Sister Sirens

Lifelong Learning


By Julia Connolly

When I signed up for the class through the college’s lifelong learning program I didn’t realize I’d be the baby of the group. To a person, every other member of the mostly female class was considerably older than my 58 years.

The class was called The Power of Place, with most discussions centering around how the places we’re from, the places we’ve lived have shaped us. And what places—and lives—my classmates had lived!

There was the 70-something woman in her fringed shawl and giant hoop earrings, full of tales of her Venezuelan girlhood and years spent in Moscow. The tiny, smartly-dressed former military wife who longed to return to her beloved Hawaii. The recently-relocated New Yorker who loved Florida but missed her friends in Manhattan.

The class met just four times, but with each class we got to know each other more deeply. As in high school, cliques were formed and after-school plans were made. We found that all of us were retired, all but two were from somewhere else and more than half were widowed.

During the final class, our instructor asked us to write about the most and least comfortable places in our home. When asked to share our writing about our favorite places, several women told of sitting on their porch or balcony, enjoying their morning coffee, listening to the birds sing and feeling calm and alive.

When we were asked to tell about our least comfortable places, there were a few shared stories of messy garages and offices. We all had a laugh, imagining the piles of boxes, papers and retired sports equipment.

But then the stories got serious. One woman spoke of her dark and depressing dining room where no one ever eats because she lives alone. Another told about the “so-called living room” in the tiny place she can afford on a fixed income.

And another woman, voice wavering, described her bedroom, unchanged since her husband died three years ago. He’d been a drummer, and his drumsticks still sat on his nightstand, along with a note he’d written to her. All of his clothes remained in the closet.

There were tears, sniffles, and hugs among the classmates; the stories were so sad, and yet they were the same stories so many of us knew we would one day live.

We like to dream that we’ll spend our later years surrounded by friends and family, traveling to world capitals with a significant other who will live forever. Sadly, this will likely not be the case for most of us.

Setbacks happen. Illness happens. Death happens. So how to postpone or lessen the pain of the inevitable? We all know the obvious, eat your greens, go for walks, make sure you have an iron-clad retirement plan.
But in addition to that advice we might want to invest in things—friendship, adventure, learning, love—that will help keep our hearts beating for a long time.

The last woman to speak in class was the oldest person there. She lived in a retirement complex and had been widowed just a month before. “I don’t really have a place in my apartment that’s uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m surrounded by my favorite things and I eat every meal with my dear friends. When my husband died I knew I’d be sad and lonely, so I quickly signed up for this class and look—I got to meet all of you!”

Nice story, nice woman, nice way to live one’s life.

Categories: Sister Sirens

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4 replies »

  1. Julia, I love what you’ve written here. I was so surprised last semester when I taught a course in the Lifelong Learning program at Rollins and absolutely fell in love with the 31 lovely women who showed up in my course, Quieting Your Inner Critic. We, too, had lots of tears and lots of laughter. Your piece captures much of their beauty, too. Thank you!


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