Successful Aging: How these vital women are managing social distance


Q. As a 73-year old healthy retired widow, I am having trouble with another transition just when I had the “retirement piece” all worked out. I had a great career, a fulfilling retirement and now am self-quarantined. The transition from work to retirement and now to isolation is a big one for me. Any thoughts? And please don’t give me an exhausting laundry list of things I can do. I am sure I am not alone on this. An added thought: Is anyone thinking about the impact of this big change on older adults? E.R.

Dear E.R.

Indeed, you are not alone. This isolation is a major transition for everyone, including older people. In your case, it sounds like it has occurred just when you figured out how to make your retirement work for you.

The following stories might be helpful.

About 20 years ago, my colleague Bernice Bratter and I co-founded a movement called Renewment™, a word we made up consisting of a combination of retirement and renewal. It consists of career women close to retirement or recently retired who meet in small groups to discuss topics of transition, change and opportunity as they create the next chapter in their lives. Renewment groups have grown virally to about 40 throughout the country. (See Renewment.org and the LA Times bestseller “Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women”).

As a snapshot of what is happening on the ground, I asked eight of our Renewment women, ages 65 to 85, to address what they were doing with their time during this period of self-quarantine as well as some of the challenges and opportunities. Their transition experiences likely are similar to yours.

A woman recovering from knee surgery finds two daily walks and workouts imperative to her recovery. Although watching too much news prevents her from reading and organizing her office, she is using this time for reflection, one of gratitude and staying in touch with family and friends.

Founder of a nonprofit organization, this woman is recovering from a fall as she works from bed planning her next big fundraising event. Another is spending time taking care of her husband who also suffered a bad fall. She says,” I need a break now and then knowing I really cannot go out and shop, forcing me to stay calm, accepting that which I cannot change.”

“Although we may be physically isolated, social media is the upside, giving us the opportunity to stay in touch,” according to another woman. She using this time as an opportunity to begin a huge project she avoided because it would take hours of concentrated effort. She writes, “Guess who now has the time?”

And yet another is in disbelief. She writes, “Are they talking to me?” “I think so.” “The elderly.” “Me? Yep, I guess so. By all calculations, I’m 78 and there is no doubt that by today’s characterizations surrounding Covid-19, they’re talking about me. I’m part of that high-risk group. Me? Really? Me, who swims at a pretty fast clip for an hour? Me, who spends an hour on the elliptical at a good pace and walks the hills near my home? Yep. That cold, hard realization doesn’t suit my skin but then, it’s just a reality that I must face. It doesn’t change the essence of who I am, just the way that the world looks at me. And that’s okay. Mostly.”

And here’s another. “I made chicken soup today, went for a walk and had two Zoom work calls. It’s a challenge to do something somewhat productive every day. The challenge for me is to not go crazy snacking all day! And it’s also a challenge NOT to listen to CNN all day. I have noticed opportunities to be creative – to do things differently. As a person who normally hates to talk on the phone, I appreciate contact I am having via the phone with friends far and wide. And I am lucky to have two work colleagues with whom to brainstorm new ways of doing our work.”

One of our women is in the process of moving. That’s taking one hundred percent of her time and energy.

Another finds it safe to galivant with her dog at the beach with a few friends keeping her distance. She has been cooking, reading Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the new Hilary Mantell’s novel about Thomas Cromwell. She is following the rules of cleanliness, “stuffing myself with vitamins as well as Chinese herbs, bone broth, and whatever crosses our path.” At low tide, she has dates with her husband and dog on the beach.

Finally, there is yours truly. I get more sleep and have time to reflect on what is important, spending more time, reaching out to family and friends – even writing those old-fashioned hand-written notes. I have ongoing work such as writing this weekly column, a book chapter, etc. and am helping to develop something called the Encore Intergenerational Roundtable, part of the Encore.org network. It will be a virtual think tank-learning community advancing the concept for all generations to see the latter part of life as one of personal and social renewal. I find canceled commitments somewhat of a relief. How to keep up my fitness program remains a challenge even with daily walks. And reading more is a delight.

Let’s not forget that this can be a time for creativity. Sir Isaac Newton was quarantined during the great London plague in the 1600s and discovered early calculus. Shakespeare was quarantined during a plague and wrote King Lear. OK, these are exceptions, but who knows?

E.R. Thank you for your good question. Although each person has a different story, these women have expressed gratitude, grace, acceptance and the importance of relationships, fitness, creativity and nature. As older adults, we too are undergoing massive changes to our daily lives.

The question is, “how do we use this downtime as an opportunity for generosity and love — for ourselves, our loved ones and for our community. Hope this gives you a few ideas. Stay safe and well.

© Helen Dennis.  All Rights Reserved.