Embracing All Seasons of Life

by Francine Van, Guest Contributor

Losing Life SpiritI arrived at this moment with age but know the feeling of loss of myself. It happens. The crucial question is how to preserve it and thrive.

Aging brings forward the essence of life. Defining this spirit is impossible because of the uniqueness between us and I have learned the emotional weight we carry contributes to its demise. Families and friends layer burdens unintentionally in addition to doctors, grocers, transportation needs, or any other interaction. As a person in pea-time or the ripeness of my life, I decline the use of senior as an adjective to describe myself. Elder a little better at least implicates some wisdom in the matter. And ripe is defined as developed. I like it. This quote reminds me to embrace all seasons of life, not just the spring of our lives:

           “To be interested in the changing seasons is …a happier
           state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring”
           ~~ George Santayana

I found my spirit challenged a few months ago with medical tests, and the thought of knowing when the possible period at the end of my life sentence may come physically, decided to sit still. I realized the busyness I had created and allowed around me. Me, who is me now?

I stopped answering my phone, except to necessity, emailed those close to me that I was fine, and I was, just not well. I had no goal but to indulge myself. Some of the days I watched TV all day, movie after movie with a glass of wine or I sat and felt the wind.

But I continued two obligations a few days a week. One to a school lunch program and a half day volunteer gig with a retail recycler. I learned I had chosen well after numerous attempts volunteering for different causes. I found one as a cashier enjoying interaction with the public helping shoppers find deals in a restore. I also found a part time job at schools that offers the loving energy of children. Their hope and sincerity will lift anyone and their truth telling, like how old I am, punches directly at my ego. Talking with children has no room for self importance.

I took a month off. I stopped social engagements of any kind filtering them slowly back, but with limits. I found myself writing more, my passion, and working on some projects that have been laying around without progress. Needless to say, I found my spirit. Honestly, it is never really lost, just buried under the emotional weight or what I have come to define as death by a million cuts. I believed this to be part of aging, but again, now realize it happens all though our lives.

Awareness and confidence are the only solutions. Awareness of how you are spending your time to ensure balance. I believe that in retirement the façade of the golden years, or fulfilling a notion of a perfect grandparent, or dedication to volunteering to help everyone in need, will drain you. Thus, the confidence in choosing your activities for the day to help you  thrive is the most important goal of each day. Learning to say ‘no’ is a requirement. Take time to feel the joy of life. I would never have guessed being on a school playground would bring light to my spirit, but it does and for now my life continues with a comma. It was only a pause after all.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Xmas
Hoping I find this spirit too.

Posted in Aging, Elder population, Quality of life, Retirement | Tagged , | 1 Comment

West Coast Wonder, a bucket list item

By Francine Van, guest contributor

The cab arrived in the darkness at three in the morning. I was off.

Zone six was never called. Forty minutes waiting to board I quietly checked into the gate with the few remaining passengers. I didn’t ask why. This was my final checkpoint in the people mover system created for airplane travel. It all starts with that first scan of arrival and you are captive under their control through their flow. We remove shoes, clothes, and belts to be compliant to their demands as well as answering the personal questions of why you packed nail clippers. Yes, I was asked this question apparently in conflict with regulations. It is the only way if you wish to reach your destination.

Still re-gathering my belongings and redressing I was pushed along through the people mover. As a senior, this process takes me longer than before as my mind wandered through the reasons why I was embarking on this journey that had been on my bucket list. Entering the aircraft, I squeezed into the directed aisle asking a flurried flight attendant how many people were on board. Her quick response indicated too many at four hundred. I could not see the end of the crowded aisle as anxiety set in. Further maintenance delays on the tarmac ensued while we sucked the air out of the cabin until finally, we made lift-off.

Taking in my surroundings and feeling the crush of my seat I realized this would be my world for a few more elongated hours. Where were the washrooms?

Toronto to Vancouver was my agenda, one that had been planned last year as a leisurely revisit to an old haunt, while I still could. Facing the honest reason for even creating a list before death, I knew I was into my “lasts”. Comfort is challenged for any person flying, so with age even with health, it can absolutely incapacitate. Time itself on board pushes personal limits both emotionally and physically. Add the delays, turbulence, and food, and you have an over-whelmed elder. But I sat tight.

The landing uneventful, the vision of the stunning mountain views brought comfort, but with arrival I knew this trip would be a final. I would not again endure this distress feeling dehydrated and dizzy. Interesting in reference, so many times now I find myself thinking something will be my “last”… like the car I purchased. I remember my parents saying these things many years ago and I scoffed at their silliness. Now I get it.

Going back in time zones I found my friends for lunch although I craved any food now, it being the dinner hour for me.

