• Mary K. Armstrong

So Many New Changes in 2020

Photo of Santa Claus in his office, checking his naughty and nice lists on his laptop while wearing a mask and gloves

Who knows what this holiday season will bring? We’ve all experienced a changed world since the pandemic swept in to turn our lives inside out. And now it looks as if the holidays will force us to invent even more unusual ways of doing things. One thing is certain: We’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice being flexible.

Of course, you don’t reach our age without adapting to change. Many of us have decluttered, downsized, moved to smaller living spaces and dealt with the inevitable physical and mental challenges of aging. Some of us have survived the death of a spouse and transitioned into life as single persons.

Many of us, especially women, are faced with a need to reinvent ourselves in our senior years. Such was the experience of Laurie Lewis when I met her for the first time that morning in 1995. I had moved into an apartment for the first time. That meant that instead of letting the dog out the kitchen door to the fenced yard of a house, I had to dress, get in an elevator and take Sammy outside - whether I wanted to or not.

I’d moved into the Lord Simcoe apartment building with my black poodle, Sammy. It was early morning and for the first time, I had no fenced-in backyard for Sammy’s morning needs. Grouchy and feeling sorry for myself, I pulled on clothes and outdoor shoes. Then… to my surprise, an older woman was sitting on the picnic bench on the apartment building’s green space.

Recognizing her as a fellow older woman, I said hello and we chatted for a few minutes. Immediately I warmed to her and invited her to come along on Sammy the Poodle’s walk. “Sure!” she said, as she jumped up to join Sammy and me. The three of us set off on an energetic hike. It turned out that my new companion had just moved into her new apartment. Her name, she told me, was Laurie Lewis. She was 85 and I was 77, eight years younger than Laurie. I admired her energetic approach to life. She was thrilled with her new life, having just moved into a new, modern apartment that she had all to herself. That was the beginning of a precious friendship.

Photo of Laurie Lewis outside playing the guitar, smiling at the camera
Laurie Lewis

Laurie had worked as a graphic designer at the University of Toronto Press until her retirement when she bought a house in Kingston and moved here with her husband and her mother. Laurie become caregiver to both of them. Worse, her two charges didn’t like one another. It had been a stressful life and now she was free, at 85, to shape her own life.

For those of you who are local to Kingston, Laurie is the 'editor emerita' of the Vista magazine. She also published two books during these Kingston years. Laurie has two published autobiographies. The first is Little Comrades, her story about being the child of communists. In those days, communism was illegal. The second book, Love, and All That Jazz, is about her marriage to a loving, hopeless drug addict.

When Laurie finished her working life as a graphic artist at the University of Toronto Press, she needed to provide care for both her husband and her mother. She bought a house in Kingston and set up a household of these two dependents, caring for them night and day. The job was made more difficult by their intense dislike of one another.

First, her mother died in 2002. This left Laurie caring for her husband who was addicted to street drugs and alcohol. When he died, she was free to experience a life free of dependent family members. This is when I first met Laurie. I’d just left my marriage of 55 years, and like Laurie, I was wondering how to put together life as a single woman. I’ll never forget the morning I first met the woman who was to become my role model for single life as a senior.

How do you start a new, totally changed life? Laurie and I were both entering a totally new existence: Laurie had gone from her role as professional woman in Toronto, to moving to Kingston and becoming a caregiver, to being single woman in a modern apartment in downtown Kingston where she now lived alone. I had gone from professional woman with deep roots in Toronto, to older single woman all on her own in a new city. I came here, as do so many older men and women, to be near my young people.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you about how you manage to get through this festive season. You can share your stories by commenting below, or emailing me. (Please put “Festive Season Vista/Blog” in the subject line.)