I know it is time to leave my office and head upstairs to the kitchen and begin dinner preparations, but I keep thinking of one more thing to do at my desk. It's not that I don't want to fix dinner. (I will fix a chicken dish with couscous and green beans.) I am just not ready to end this day of exploration.
A good chunk of the day has been spent transcribing life review interviews of a hospice patient who died recently. After transcribing them, I will use the interview material to write a narrative of her life. She was someone who, I suspect, would describe herself as an ordinary person, whatever that means. Her resume, if she had one, would not include extraordinary achievements or stellar accomplishments, but as I have listened to her respond to questions from the interviewer, I have smiled at some of her stories and appreciated the glimpses I have been allowed to see into her life. I have thought to myself, "This was a person worth knowing."
It is an honor now to receive her life and attempt to arrange her memories and stories into a meaningful format for those who knew and loved her. I assume they will be happy to have this and grateful that she agreed to these interviews, but at the same time I wonder about all that is missing. The depth and width of this woman. What does she really want her loved ones to remember about her?
I am exploring the idea of forming a group for women who are approaching retirement or are recently retired; a group that will explore issues of this stage of our life, the meaning and the challenges, and the opportunities. (If you live in the Madison, WI, area and are interested, let me know.) In a way this group could be a safe place for doing one's own life review--letting go of who we were, finding out who we really are, and connecting with spirit. In the process of researching this idea I came across some questions posed by the author Joan Borysenko, who has studied and written extensively about women's spirituality. The following statements seem like a good place to begin a life review, launching us into this new stage of life.
*I realize life is both precious and short. When the angel death comes to my door, I will be ready to go because...
*The thing I will miss most when life is over is...
*I have finished with...(Good things and difficulties both)
*I still yearn to...
*In the years to come, I will be grateful for...
As I think about these statements and how I might complete them, I imagine a group of women, all of a certain age, sitting comfortably together in a circle, sipping wine, perhaps, and sharing in confidence our stories, the hard learned lessons of our lives, the wisdom we have acquired and our hopes, fears, and questions for the future. None of us have been here before --the view is a new one for all of us.
I keep talking and writing about this new stage of my life, and I wonder what "new stage" really means, especially as my 65th birthday is only days away. Isn't this a time of winding down? Of letting go? A time when physical issues, major and minor, are more likely in myself and my loved ones? What exactly is the purpose of this time?
Joan Chittister, a wise, wise woman, writes,
The real truth, I have come to think, is that there is no such thing as having only one life to live. The fact is that every life is simply a series of lives, each one of them with its own task, its own flavor, its own brand of errors, its own type of sins, its own glories, its own kind of deep, dank despair, its own plethora of possibilities, all designed to lead us to the same end--happiness and a sense of fulfillment.
Life is a mosaic made up of multiple pieces, each of them full in itself, each of them a stepping-stone on the way to the rest of it.
The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, p.xii
Yesterday was warm enough to open the front door with only the storm door between the inside and the outside, a view I have not had all these winter months. Much was familiar, but at the same time the view felt new to me. Chittister calls these years the "summit-time of life," and also, the "capstone years," and those seem like appropriate terms, terms worth investigating, but standing on the threshold between the seasons, this stage of life feels like A Deeper, Wider View.
I invite you to share the view from where you are.