“I have had and continue to have a very satisfying life. Old age has opened up opportunities for me…I really like what’s happening now. It’s a culmination.”
Elaine is a ‘doer’. Years ago, when she was 72, she took a theatre class at a local university’s lifelong learning program. She found it to be a disappointing experience. Others who take a mediocre class might choose to find a new subject to study or decide to spend their time differently. Neither was Elaine’s response. Instead, she thought “hmmm…maybe I could do this better.” And she rolled up her sleeves and created her own theatre course. The class was a hit: Elaine taught it 22 times in six years!
When Elaine moved into her independent living community in 2008, word of her theatre accomplishments spread. She was quickly drafted to set up a program for her fellow residents. Six productions later, Elaine has created quite a buzz throughout the complex.
“We have people performing who are in their late 70s to mid-90s. Many have never been on stage before. We build camaraderie, bringing together people who never would get together otherwise.”
The experience has given Elaine a respected identity. When she walks through the halls, even people she doesn’t know endearingly greet her as “the director.”
“I try hard to make this a shared experience. I always say ‘the play is ours, not mine.’ [Leading the drama program] has been a challenge that makes sense to me and the feedback keeps me going. I’ve even become more assertive through the process. And as I’ve always said ‘the older I get, the bolder I get.’ “
What propels Elaine is her boundless energy. She describes it as a blessing and a curse. Yes, it is the stimulus for her very full life. In addition to managing the theatre productions, exercising daily and sewing gifts for grandchildren, she works two mornings each week at a nearby preschool.
“I decided that before I died, I wanted to work with children again. [Throughout my career in early childhood education] this has always been such a great pleasure for me. A lot of the time I just sit down on the floor with the kids and kvell [feel proud]. We live in an age-segregated society. I know that many of these kids don’t see a lot of older people.”
But her energetic drive is not without its pitfalls. She is only too familiar with the restlessness and angst that unscheduled time can provoke. Before she lets herself feel “crummy and lonely”, Elaine heads outside for a brisk walk or picks up the Shabbat challah cover she is quilting for a friend.
Elaine’s apartment walls are adorned with photos and playbills from recent productions. She appreciates the sense of accomplishment they provide. Yet she remains well aware of the ever-present void in her life since 2011 when her loving husband Bernie died from Alzheimer’s Disease.
“When Bernie died, I lost my best friend. We were best friends in addition to being lovers and partners. I have a lot of people in my life but I don’t have anyone for whom I’m number one or who is number one for me. There’s no one who wakes up each morning and says ‘I wonder how Elaine is. I think I’ll check in on her.’ I’m missing those check-in calls.”
In the next breath, Elaine mentions the strength and joy she derives from her four children and their spouses, and eight grandchildren. They enjoy many special occasions together. But day-to-day, they are busy with their endeavors, as they should be, and she always has a new play to produce.
Recently Elaine had the occasion to go through boxes filled with remnants of her past. She found mementos from her worldwide travels as well as articles she authored in her professional life. It allowed her to pause and acknowledge with pride:
“I know that my being on earth has meant something”.