Following a 45-year career as a registered nurse and psychologist, I retired as a professor emeritus in 2019. The decision to retire did not come easily. I can’t say that I did significant retirement planning. I loved my work, teaching, writing, travelling and researching. But I knew that I didn’t want to be still working when I turned 70. When I met with my dean for “just a discussion about retirement,” I put an arbitrary date out there for a year or so down the road and it came much sooner than I could imagine.
I’ve always thought of myself as knowing and understanding some things about aging. Since I was a child, I have had a connection to gerontology. As a young child of seven, my father, a pastor, would take me with him to the nursing homes where he performed Sunday afternoon church and I would play piano for the hymns. The residents made a fuss over me. I felt part of their communities. I believe that it was this love and acceptance by older adults that laid the foundation for my career which focused on aging and mental health in teaching, research, and practice.
From those early childhood experiences, to working as a nurses’ aide in nursing homes through my latter high school years and through university, to working as an educator, supervisor of students and consultant in aging and long-term care settings, my love of working with older adults grew as I learned about not only the challenges of aging but the joy and opportunities it also offered. I wanted to make a difference in the care of older adults. I’ve written articles about aging. I’ve developed graduate courses on mental health and aging, and aging across the life span, just to mention a few. These experiences forged a lifelong career that engaged me in practice settings that fostered joy and meaning in my professional life.
Now, three years into retirement, I find myself on the other side of these experiences and reflecting back on what they have meant while looking forward to what’s ahead. Through these reflections, I will offer some insights that are guiding me as I am learning to navigate this country of old age.
In a recently published book, author Parker Palmer spoke about an essay, “Reuniting with Awe,” written by his friend and colleague. He said his friend painted an exquisite picture of how her 16- month-old daughter helps her to see life through a toddler’s eyes. She said, “My daughter is on the brink of everything.” Dr. Palmer’s response was “that’s exactly where I am today at age 79.”
I also feel I am still “on the brink of everything.” I hope that I can always feel like I am on the brink of something. I love learning and I want to always maintain the attitude that one of my 98-year-old research participants shared with me when she said, “I still have so much to learn, so many more books to read and sunsets to see.”
I am learning that I have more flexibility with my time away from the demands of a heavy and often tightly scheduled calendar. I can pick up a magazine or a book anytime and read for the pure pleasure of reading. I can choose to walk, or drive, or bicycle at any time of the day. An impromptu visit or cup of tea with a friend or family are moments just waiting to happen. I live in a place that is surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes and rivers, trails and pathways that take your breath away. I can take time to experience the glory of a sunrise that greets the awakening day.
As I navigate my way into this country of old age where I have taken up citizenship, I am a student all over again. I embrace the opportunities I am being given to learn about life in this country and the kinds of things that can help me continue to be a citizen worthy of residency.
Sharon L. Moore is a professor emerita at Athabasca University.