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Interview with an Older Adult

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Background

To fully grasp the imagery of what it is like to grow older and experience the transitions and changes that accompany aging, I interviewed an older adult to learn about this process second-hand. Typically, my interactions with adults above the age of 65 are limited, hence why this interview took place with my grandmother, Cris. Cris is a 71-year-old caucasian female, of Canadian descent. Her parents were born in B.C. Canada, as well as herself and her siblings. In regards to her work history, she started working from the age of 14 and has had many jobs throughout her lifetime. Her first job was picking berries, followed by working as a cashier, becoming a school support worker as well as other casual jobs while attending university. Later, Cris became a counselor and worked for a few institutions, with a concentration in trauma and mental health. Furthermore, she also had a private practice on the side. She also pursued one of her passions and became a yoga teacher and acquired certifications in reiki and healing touch, which she incorporated into her private practice. Once Cris turned 65, she retired from her job as a counselor at Fraser Health and continued her private practice for another two years. Cris had her first child at age 16, and her second child at age 20. At age 45, she became a grandmother. For this interview, I chose the first topic to be about her life course to fully understand how she became her present-day self, followed by the second topic of post-retirement lifestyle.

Life Course Transitions

The most prominent memory that Cris has from her early childhood was that she skipped grade 5, and went to school with kids who were a year older than her for the rest of her elementary and high school years. Being surrounded by these older kids had a large impact on her life choices at the time. Her main goal when she was young was to get married and have children, and at age 16 she achieved this. She got married, had two kids, bought a house, and became a traditional stay-at-home mom. To her surprise, this domestic lifestyle was not fulfilling and her relationship was “toxic” and “emotionally abusive”. She escaped this relationship and got divorced, becoming a single mother of two without any support from the father. At this point, she worked hard to provide for her children, and eventually met her next husband, which ended in divorce a few years later. Following her heart, she started to take classes at a community college, which eventually led her to complete her Bachelor’s degree and then Master’s degree. Whilst establishing a career as a counselor, she became financially stable and was able to invest some of that money into her well-being by taking courses for yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. Cris became a grandmother, met her current partner, bought the property and built a house in Belize, and got married after over 20 years of dating. Four years ago she fully retired, and they bought a puppy a few months ago.

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One major challenge that came with motherhood at the age of 16 was the inability to complete high school with the remainder of her peers who had not dropped out. Cris’s first husband did not allow her to work, or to obtain a driver’s license. This created an isolating environment with a lack of social connections and support from family and friends. There weren’t many other mothers her age, so she was all on her own without guidance. Of course, going to university at an older age than most had its challenges. The age gap between her and the other students made it difficult to make friends, but she loved learning. Returning to school was a huge sense of relief for Cris, and she felt at ease knowing that she was completing these degrees for herself and no one else. At this point, she believed that “if [she] did not make [her] life what [she] wanted it to be, it would never happen”. For Cris, it took a lot of time, self-discovery, and determination to become an established counselor. She recalls initially seeking advice from an academic advisor, who told her that she shouldn’t go to school and she should just continue working as a cashier because she wouldn’t achieve her dream of completing her education. Cris took this “advice” as a challenge to fuel her desire to finish school. A key component of Cris’s drive came from the personal growth workshops that she took around age 35. She believed that she needed to “make [herself] better”, and that “if you don’t understand yourself then you can’t help others”. These workshops were a pivotal point in her self-development and changed her life for the better. Instead of living based on fear, she chose to live more mindfully. In regards to becoming hired as a counselor, her age was actually beneficial and to her advantage, because the employers viewed age as more experience and wisdom. She did not feel any age discrimination in search of jobs.

Cris always looked forward to the day that her children would have children, and that she would become a grandma. Although she was a young grandma relative to other grandparents, she felt prepared. The responsibility of being a grandma is different than the role of being a mother. She felt she could be more playful, and have an unconditionally loving presence without being strict. Further, Cris mentioned how this gave her a new relationship with her own daughter.

Important to realize, Cris feels as though she never quite fit in with her cohort. Most of them did not travel and were focused on saving for retirement and the future rather than living in the present. Another way that she believes baby boomers to be different than millennials is the timeline of the life course. Baby boomers would heavily frown upon people having children before they were married, whereas now, it is the norm to move in with your significant other before you get married.

