At the start of each year we seem to automatically reflect on what we've done in the past twelve months and what we hope to do in the next. We have this reflex because life is a journey. Full of steps, missteps and steps yet to be taken.
As baby boomers we are at least half way through our journey on this earth so perhaps it becomes even more important to assess our past and focus on our future.
Some of us journey alone, some journey with a spouse, some with a friend. But journey we must. Each day presents new opportunities. So why not use them to journey well?
Journey well is an idea so enticing Minnesota psychologist and author Trish Herbert combined the words and used it for the title of a workbook. Yes, like the kind we had in fifth grade. Read a chapter and answer the questions. But there is no grade for this workbook, just an amazing opportunity to look back, look deep and look ahead. Prepare for what's to come in older age.
Five Minnesota women are using the workbook to journey well together. They invited me to attend a couple of their monthly meetings. You can learn a lot from them.
Dorene, Judy, Liz, Marilyn and Ruth all grew up in small town Minnesota. Farm girls they were. Four are from St. James, one is from Sacred Heart. All made their way to the Twin Cities. Three married, two stayed single. Judy tells me the five of them used to gather regularly to read spiritual and inspirational passages but got too busy to continue their meetings until Ruth discovered Journeywell A Guide to Quality Aging. Now they meet one Tuesday a month. Taking turns as hostess. When I visit, the gatherings are at Dorene's lovely home. After hugs and hellos, Dorene pours the wine and offers delicious cheese, crackers and still-warm-from-the-oven homemade cookies. It's a perfect combination for the women who eventually put down their goodies and open their workbooks. Each of them has read the assigned chapter and worked on the answers alone at home. At the meeting they discuss the chapter and the way each of them has responded.
Chapter 1 of Journeywell asks, "Who Is This Person Called Me?" Chapter 3 inquires, "How Do I Make My Life More Meaningful?" The author invites readers to use the framework given in the book to appreciate their lives, both the beauty and the pain. She gives readers the chance to look at: who they have been up until now, how they have coped during the challenging times, how they have celebrated their successes and how do they want to live the rest of their lives?
Judy says, "The Journeywell book is an excellent guide for bringing up thought-provoking issues about how we live our last years. It helps me examine how I am living and what I might like to change. For example, do I really want to spend every holiday cooking for two days and aching afterwards?"
Ruth says she feels safe doing Journeywell with the group. "Journeywell reminds me to be open to the mysteries and possibilities in life every day. When I am awake and present to my life it is amazing what emerges out of that mystery. What a gift to be alive." Liz says it gives her a chance to know the women in a deeper sense than ever.
Chapter 3 allows readers the chance to write down 20 things they would still like to do with their lives.
Dorene tells the group she would like to get a tattoo. Judy wants to do more gardening, travel, paint with water colors, go up in a hot air balloon, go biking in southeastern Minnesota and write what she calls grandma notes. Liz wants to travel to Sweden, cruise to Hawaii, take a pottery class or something else she has never done before, read more and keep exercising to stay fit.
No matter what is on a person's bucket list the point of the workbook is to think about it, write it down, really wonder — how do they want to live? Do they want to get up every day and just be? Or do they want to make it meaningful?
The chapters of Journeywell allow readers to explore ways to make their life more meaningful. The women say the hardest part is coming up with the answers because there are so many possibilities. Marilyn says it's fun to complete the workbook alongside women with whom she has so much history. She says, "The book presents a different way of aging, a positive way, you have a lot of life left. Don't quit."
The workbook also provides a way to leave a written history. It allows readers to actually write down answers to questions they may think about but never really document. It asks:
What makes you happy?
Who were your most influential teachers? Why?
What subjects do you feel passionately about?
What do you think about retirement?
When I asked the women what it's like to retire, Ruth, a social worker in the Minneapolis school district, tells the group her husband says she's failing at retirement because she's busier than ever. She admits she's constantly on the go but says, "It's my choice and I haven't had so many choices since childhood. It's wonderful to have so many choices." She continues, telling the women, "Retirement is a redefinition of who you are. You have to figure out who you are going to be in the world." Dorene was a teacher at Century College. She says she loves being retired. Marilyn says this is the best period of her life.
