A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with a charming and remarkable woman. Not afraid to tell me her age, Dolores at 71 has vibrant energy, a positive attitude, and an enviable fitness level . Four years ago, she completely relocated from upstate New York to Boise to live closer to family.
Rather ashamed to admit the following, but here it goes. I confess I conducted a hasty assessment of her.
A lovely, petite woman, with a quiet demeanor and yet an enthusiastic drive for community involvement, my ignorant mind still categorized her existence into one of a “nice older woman.” I did not immediately consider the full significance of her life, the people she influenced, or what career she had pursued.
I doubt Dolores was aware of the conversation going on inside my mind, but I knew I had unfairly categorized her, made assumptions, and trivialized her life. I did the very thing that I have a fear of people doing to me as I grow older.
Periodically, I battle my own struggles with feeling invisible and irrelevant as a middle-aged woman. Divorced now for five years, I confront loneliness and often feel disconnected from community.
While still married and raising my girls, I worked full-time, pursued a Master’s Degree, volunteered with several non-profits, and stayed involved in all of our daughter’s activities. I even tried my hand at coaching Y-ball, though I knew nothing about basketball. I attended at least 98 percent of all concerts, plays, dance recitals, presentations, and parent meetings. When the girls graduated from high school, an immediate separation occurred from a long time community forged through my daughters. Life shifted, empty nest syndrome settled in, and divorce put me into a curious category I had not planned for.
I paused and decided to take the time and probe, “Dolores, tell me about yourself please, unless you don’t want to.”
With a tilt of her head and smile she began to weave her stories. Dolores’ life unfolded like an accordion and played to the tune of over 15 geographic moves that supported her ex husband’s academic profession. Dolores forged her own successful research career in the medical field, and she has a long history of activism. She continues to volunteer with community projects working to improve the lives of others.
Then she raised her voice a bit and blurted, “Look, I spent my whole life building community and supporting others so I would always be surrounded by people and not be alone. First a divorce, then my second husband’s death, and my children grown and moved away changed everything. Sometimes I wonder why I put so much energy into all of that and confess I struggle to feel relevant as I age.”
A brief silence, I chuckled to myself, and we exchanged sparkly smiles acknowledging our kindred spirit status. The struggle to feel relevant, that we matter, and are useful as we grow old.
Then she burst into a brilliant fit of laughter and exclaimed, “Hey no pity parties here, we stay in the game and keep trying to make a difference! Even though at times we feel kicked to the outer limits and life does not line up as neatly as we imagined, we forge ahead and create new communities.”