Vancouver had changed over the years, over ten to be exact, yet the west end English Bay area remained intact. I enjoyed walks through quaint neighbourhoods admiring the spring flowers in bloom, their season well ahead of the east. Beaches mixed with the urban seemed more disjointed than my memories. Construction predominated the landscape in this city now. A ferry to Bowen Island offered the majestic peak scenes and glacier waters for a new scenic view.

I changed hotels several times, learning that trusting the internet can bring unacceptable accommodation. We expect comfort at this age but more importantly, safety. Comic memories of walking the streets rolling luggage in search of the next hotel, while stopping for washroom breaks at restaurants reminds me of travel hazards. Without expectations for this adventure I enjoyed meeting up with old friends, sharing some meals, we perhaps cackled a little too loudly in restaurants, hearing sometimes an issue too. Updating about our new lives it was most interesting to learn a friend who had been laid off from her advertising job in her late fifties found wealth in the newly legalized pot industry. She also found a new young beau and her stories were hilariously interesting, especially when she confessed being on the no-fly list.

I won’t mention the details of the return flight. I am rehydrated now.

Years fly by too quickly, but good times are still to be had. Enjoy your journey and for me that might be in theory only, although I do wonder if I have the courage and strength to take one last desired trip.

Never say Never.

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Bussing Along the Atlantic …A Bucket List Item

By Francine Van, Guest Contributor

What had I been thinking, I mused in the travel queue waiting to board.

The noise level heightened with my anxiety listening to the excited chatter around me. Fourteen days with these strangers jarred my sensibility. The Atlantic Ocean had been calling me for years and, now retired, I was ready for a new adventure. The time was now, but this exploration would perk a different experience than I had expected.

Finally seated and settled, I noticed a spattering of mature ages giving way to excuses for not remembering names. I began an association name game for my future reference. British Bob and his wife sat in front of me and quiet Quinn across the aisle. We forced conversation to connect. Nothing like telling a stranger your personal secrets.

Eagerness was in the air as our bus departed.

The enthusiasm then deflated for a late arrival at our first city stop of Montreal. Bodies cramped we were restless to disembark. After finding dinner and a quick sleep it seemed only hours later we were back on the coach. Our disenchantment reflected in our faces through the shaded glass windows exiting the city that day.

The tour guide promised a more relaxing break in Old Quebec City for a restful lunch and shopping. She promised a meander through the cobblestone streets with the recommendation of good walking shoes. We unfortunately arrived on St. Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec National holiday. The busy streets had detours through the road-closure mazes, which caused lengthy delays. This time the late arrival went unmentioned by our guide who smiled providing pamphlets with many suggestions for sight-seeing. Yet she cut the time frame allotted. Motivated with maps in hand and running shoe laces tied, we whirled in all directions searching for our mid-day meal. I found a coffee shop with quaint views while waiting in the long lineup. Time up, I rushed back. I saw others had returned with coffee and snacks like me. Conversations between bites indicated restaurant line ups were too long to wait, but grateful to have food our road trip continued.  This was not the romantic lunch I had been offered. A gnawing concern crept into my thoughts or was it hunger.

Onward toward St. Simeon to ferry across the St. Lawrence we were informed there would be no stops to ensure our timely arrival. We snoozed through the three-hour journey of trees having been assured there was a restaurant on board. Breathtaking water sights appeared during the crossing, however many of us scurried to locate the back-kitchen-style restaurant. A spicy homemade soup was available, which was not to my liking, but famished I thankfully ate. Evening arrival at our Riviere-du-Loup hotel was on schedule for this holiday, but closure of the nearby restaurant and grocery store was not. Our hotel eatery took reservations but were booking well into the night. I passed and with laxer pants started to realize I just might be on a diet tour. The next morning Mediterranean Mary offered me peanuts she had found at the bar. I accepted. Might be a lunch for later.

The coach pushed through scrub land with minimal time for relaxed breaks. Although not an expert driver of the area, I questioned the remote road choices. Service centres or grocery marts were the chosen stops by this tour operator as we foraged for food. Everyone seemed to be stocking piling the overhead bins and I was not the only one buying Rolaids. A delicious rushed dinner was enjoyed in Miramichi, the first with fish that was not breaded and a vegetable side that was not coleslaw. Although this appeared a favourite in the Maritimes it just might have been our meal stops. At a kitchen party we were entertained with some history, jokes and the spoons. Delightful but no food.

Our tribe began straying in groups. Familiarity was found between individuals like the smokers, the single women with roaming Rex, and the couples. Bonding was happening on the bus.

