Sharing our experiences and our wisdom. We’re 50 years older since we left Tufts and all of us have become seasoned by our different life experiences and challenges. The first few decades were most likely devoted to work, relationships, and family demands. Now that we have reached the stage of active, late adulthood, we have the opportunity to take time to read, to reflect, to talk, to explore new understandings, and to cultivate wisdom. Sharing our stories might bring us together and help us feel connected to the larger narratives.
Classmates chose one of the following 6 subjects to discuss in their breakout group.
- VITALITY: How do we keep ourselves vital…in mind, body, and spirit? What do you do to stay active, feel useful or be fulfilled?
- WHAT OUR MOTHERS NEVER TOLD US: How does our generation deal with illness and its impact on aging? How do we face the unimaginable: losing our partner, losing our faculties, or watching ourselves, or a loved one, struggle with a progressive illness?
- RISK: Has our approach to risk changed with age? Can people feel freer when less constrained by obligations? Do you feel more adventurous or more cautious?
- LEGACY: What do I want to pass along to future generations, beside my financial assets? How do I want to make a difference: to my children and grandchildren, but also to the world at large?
- BUCKET LIST: What’s left on it to challenge or satisfy you? Adventure travel? Exploring the world away or the one close to home?
- SINGLE AT 70: Opportunities and hazards. For those who were married and became widowed or divorced, or those who have been happily single, what’s next? Creating something new? Recreating what we had? What to look for; what to look out for?
Discussion Summaries Follow:
VITALITY: How do we keep ourselves vital…in mind, body, and spirit?
As facilitator, I introduced the topic by saying we can think about it on many levels: I do Sudoku every morning to check if my mind is thinking clearly. I take classes at the gym 4-5 times a week to improve my balance, strength and tone. I enjoy nature in all its colors to lift my spirit. But vitality is something more that these activities.
Vitality is a force, a power to life, something basic/essential. So what gives your life meaning/purpose? What brings fulfillment and inner peace? How do you think about what is essential to your living? What do you incorporate that gives you an abiding capacity to experience all of life’s events?
What ensued was a very lively, thoughtful, and personal sharing of experience from everyone in the room, as they fed off each other’s ideas and feelings. To sum up the conversation in bullet points of what contributes to VITALITY are the following: relationship, community, connections, laughter, sense of humor, passion, openness to new ideas, relevance, helping others, and gratitude. In essence, becoming a loving, giving person and sharing, sharing, sharing with others!
Themes of family and community relationship came up over and over, with a sense of wanting to feel relevant to those we care about, whether they are immediate family or larger cultural groups. Many focused on attitudes of openness to new ideas, discovering new aspects of oneself that were not nurtured previously, recognizing that quietness and meditation can bring inner peace and balance, feeling that sitting with someone in silence can be healing. Some had been particularly moved by travel, encountering new cultures, and nature in all its beauty and power. Having passion for your vocation or avocation helped many to feel that life was fulfilling and never boring. All of these facets of living become avenues of coping with the inevitable struggles and challenges that confront us. One person also brought up how a near death experience of oneself or a close other can increase your appreciation of life dramatically.
We recognized that in the years of living our lives since graduation, the culture has changed in dramatic ways. First the women’s movement impacted our attitudes towards roles and gradually society has shifted its attitudes toward men’s roles and gender issues. All of these shifts confront our biases, but also open up greater freedom to be whom we want/need to be. Men are being encouraged to speak about their feelings without being ashamed of being emotional. One man, given the last word of our session, said that listening to everyone share made him realize that we are not so different from each other, and that he could resonate with something of what each person offered.
The discussion was full of vitality…and humility!
Marge (Solomon) Maltin, Facilitator
WHAT OUR MOTHERS NEVER TOLD US:
- We believe that our generation is more intentional about what happens as we approach the end of life than the generation of our parents. The reason for the title of this breakout stems from the refusal of many of our parents to discuss the topic even among themselves. Conversely, we believe that we are more knowledgeable about what’s going to happen and are willing to face the inevitable and even discuss it with our family and friends.
- We are more dispersed both geographically and otherwise than the model our parents understood.
- We are more ready to participate in the process of our decline. We believe that we can be empowered to manage our own business and health decisions for as long as our facilities allow.
- Most have us have taken steps to deal with the last phase of our lives. For example:
- Living wills and “do not resuscitate” directions to our care givers.
- Long-term care insurance.
- Remodeling our living facilities to account for decreasing mobility.
- We are less worried about what sort of legacy we are leaving to our survivors.
