Each of us finds challenges as we age – physical, mental and spiritual. My resolve to be an example for others through writing was recently challenged when my wife passed after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Some folks asked if my writing days were over.
My need to adjust to a new title – widower – required some space to recover from the intense activities of hospice, death, and memorial services coupled with weeks of writing thank-you notes to the many who expressed sympathy and compliments to my wife. I needed to start a new life.
The days that followed the celebration of life were so filled with intensive activity related to my role as co-chair of the September Western NH Walk for Alzheimer’s that I had little time to process all that had gone down since an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2010. A break from usual volunteer activities was needed.
When I suggested that my intention was to take a trip to the west with my golf clubs in a little Roadtrek RV van, some folks questioned my sanity – “are you nuts, at your age?” (82) This challenge to my belief in demonstrating the joy of life with some risk-taking strengthened my resolve to invest long hours of interstate driving with ample opportunity to commune with nature and confront my inner self.
So a request to contribute to the Active Aging event was just the prescription to continue writing about my passion for a life with purpose. Helping others plan and adjust to the vagaries of advancing age has been a mission for over 30 years. The request to address you came on the back end of a four-week drive of over 8,000 miles, visiting national parks and friends along the way to California.
Anticipating ample time to reflect and assimilate the decade of life with Alzheimer’s and now an after-life without a loving and accomplished mate, I embarked on a “bridging the gap” tour, named from a conversation I recall with a bright young hospice gal who visited Monadnock Community Hospital this summer.
Kimberley Paul declared that “time is one of the greatest commodities we have in life and we need to live life boldly.” Her book titled Bridging The Gap – Life Lessons From The Dying grows from her hospice experiences, and promotes a “live well – die well” theme.
Perhaps her influence has led to my western adventure, with a call to open my eyes to life prior to a “grand exit!” With “at my age” a challenge, my resolve has been to have no regrets for sitting at home wondering what this last road trip would have been like … I have embraced my connections with friends across the country and found small adventures as I allowed life to unfold day by day, mile by mile.
My faith teaches me that “God is still speaking,” and it seems that life is calling me to tell my stories. I anticipate continuing a bridge from grief to joyous life and transcendent death. My journey so far has taught resilience, persistence and meaning in service to others. The love and loss of my life partner seems now to be part of a greater plan that strengthens my values.
This trip has given some closure for me and feels like the right thing to do, as it may also help others besides me live life to the fullest toward dying well. Building the bridge to the after-life seems like a good mission for my final chapter, with no regrets at the end!
Owen R. Houghton, EdD, lives in Jaffrey and is a retired aging wellness educator. As a member of Monadnock at Home, he is an advocate for aging well. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.