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

We gathered in excitement, chatting to each other, as we formed our new family for the next fifteen days. What had I been thinking, I thought, waiting in the queue to board. This was a ‘retirement bucket list item’, but two weeks was a long time on a bus with all these strangers. The Maritimes had been calling me for years. My adventure held a different exploration than I ever could have expected.

A spattering of mature ages was observed, and thankfully our age group allowed excuses for not remembering names. Instead I began an association name game for future reference. British Bob and his wife sat in front of me and quiet Quinn across the aisle. Everyone was excited to begin our journey so forced conversation to connect included all our physical ailments.

Anticipation was in the air as we departed.

A late arrival in our first city stop was Montreal, Quebec and we were restless to disembark and find dinner after a full day on the bus. It seemed only hours later we were back. Montreal appeared large from the distance in and out of the city, and although we had received maps to explore, no time had been provided. Perhaps our next stop in Old Quebec City would offer a more restful lunch. The tour guide made promise of cobblestone streets to wander and recommended good walking shoes. Another map was provided. We arrived on St. Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec National holiday, which dented our travels. Road closures and detours rerouted us making time again an issue. Maps in hand and running shoes ready, we ran for the nearest takeout locations under restricted time once again. At a breathtaking picturesque location, the coffee shop lineup was long as we hastily ordered. I enjoyed a few moments of views. Back on the coach I saw others had found Subway, happy to have a meal before we continued. This was not the romantic lunch I had been promised. A gnawing concern crept into my thoughts or was it hunger.

Onward to St. Simeon for the ferry across the St. Lawrence!  We were informed there would be no stops until we arrived, but were assured there was a restaurant on the ferry. We could relax knowing food could be obtained later and snoozed through the three-hour journey of trees. Charming water sights appeared once on board the ferry; however several of us who had not acquired lunch scurried to locate the back-kitchen style restaurant. A homemade soup was available. Thankfully, I ate. Arrival at our hotel in Riviere-du-Loup was late, so of course the grocery store was closed, and the only hotel restaurant was taking reservations, but well into the night. I passed and started to realize I was on a diet tour. At breakfast I was informed by Mediterranean Mary, packaged food had been found at the bar.

Our coach pushed through cities with little time for relaxing breaks and the same tree views continued. I am not an expert driver, but it seemed the roads and locations we bussed were remote. Walmart, gas stations, and grocery marts were the chosen by this tour operator as we foraged for food. The Walmart was a delight to many who were now stocking the overhead bins with processed food. I was not the only one buying Rolaids. A lovely, although rushed, dinner was enjoyed in Miramichi, New Brunswick, a first with fish that was not breaded and a vegetable side that was not coleslaw. This appeared a favorite in the Maritimes, or was it just our stops. A kitchen party had been scheduled and we were entertained with some history, jokes and Celtic music. Delightful, but no food.

Our tribe began straying and groups began forming, as familiarity was found between individuals. The smokers, the Women and Rex, the couples, and the singles!  Bonding was happening on the bus.

The next stop was Shediac, New Brunswick for a lobster dinner and cruise, but I noticed the itinerary different from the brochure, now noted as a lobster experience. A lobster hauler offered picnic tables for lunch as it demonstrated how to determine if your lobster is male or female. Really! Boiling water on a BBQ at the back of the boat prepared our whole creature with the familiar coleslaw side and stale bun. I detected butter in the bun basket, but my co-traveller mentioned the allotment per person. I complied not wanting issues with my new hungry friends. My diet theme continued riveted with the little eyes and antennae of my lobster. I could not eat this creature from God, now too close for comfort. I laughed when another bus pal offered her food stashed on the bus. Not everyone can eat lobster Acadian style.

Eastward bound, our arrival on the Confederation Bridge into P.E.I. needed a second glance. This complex engineering creation is the longest bridge in the world over ice-covered water and eight miles in total. The Anne of Green Gable luncheon, “reminiscent of the era,” per the brochure, was a brown bag lunch. A ham sandwich was offered, and I was informed the raspberry cordial kept the advertising in check. I also later learned the Fabric of Canada luncheons offered on this tour were also brown bag sandwich lunches. Was I the only one feeling a little cheated on this advertised foodie tour? I felt a little insulted as a Canadian.

Spectacular views came in Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail a unique scenic experience. I found the scenes in the advertising. I had 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 Atlantic Canada but are not from there, you’re a ‘come-from-away person’.

Canada has more uninhabited room than I ever imagined. We pushed on, the next stop Halifax. Comfortable rhythms veiled the bus, afternoons silent dozing as old movies played on the overhead screens, everyone more comfortable they had stored food. We munched on the bus.