- We try to ward off aging through better diet and consistent exercise
- There was some consensus that facing aging is actually more difficult than facing death.
- While the above points are probably true, they are mostly intellectual preparation. We acknowledged that our emotional response may not be as measured when events actually happen:
- Concern for what will happen to our spouse or significant other – especially if we are their primary caregiver.
- How will we deal with “The Incident” – the fall that breaks our hip; the onset of dementia
- Best advice to summarize our discussions – “Go with your gut”
- Recommended reference – “Conversations about Death” by Ellen Goodman. Look up “The Conversation Project” to learn more.
Allen Potvin, Facilitator
RISK: We began with the question: “Now that many of us have freed ourselves of familial and occupational obligations, will we choose to be more adventurous in our choices for living, or more cautious?”
- It was philosophically suggested that while “Risk” is present in everything we do, the one common denominator seems to be that all risk is a function of want or desire. In other words, if we say we want something, does that mean we are willing to risk to get it? Conversely, if we say we’re not going to do something because it’s too risky, are we really saying that we don’t really want that something badly enough in the first place? Therefore, are we only willing to risk, based on the degree to which we want something?
This led to the notion that “Risk” is associated with self-perception. Who we are. Who we think we are. Who we are, based on what others think of us, i.e. our parents, our friends, our colleagues, our children. What are the expectations others have of us? And for us? And to what extent do these expectations of us challenge our desire to be different? To make choices in opposition to these expectations … and to fulfill the ambitions that we may have long repressed? Or to choose new ambitions that we may now wish to pursue?
This morphed into discussing how strongly we may have been influenced by our own up-bringing. How locked-into the values and traditions we have been taught to revere – good or bad, beneficial or harmful. And how our desire to risk, or not, is certainly a function of breaking with these powerful influences that may have held us in check for all, or most, of our lives.
But still … it was agreed that we are in many ways different than when we were young. We have all had to contend with the forces of life that have changed us through the years … and have changed our wants and desires and needs … and therefore changed what we are willing to risk to satisfy these desires. To satisfy ourselves! Clearly, the risks are different for us now that we have grown older (old?). The adage that “life is short” is no longer just a semi-abstract reminder that we should make use of our faculties and opportunities while we still can. We all seemed to agree that no one needs to “lecture” us anymore on this. Because we know!
When we contemplate an undertaking (a desire, a want), are we indeed taking a risk that because of the limitations on our time, we may not be able to finish (accomplish) what we started out to pursue? This was not a risk we had to entertain when we were young. “Age” has crystallized for us what is important and what is not. “Age” has forced us to make decisions quicker, seemingly more spontaneously … which we can do because age has given us the benefit of experience. We don’t have to ruminate too long over anything. We tend to know pretty quickly what is true for ourselves. We tend to know pretty quickly what we want … and what we will risk to get it … including the risk of time.
LEGACY: Legacy can be defined as what we are remembered for when we die: a financial estate, a gift, tradition, as well as an endowment, heirloom, or passing down morals and values to another generation.
One often has to decide the size of of the”fishbowl” you want to influence. Who do you reach out to? Who do you touch? How many? Who is your audience? Is our legacy large or small? How has your influence been felt by one person you have tutored? Have you written a speech or policy statement for a member of the Senate? Is your legacy in the form of poetry or a book that has been read by thousands? Have you influenced one person’s life by a kind word or gesture? Has someone felt heard at a time of darkness and despair? Is it enough if at least one person remembers you for the impact you have made? We also have intended and unintended legacies by the example we set.
Many of the group cited Tufts as the place where the concept of giving back was first imprinted on their lives. Examples were the Experimental College, Beezelbubs, Leonard Carmichael Society, and Crossroads Africa.
The importance of the journey we have taken, getting to know and accept ourselves, is often the route one takes in order to value others, to speak up for what you think is right and then be able to reject the injustice of racism and gender prejudices. The members of our group all felt that giving back and making a difference in the world was their prime motivation in life. It came in the form of politics, medicine, psychology, poetry and philanthropy. Other members had created artifacts or tangible items for their families to remember them. They had made wooden furniture, written poetry and memoirs. In addition, we had other alums who had written articles for journals, magazines, books and newspapers.
Our group could have gone on for at least another hour. Each person had a chance to participate but the time constraints made it necessary to limit the time that each person spoke. I think each person had much more information to share.
Joan (Kirschenbaum) Cohn, Facilitator
BUCKET LIST: We had a lively discussion around what was on each of our bucket lists. Some of the attendees had experienced more of their bucket list items and shared lots of suggestions.
