A Marvelous Role Model
About five years ago, my dear friend Carol decided to emigrate to Panama. A vibrant 88 year old, Carol was one of my life heroes, a wise, kind, thoughtful, smart, engaged, active woman with connections to multiple community groups. Like so many others, I was beyond sad to lose her companionship but thrilled by her example. How courageous to uproot herself after decades in this community and transplant herself into a distant country that doesn’t even have mail service. Actually, that may be part of the attraction; one reason Carol made this move is that she too often felt overwhelmed, angry, horrified and sad about the state of our country. She found Panama to be a lot more peaceful, especially since following US news is more challenging there.
She already had family there and a circle of friends (of course), since she’d made long visits a number of times. In 1917, her winter visit lasted a lot longer than usual. When she returned, she announced cheerfully that she had bought a small house with an attached “casita” for guests or caregivers, should the need arise. Her new community consisted of a number of similar units, a development model that could be extremely successful here as well. Given the lack of affordable housing all over the country, modest, single story homes with built-in ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) would sell like trendy doughnuts.
A Legacy Of Tools & Dreams
Carol was an active part of the Friday Tidy gardening volunteers at our local library for years. When she told us of her plans to relocate, we were all a bit shocked but also moved by her courage and positive outlook. Quite a few conversations were sparked by her choices. Would we be as bold and daring as Carol? I wasn’t sure then and I’m still not; so many ties can keep us connected to our long time communities and the change would have to be pretty promising to dislodge me. When it came time for her to leave, she quietly distributed many of her favorite belongings, giving away a fancy pair of hand painted floral clogs here, a lovely jacket there, and wonderful gardening tools everywhere. All of us Tidies still use those tools and we often speak of Carol as we work with them
When the days dwindled and leaving time arrived, we had a party where we did a little gardening then enjoyed a potluck, laughing joyfully and tearing up a bit as we exchanged memories. Our time with Carol was so rich and it seemed like there was always a new side of her to discover. I attended a few other farewell parties thrown by some of her many friends and heard marvelous Carol stories. Many were new to me, and even as I was letting go of her, I was realizing how complex and fascinating a person Carol was, and how little any of us knew of her. Sadly, she died this week, from complications from a recent fall. Joyfully, she died in her own bed, snuggled with her dear companion, a cheerful, pleasant man who adored Carol and brought a lot of pleasure to her final years.
After Carol left, I thought a lot about how much more I had learned about her just in the last months of her time here. I’ve noticed before that when we meet people in their elder years, we (or at least I) often take them as they seem now and don’t always bother to learn much about how they got to be who they are. I think many, perhaps most lives are more complex than they might appear unless we steer or coax our conversations beyond the surface. After several memorial services in which again I discovered fascinating aspects to lives I thought I knew fairly well, I decided to start a class called Write Your Own Obit. We’ve been offering it at the local Senior Center for years now and it’s always a delightful experience for all participants. Who knows your story better than you?
Along the way, I realized that too many single people have nobody to remember or tell their stories when it’s too late to discover more. That’s why it’s so rewarding to spend a few hours with others, writing our own stories and listening to others as well. When people get stuck, we do a silly exercise where we make up an imaginary life, just for fun, then consider whether anything that came up in that story could be something we might do. I always tell the story about Carol, moving to Panama at the age of 88, and finding five years of new experiences, new friendships, and new love. What do you wish you’d done that you still could? Maybe it really is never too late to make a dream come true.