My new family remained nameless as we nodded our greetings. A regular in the mornings, jovial Jim loved getting the coach microphone and telling his jokes. 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 was thankful for their humour to start the day.

A new week, we arrived at scenic Peggy’s Cove. Several women came to the back of the bus to show me their swollen ankles. A quiet revolt was developing in the rear seats; we needed to get off —now.

I ditched the tour on day eleven with two others and booked a one-way flight home. The coach was continuing to the United States, but my body would no longer co-operate, and I needed to end my diet. I learned travelling in a tribe has a focus of food and any kind of washrooms.  I said my good-byes, and remember one final comment, “take me with you Windsor,” from roaming Rex. It was time for me to leave. I needed to rethink the bucket list.

I received a “Smiles Test” questionnaire from my tour operator upon departure, however I could not smile in response… I laughed instead. I had survived. Next!

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:

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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

Love Giver


By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
“Well te rusten,” was our nightly gesture, a Dutch phrase translating to “rest well,” and the only ritual practiced daily that brought peace to my inner world.

Two years, two people, and two very different relationships endured between a mother and daughter. A lifetime of personalities had settled comfortably, and required new vigour for a caring role reversal, as we merged lives.

The light bulb idea was mine as I suggested mom move in with me. I offered an extra bedroom at the condo I purchased for my retirement at a small lakeside community. I found her increased needs entailed exhaustive attention when she lived alone, and required daily visits to bring food. I cleaned, arranged appointments, paid her bills, and became her taxi. More seriously, reminders of regular routines like bath time, med-time, mealtime, and locking her door were also necessity.

Mom had difficulty with the decision; one day she ruled favourably in the choice, but then the next remained non-committal. She unfortunately forgot her final decision to move with me.

This trek with mom began with hope, a journey of love, and seriously railroaded off the tracks days after we moved. A nasty transition ensued, as I unpacked and she sat staring out the window.

She was vocal about her unhappiness, but silent in her retreat with this disease. My sense of hopelessness surfaced, not understanding how I was capable of providing the essentials of life, yet could not fix this situation for her. I knew she could not live alone.

I grimly noted my loss of privacy and social life. Resentment simmered, knowing she was not at fault. I never realized the encompassing work caring for a loved one, who became a disgruntled, unrepentant guest. Sorting my emotions became a dilemma, and feelings of suffocation arose. My lakeside dream crumbled, and my retreat changed into a prison.

A day-away program was a Band-Aid in assisting with her care, or was it for my care? Support was the goal, but the ultimate result attached me to their schedule. Respite care was exceedingly difficult to obtain, if at all. My freedom nevertheless diminished.

We weaved our existence around each other, but the oppressive energy in my home radiated. I became her total support system, yet wondered if I was helping her at all.

“What day is it?” was her morning question, this habit repeated every day, and it would not be an exaggeration to mention it could reoccur again a few hours later. Groundhog Day, the movie, once had me laughing at the repetition, but now the regurgitated theme troubled me, this reality inferred in my life.

My questions multiplied with lessened expectations of mom’s capabilities. Her mental functions deteriorated with no known navigation, and living with this disease of dementia, presented the most confusing, non-patterned survival. Each personality piloting this brain maze will live it differently, and the love givers live this same life!

“It takes a village.” is a common saying for raising children and I have learned the meaning also holds true for elder care. No one can go it alone.

Two years passed and my quest for additional help towered. I fell deeper into my misery, depression lurking for both of us. How could I make life decisions for another human being? She is here to live her own unique journey, so I struggled with this challenge.

The call came at four p.m. on New Year’s Eve. A bed at a long-term care residence was available immediately for her. No time to worry, we were rushed through the preparations, instructions, and tests. She appeared to understand, had wanted this move, but I still wondered if it was all clear to her. I felt grace in action the way the universe fell into place that day.

She explored the new surroundings without hesitation. She was back in the city she had called home.

She now seems content residing across the street from her old apartment. A new slice of life sprouted in this nursing home, mom unfolding with a re-energized spirit, and choices of a manicure or bingo her only concern.

Long-term residence care survives criticism by various standards, yet continues to provide elder care housing, as society searches for improved, alternative options. I must end with a shout out of thanks to this village currently supporting mom’s needs.

A fresh relationship surfaced for us too, and I am pleased we have recreated a new, old friendship. She has taught me endurance and adaptability.

Love overwhelms me again.

Posted in Caregivers, Dementia, Elder Care, Long Term Care | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments