sale and [one side for] what I’m going to take. I thought my books would be hard [to give up], but I don’t need that anymore.” As Chittister says in her book, “a burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the times and things behind us rather than move to the liberating moments ahead. A blessing of these years is the invitation to go lightfooted into the here and now.”
Although Evelyn is confident in her decision, she has at times felt conflicted. “There have been some sad times. There was one day last week and it was like, oh my gosh, I’ve lived here for 43 years. Both of my children grew up here, they walked to elementary school, they went to high school. All their friends were here. I’m going away and leaving that, but… I’m ready. Occasionally the sadness hits, but it doesn’t really ever stay very long. It’s more like, alright, this is so good!
“I’ve realized such freedom. It was so clear, but it took some meandering to do it. I know what I want to do and this is it."