Post-Retirement Lifestyle

Cris decided that retiring slowly was the best choice for herself, to maintain a smooth transition. Now, after both she and her partner are fully retired, they live six months in Belize and 6 months in B.C. Their days are fairly similar in both locations. Typically the mornings are relaxed and then followed by some sort of exercise. They cook more in Belize because there are not a lot of options for restaurants. Cris participates in a lot of social activities whether that be going on a walk with friends, bowling, or having food and drinks. Because of her passion for education, she loves to read and is currently learning Spanish through an app on her iPad. In B.C., Cris tends to be more physically active as there is more access to community centers as well as it is safer for her to walk alone there rather than in Belize. Also, the lack of access to healthy food, shopping, and libraries can be challenging in Belize, but the warm weather is helpful physically and mentally. Cris’ relationships with her friends have strengthened since retirement, and there is a large community aspect in Belize, where she gets to know people quickly and develops relationships with like-minded people. Cris lives a healthy lifestyle through her exercises such as Zumba, pickleball, and yoga. She also eats a balanced diet and sleeps around 8 hours per day. She can live a more slow-paced, balanced lifestyle that enables her to take time for self-care. Her mental health is doing well, but she does miss the aspect of helping other people. Overall, her physical health is thriving, besides having a hip injury that has taken over a year to recover from. Interestingly, the fall that occurred was not due to her age and it could have happened to anyone.

Cris claims to “live a good life” and that she is fortunate to have the life she does. On a scale of 1-10, she would rate her life satisfaction as a 9, because she has a good family and a supportive partner. One reason why she could not give a 10 was due to the lack of access to services in Belize. In retrospect, she does not have any regrets because, in the end, everything turned out well. She only wishes that she didn’t stress about unnecessary things. In her future, she hopes to continue to live a healthy, balanced life and to never stop learning. Becoming a great-grandmother will be a new transition for her. As Cris has always been goal-oriented, she wants to create new goals and become more involved in the community through volunteering.

Discussion

To evaluate and determine one’s health, it is important to take a holistic approach by envisioning one entire life course. The life course approach takes into account the events, changes, transitions, and roles that one has undergone (Quadagno, 2017). Cris’s early life experiences, individual decisions, and the historical events that preceded her have a large impact on why she has been successfully aging (Cooke, 2020). Many people feel pressured by the “social clock” that exists within society, but Cris always felt compelled to go against the norm regardless of other people’s opinions (Quadagno, 2017). The transitions that she went through in regards to education, family, and work have had a significant role in shaping her character today. Not only did she endure her own transitions, but she was also affected by transitions that occurred to other people, known as counter transitions (Quadagno, 2017). In light of the feminist theory, Cris experienced gender discrimination when searching to purchase a house due to being a single working mother (Quadagno, 2017). As previously mentioned, Cris has always felt a disconnect from her cohort so she was not influenced much through the cohort effect (Quadagno, 2017). Due to Cris’s adolescent years and facing many hardships, one may have predicted that she would not have a successful and healthy future due to the patterns of the theory of cumulative disadvantage (Quadagno, 2017). Conversely, through self-determination and perseverance, Cris was able to create a life that has enabled her to live happily and healthily.

The continuity theory seamlessly relates with the life course perspective (Quadagno, 2017). Through a gradual transition of retirement, Cris was able to maintain friendships, hobbies, and self (Quadagno, 2017). Functionally, Cris’s age is relatively young compared to other older adults that are her age, which classifies her as a “well elderly” (Quadagno, 2017). Post-retirement, she has been involved in community activities, which aligns with the activity theory (Quadagno, 2017). Equally important, she prioritizes her health behaviors by exercising, eating clean, not smoking, and limiting alcoholic beverages (Cooke, 2020). Likewise, her social determinants of health play a key role in her outcomes (Cooke, 2020). Although her race and gender have not changed throughout her life course, her evolution of education and employment were two factors that had a significant positive impact (Cooke, 2020). Furthermore, while in B.C. she can maintain access to healthcare. Socially, Cris identifies with the subculture theory, as she prefers to form relationships with people who share the same values, passions, and mindset (Quadagno, 2017).

Conclusion

To explore the aspects of aging and the experiences of older adults, I interviewed my grandmother, which consisted of a series of ten questions. To start, I chose to delve into the history of her life course, to get to know her roots. Next, I got to learn about how she lives her life after retirement. This experience was enlightening, inspiring, and personal. Connecting the theories and topics of this class to my grandmother’s life has motivated me to engage with more older adults in the community.

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