The next stop in Shediac was for a lobster dinner and cruise but reviewing the itinerary I noticed a difference from the brochure, now noted as a lobster “experience.” An open hauler with picnic tables awaited. A dumbfounding demonstration of how to determine the sex of your lobster occurred while they boiled on the rear deck. The whole creature with the familiar coleslaw side and a stale bun landed on our plastic plates. I detected butter in the bun basket, but my co-traveller mentioned the meagre one allotment per person. I complied not wanting issues with my hungry friends. My diet theme continued when my eyeballs became riveted on this  creature from God, now too close for comfort. Not everyone can eat lobster Acadian style.

Eastward bound, comfortable rhythms now enveloped the afternoons of silent dozing with old movies playing on the overhead screens and munching from the stored processed food. Our arrival on the Confederation Bridge into P.E.I. impressed a second glance at the longest eight-mile bridge in the world over ice covered water. The Anne of Green Gable luncheon, “reminiscent of the era”, per the brochure, was a brown bag lunch. A ham sandwich was offered with a raspberry cordial which kept the advertising in check. Was I the only one feeling a little cheated on this advertised foodie tour?

Spectacular scenic views came in Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail a unique experience. I had finally found the pictures in the advertising. I made it. I weighed less, had vertigo from the bus, and digestive problems, but I made it.

Capers are the known slang for individuals from Cape Breton, and if you visit but are not from there, you’re a come-from-away person.

In transit to Halifax I realized Canada has more uninhabited regions than I ever imagined. My novel family nodded our daily greetings when boarding and enjoyed our regular, jovial Jim telling his jokes. One morning he offered a vow renewal ceremony with his spouse of sixty-four years, claiming he was only fifty-six. She did not appreciate his openness on their anniversary, and when asked if she would retake her husband, she replied she would think about it. The moment did not go as planned and he confirmed it had not been an easy road with her. I appreciated the humour to start the day.

En route to picturesque Peggy’s Cove several women came to the back of the bus to show me their swollen ankles. A quiet revolt had been developing in the rear seats; we needed to get off.

I ditched the tour on day ten with two others and booked a one-way flight home. The coach was continuing, but my body would no longer co-operate. I needed to end the diet. With baggy pants I said my good-byes and remember one final comment from roaming Rex, “take me with you.”

I received a smiles questionnaire from my tour operator upon parting, however I could not smile in response, I laughed instead. I had survived.

Posted in Bucket List, Golden Years, Quality of life, Retirement hobbies | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Walking into Age …Have you Loved Enough?

By Francine Van, Guest Contributor

I live a simple life, my place has basic needs without the richness of excess, although for me, it houses so many life treasures both lived and unlived.  I feel the gratitude of pure luck being born in this country, at this time in the universe, or was it all intended just as it is?  Stories from other countries cannot be ignored when pushed into your face telling of despair and desperation.  Neglect and terror scream for focus and I am reminded of the luxury of even considering a search for purpose.  Survival is purpose for many.  When we are young, this society and school pushes reform into the norm, yet individuality is what we seek as we grow. Be different is good advice. Age brings wisdom, as popularity loses importance.

I pray for the children that never know the meaning of love.  Hostages for a human race that kills its own and kills our habitat sincerely keeps me in question.  The possibilities and technology available, with a new generation more compassionate, gives hope our abilities can overcome.  We can create a new world with balance and union.  Globalization is a key requirement. Contributions to the cause are becoming visible spraying hope in new places and people. Watching societies put focus on helping “one” and saving “one” yet will turn away when hundreds of thousands are killed, raises concern. No discussion needed, we all know the answer.  I will not be here to see the result in this body.

Death, in contrast forecasts change in perception.  Can death be love?  Our elders, including myself, express desire to exit without waiting for natural pathways to death. Life swerves and for some the road is too difficult to bear. Death appears to be the freedom from the burdens of this life, and even if not burdened, the promise of a rebirth to a better space of energy. The fear of how you will die seems more fearful than the dying itself. Our world is over populated with new threats of death. There are no saviours. We are living in a war zone; it is just not identified as a structured war. There is no exit from death. We are all on this road.

For now, find a level of contentment. When love exudes through your pores, know this vibration of contentment can be achieved as the norm.  This aliveness secret can be lost in our busyness of life but was known by many of our historic teachers giving advice to live in awareness and mindfulness.

Have you loved enough?

Posted in Elder population, Quality of life, Retirement | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Practice of Using Volunteer Workers

By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
I took note of the definition of ‘workers’ vs. the definition of ‘volunteers’ in the dictionary.  While a worker is one who works for another for wages or a salary, a volunteer is someone who does work without being paid for it, because they want to do it. The vision of volunteer vs. worker appears blurred as I search volunteer opportunities. Leaving one position, I learned it was refilled with an employee, and I realized the balance required for companies. I do not want to hinder employment for someone on unemployment.