On page 64 of Journeywell readers are asked to indulge their senses. Dorene asks the group to talk about their favorite sounds.
Judy says, "The wind in the trees, it's calming."
Liz, her childhood friend says, "I remember that. I also like the sound of waves." She says.
Someone else in the room quietly agrees, saying, "Oh yes."
Liz tells the others she likes the sound of birds chirping in the morning. Marilyn likes loons and wild geese honking.
Dorene, who has two cats visiting guests during the meeting, says she likes the sound of purring. "It calms me down," she says.
Listening to the women, it's clear doing the Journeywell workbook together gives them a chance to talk about subjects they normally wouldn't. Although some of the questions ask readers to dig deep into their memories or beliefs, other areas in the book ask them to reflect on happy things.
On page 65, Journeywell asks readers to find places that lift them up.
To this question, Ruth says, "Homes of friends where I feel nurtured, nature, the Minneapolis Art Institute and the Guthrie theatre." Dorene says it's the soaring majesty of cathedrals. Marilyn says water lifts her up. She tells the group, "It's my dream to live on a lake, and walk through the woods." Liz says water lifts her up too, but she walks against the current in the Eagan Water Park. When Judy says she loves flat prairies the gals get off track and reminisce about their days on the farm.
Journeywell's final chapter, "Finishing Well" helps readers deal with the 'what ifs' of losing their health.
Marilyn wonders what it will be like when there are more limitations on her body, and what it will be like to have crepe paper skin. Liz wonders about age spots. They talk about people older than they are, their parents and what resiliency the parents show when all their friends seem to be dying. Dorene says her age hit home when she went on a cruise with her 40-year-old niece. Dorene stumbled and her knee went out. She says it was the first time she felt like an old person and it was disconcerting.
On page 97 there is a quote by Corrie ten Boom: "Worry does not empty tomorrow's sorrows; it empties today of its strength."
And while that may be true, the women still want to talk about what troubles them.
Marilyn asks the group, "What are your worries, your fears?"
Judy says worldwide economic collapse.
Ruth fears the loss of mobility and dementia.
Marilyn wonders who will care for her.
Dorene worries about being safe in her home and her neighborhood.
While a good part of the conversation is contemplative, there are much lighter moments. They talk about getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. One of the women asks which time? They laugh.
It's a reminder they are not just accepting older age. They are preparing for it: financially, emotionally and spiritually. And they are working hard to stay or get in shape. Liz does Zumba to keep her figure, Ruth teaches yoga. She shared the story of one of her youngest students, a boy about 6 years old who looked at her and said, "You may be old but you sure are flexible!"
And perhaps it is flexibility that will keep these women and all baby boomers in a good frame of mind as the years go on. The women admit people do relate to them differently as they age.
Ruth says, "The sad thing about growing old is no one younger knows your history, who you were, what you did. They just know you as an older person." Marilyn says society likes to reinforce that older people are not as valuable. She tells the group, "It's really easy to believe in the negative. What we conclude starts to be truth for us but it may not be truth at all."
Fighting the stereotypes of aging is part of the journey process. So is accepting those inevitable senior moments. Dorene laughingly tells the women she was once all dressed up in a fancy outfit and then looked down to see she had her purple crocs on! Marilyn confessed she once put cold cream on her toes thinking it was anti-fungal cream.
The women have an amazing freedom to share their stories with each other. The Journeywell workbook presented an opportunity to re-establish the monthly get-togethers. But with or without a formal book, any group of baby boomers can meet and share their thoughts and insight into aging.
Judy summed it up by saying, "Now that we are in our 60's we really see that 'old people' are neither feeble nor boring. We're the same person, just a little further along in our journey. We can still have a vital, meaningful and exciting life, just one with wrinkles and lived at a little slower pace."
They plan to hold their monthly Journeywell meetings as long as they can drive to each other's homes. Then they smile and say when they can't drive they hope to end up in the same senior housing complex.