This boomer says, even in the pandemic, make your mark

This coronavirus crisis has upended the life of the whole nation. But break it down and it has upended some individual lives more than others. You can say that about baby boomer Kathy Harrel of Orange County, California, who writes from her home about important plans, now put on hold.

My husband and I have a plan, a good plan, a plan to remain connected, a plan likely shared by lots of boomers. A plan that’s more like a dream.

It goes something like this: work through our sixties, pay off the mortgage, maximize our monthly social security payments, and with retirement, remain in the family home. But as Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

A decade ago, my siblings and I became part of the sandwich generation as we stepped into our mom’s aging journey. Helping Mom came easy and took me somewhere unexpected.

Kathy with her mother.

But being suddenly laid off from my lifelong profession in market research was not part of the dream. After careful consideration, I opted to reinvent myself. I loved working and I wanted (okay, needed) more of it. I put a cherry on top of my plan by enrolling in grad school to pursue a new career path, one inspired by something Mom said to me: “You are really good at this,” meaning, companionship and advocacy.

I returned to school, and 2020 was to be a celebratory year for me. I studied hard, gathered honors, and at age 65, I graduated with a Masters in Gerontology. I got a job in care management, connecting older adults to social services, enabling them to stay safe at home.

Diploma in hand.

In March though, those same words, “stay safe at home,” reordered with punctuation added, took on a whole new meaning. The “Stay Home Stay Safe” CDC directive upended my plans. My job working in an “essential” business was trumped by the age card. All 65+ Americans were labeled as especially vulnerable and many employers told all such employees not to report to work.

While still able to perform some duties from home, I felt emotionally confused. I wanted to support my community more fully from the front line. I appreciated the gesture intended to protect my health, but, I have no underlying conditions, I take no medications, and if I were a gambler, I might bet our savings on my being healthier than many fellow workers.

That fresh sense I expected to get of purpose, passion, and dedication bestowed on me at graduation would now have to wait, but hopefully not too long. I had overcome hurdles and invested too much to waiver on my plan.

I hate this admission, but both my resistance and my employer’s insistence perpetuate ageism. Emotions during national emergencies run deep with feelings of gratitude, confusion, fear, and simultaneous empowerment and powerlessness, to name a few.

Now it’s May and every May, since 1965, our nation has observed Older Americans Month, the goal being to publicly acknowledge and applaud contributions made each day by older adults in communities across the country. This year’s theme is “Make Your Mark.”

Join me in refusing to let your “mark” be altered by this pandemic with a shift from celebration to marginalization.

Remain engaged, even as life as we knew it changes. Continue to dream for a better life for you and yours. Allow your resilience to shine as you Make Your Mark.

5 Comments

  1. I am so proud to call Kathy Harrel my sister! What an incredible journey. This pandemic’s harsh unfairness will not be the end of her story in caring for others. Like our smart Mom said, “You are really good at this!”

  2. So happy you followed your dreams no matter what! Congratulations! Time doesn’t wait for anyone or anything, so as CNN television anchor Chris Cuomo says, “lets get after it”! Be what you’re meant to be no matter what age.

  3. You so eloquently described yet another way in which ageism has been perpetuated, a situation that needs more attention in the greater discussion about how Coronavirus has affected people of all ages. Brava, Kathy.

  4. I’ve known Kathy for over 40 years and it comes as no surprise that she continues to leave her mark. Congrats on your degree and on all of your efforts past, present, and future!

  5. Congratulations on achieving your goal. Hope you are able to realize the next steps and return to helping others as things begin to open again. Age is truly just a number and with no pre-existing conditions, if I were a gambler, my bet would be consistent with yours. Hope you can return to “making your mark” in the not too distant future.

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