Some of the places to go:
- South Africa – no mosquitoes – recommended going to Tanzania, Serengeti
- Climb Kilimanjaro
- Tahiti – just beautiful
- River Cruising – Viking ship in Europe
- Avalon Waterways – all the beds face looking out on the waterway. Said “best trip to take”
- See the Virgin Islands in a 4 cabin boat with a captain and 4 couples
- Gallipolis Islands on a boat – suggested Celebrity Cruise Lines – 94-passenger ship. – had 2 adventures every day with time for a nap in-between. Good time to go is end of May early June.
- Ireland and Scotland
- Uniworld 120-person boat on the Rhine from Paris to Normandy
- Baltic Cruise – no later than the end of August
- Story Land
- New Zealand was a definite place to visit
- Southern South America – Patagonia – Mendoza, Argentina
- Airplane sky diving
Ways to travel:
- Tufts Travel trips – the Odyssey was great
- Overseas Adventure Travel – have ½ day seminar on all the trips they have
- Trip Advisor is good for trip planning
- Marriott travel packages are great way to use Marriott points – 3-day and 5-day packages
- American airlines – you can stop over at multiple locations on one ticket.
- Use frequent flyer miles
Sheila Jacobson Mello, Facilitator
SINGLE AT SEVENTY: The Single at Seventy Group was composed of 5 women (myself included) and 1 man. Two members of our group had been divorced for many years. The remaining members had lost a spouse or significant other, 2 within the last year. The people in our group shared at a very honest and personal level. Each person’s story was unique, yet each was a masterpiece of courage and survival. I think we all learned a great deal from, and gained great respect for, each other from hearing about each other’s journeys.
Some of the observations and positive lessons learned and shared from being single include the following:
- Being successfully single is hard work but worth the effort.
- Cultivating good relationships with family and friends is extremely important.
- Taking positive steps to stay healthy, such as exercising and eating well, helps promote a positive outlook and makes it possible to be independent and active.
- Being other involved by helping friends, family and neighbors and volunteering to help repair the world avoids too much self pre-occupation and promotes a sense of well being.
- Celebrating victories big and small (paying the bills, fixing things around the house, making airline reservations online, etc.) builds confidence.
- Engaging in life-long learning and developing new skills and hobbies promotes a healthy and positive outlook.
- Being alone and feeling lonely are very different.
- Being grateful for whatever positive things happen each day is a great mood lifter.
Some of the challenges and difficulties expressed from being single include the following:
- Having to do it all as it’s no longer possible to divide and conquer or for each partner to do the tasks preferred or better at.
- Needing to initiate activities and social engagements as not invited as often to dinner parties or outings or vacation trips.
Missing having sounding board to work problems out and get feedback.
- Learning to ask for help.
- Hiring people to do tasks that spouse or significant other would have done.
- Having to do all the planning all of the time.
- Living alone can be very challenging financially.
Some additional thoughts about living alone after the death of a spouse or significant other, especially in the first year or two (or more):
- Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy to just get through the day.
- Attending a grief support group may be difficult but it is extremely valuable and can feel liberating.
- Evenings, weekends and summer vacations can be very lonely and difficult.
- Eating alone and preparing meals can be daunting.
- People can say very hurtful things without meaning to be hurtful because they don’t know what to say but feel they have to say something.
Being divorced and living as a single woman has its pluses and minuses, many of which are similar to losing a spouse:
- It can take up to 5 years to get over the loss and move forward.
- It’s necessary to take ownership for creating one’s own happy times.
- The freedom can be very enjoyable.
- The financial struggles can be daunting but survivable, especially when frugal and creative. (One woman learned how to make 9 meals out of 1 chicken during especially hard times!)
- At times of greatest discouragement, one woman wrote down 2 good things that happened on a given day.
- It helps to get comfortable with one’s own company.
- Making lists of goals to shoot for, and reviewing them every 6 months, helped one woman and making lists was the last thing another woman thought would be helpful.
- Travelling alone can be very difficult for some but not all. Some prefer travelling in groups or going to out of the way or rural places that are less frightening when being alone.
- Everyone felt that relationships are important to happiness, whether with friends or one’s children.
- Greatest concern for most was being able to be physically independent.
- The importance of making end of life decisions in a living will was discussed and agreed upon.
While it was clear that there is not one right answer or one right solution to living life as a single person, there were many common threads and points of agreement throughout our discussion and in some ways, death and divorce in many cases did not seem totally different.