Change is part of the human condition. As seniors, most of us have experienced a variety of transformations: loss, relocation, dislocation and adjustment. During these stressful times, we are usually surrounded by family and friends and supported by our community. We get through, survive and move on. We emerge stronger, with gratitude to those who have helped us. But what happens if those supports are not in place? When the only resources available are within ourselves?
Recently, I found myself in Victoria, several provinces and many thousands of kilometres away from the familiar. As a senior with minimal finances, I needed to make a new life for myself. Retired and dealing with some health issues, I was without the contacts one makes through work. Where to begin? How to replace some of the elements of the life I left behind, and to combat the inevitable loneliness? Sitting in my apartment waiting for people was not an option.
I made a few mental lists: What was I interested in? What was I good at? How could I apply these things to make my life meaningful and perhaps help others? I began with the church. A staunch Anglican, I had been very active in my small home parish. Without a car, it was important to find a church I could get to easily. The only one within easy walking distance turned out to be the Cathedral. I checked it out - a massive gothic-style building, seating for 800+ people, four services per Sunday. Wow! Could I find a place in such a huge setting? Selecting a contemporary service, I began to attend regularly. It was summertime, and I blended in with the many visitors in this tourist town. People were friendly, but not effusive, and it took a while to be noticed. But as time passed, appeals were made for volunteers to assist with one activity or another. I responded, and was soon helping with some refreshments, since being handy in the kitchen was one of my strengths.
Another area of expertise was competency with computers and, before long, I found myself producing documents on my laptop. This led to a committee, phone and e-mail lists and meeting with small groups. I joined a church study group, and got to know like-minded individuals. My calendar was filling up!
Being a senior, I also connected with a couple of seniors’ centres and was soon in a women’s support group at one, and working as a volunteer receptionist (being a “people person” was on my “good at” list) at another. Folks began to know my name, and to care whether I was there or not.
Classical music is one of my passions, so I subscribed to the Symphony, which took a large chunk of my budget. In the position of having more time than money, I also joined the Volunteer Guild and began to assist with various fundraising activities - and meeting other music lovers in the process.
High on the list of what I really missed was having dogs, which had always been a big part of my former life. Living in a pet-free building, and these days not being in a position to pay for vet bills and the like, I had to find other ways to get my dog “fix.” Discovering I was not far from a leash-free park, I started to hang out with other people’s pets there, and at the many sidewalk cafés for which Victoria is famous. Not quite as good as having woman’s best friend around at all times, but close!
Establishing an identity and creating a new network in a strange place is neither quick nor easy. It requires patience and perseverance, and the obstacles may seem insurmountable, but it can be done. And this once lost and lonely senior now has new friends, interesting pastimes, improved self-esteem and a satisfying sense of belonging.
DECEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
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