Non-profit and charity businesses further distort this criteria. Their volunteer opportunities can take lengthy training, require commitment for duration of time, have schedules to report, and track you like an employee. These openings are hidden jobs. If you are seeking a non-paying position you can most definitely find one.

I find numerous volunteers actively engaged in various activities and wonder if the market is over saturated with these helpers. The baby boomers are bored and the students flood the remainder of the market with their required community service hours to graduate or obtain work. I will gladly give up my service to help our younger generation get hired. Some will not. Some will even protect and discourage other volunteers.

On the flip side, I find some activities in my volunteer gig as “make work projects” to keep us busy for a shift, not contributing to the cause, and I find this annoying. I want to give my time to contribute to the betterment of a giving society that helps those in need. Period.

I am not there to take a job. I am not there because I have nothing else to do.

I continue as a student of life and hope to offer some wisdom on occasion through my experiences. I look after grandchildren, I look after my mom in care at a long term residence, I look after friends who are recovering from surgeries or fighting depression at this stage of life, and I find myself overwhelmed at times. I am realizing I have become involved in many unpaid jobs and wonder where all that free retirement time has gone.

Be careful, perhaps you are already volunteering and do not realize it. I needed a week off to get a rest and write this story.


NOTE – Refer an earlier blog on volunteerism and seniors at this link:

Posted in Retirement, Retirement planning, Volunteerism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Retirement or Restart


Retirement can be an opportunity for rebirth – a time to set in motion a new chapter in life.  It would even be regarded as an opportunity for a career restart.

Retirement is when we have more of that precious commodity…free time!  It is when we can take the opportunity to learn something new that can stimulate us. Unfortunately many of us have fallen into society’s pattern for our lives – working and being productive. Sadly, that is to be productive according to society’s definition of success, not ours! There has to be more. This belief is difficult to dismiss when spending hours in a perceived unproductive mode while indulging our interests.  We thus have to make sure that those interests will captivate our spirit and drive us to live a full and satisfied life.

Many of us considering retirement are weighed down by important questions before making that life changing decision.  We wrestle with many questions:  Is it time to retire? Can we afford to retire? What will we do to occupy our time after retirement? We need to find creative ways to enjoy life or pursue an alternate career while maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. More time on your hands will allow you to wander and experience the wonders of our world if you can afford it.  We do however have to keep our expectations in line with the reality of our financial circumstances.

Family responsibilities often play a role in how we manage our time. Caring for others, such as your children, grandchildren or elderly parents may require obligations and place demands on your time. These responsibilities can be satisfying despite the challenges and frustrations that oft time seem to accompany engaging with family. Social interaction with family can, however, be a rewarding experience. It could ease the sense of isolation that some retirees experience. Emotional health is equally as important as physical health, especially at this important chapter of our life.

As we contemplate how to spend time, hesitation and even some confusion can become obstacles to implementing a good plan.  That concern can be lessened by doing research at the library. Libraries offer great free resources, as do colleges that have continuing education courses.  The library is an excellent resource as it provides access to a range of helpful information on how to have a fulfilling retirement.  There are also local community centres, clubs, and social groups that provide networking opportunities to ease one into the restart.

Workshops and classes can open many avenues in making retirement more productive and enjoyable. We have an opportunity to link up with all kinds of people in various age groups and from a vast array of cultural backgrounds. If you are interested in the arts you can take classes to learn how to draw, paint, write or even learn to play a musical instrument or anything else that may inspire or interest you.

A second career is also considered by some of us. This option may or may not offer a salary especially if you are a volunteer. That choice might depend on your financial circumstances. Volunteering in community centres or becoming a member of a social group can help you keep busy and give you a sense of being productive. While minimum wage jobs may offer some type of obligation, they may not sustain you emotionally. Your spirit or psyche might need more. There is the option for entrepreneurship for those who have the determination and passion to set up their own business.  Establishing a business is challenging so lots of hard work and resilience will be essential.

Enjoying retirement often has more to do with the choices we make, like embracing hobbies.  Finding a hobby of interest is another activity to consider. If you choose what you enjoy, the surroundings will fall into place. It becomes the most important calling.  Activities of interest can help to ignite the restart as you carve out your destiny at this time life.

You know you are on track with your destiny when you feel alive —that special spark that harks back to your youth.  During this time you will find that your purpose changes with life experiences and with age. This restart can be a most enthralling experience that you can explore and enjoy. The sky is the limit …. the fire of youth may have receded, but the passion should still be there in the embers.

Posted in Career restart, Health, Retirement, Retirement careers, Retirement hobbies, Volunteerism | Tagged , | 2 Comments