Sally Lindover shrugs when she is told that she has led a most remarkable life.
“It’s really not that amazing.”
That’s not the opinion of most who learn about her past. Sally joined the Peace Corps at age 52, and she worked internationally as a diplomat until she was 81.
While she doesn’t think it was all that unusual, she will attest that it was thrilling.
Throughout her life, Sally’s dream was to travel. She was curious to understand how others lived and sought to learn by living on other continents. When her two daughters were young, the three moved to Spain and London for several years. Sally, a clinical psychologist, had the opportunity to work in London for an innovative network of halfway houses.
Several years after returning to the states, Sally decided to pursue her top career goal and become a Peace Corps member. She was exhilarated about the chance to live in unusual locations and further her commitment to engage in work that mattered. The Corps was willing to accept a volunteer in her 60s, and she was eager to be on board.
Sally was stationed at the University of Rwanda where she taught English language skills to undergraduates. She geared her classes to students of specific disciplines so that, for instance, she could teach pre-law students the vocabulary that they would use in their profession. It was a wonderful stint.
At the end of her two-year Corps commitment, Sally spent one year as a United Nations volunteer in Malaysia, where she lived in a resettlement camp for Vietnamese refugees. She once again taught English, instructing a group of refugees who would, in turn, instruct others.
Sally found these experiences to be so gratifying that she took steps to continue her overseas work. She took the State Department examinations for the Foreign Service and scored very high. Her placement was delayed because hers was an unusual application. She would be 56 when she entered the Service, and like all diplomats, she would be required to retire at 65. No one had ever been accepted who was eligible to work just nine years. They decided to make the investment and, at the time, Sally was the oldest person to be accepted as a junior officer in the Service.
The gateway was opened and, with a diplomatic passport in hand, Sally proceeded to spend nearly two decades filling a string of State Department assignments. The mandatory retirement at 65 did not apply to short assignments. She worked in Yemen, Kenya, India, Shanghai, Haiti, Warsaw, Azerbaijani, Cairo, and Stuttgart. Sally had the opportunity to explore a rich diversity of cultures during her exciting career.
These days, however, Sally is relieved that she no longer needs to have a suitcase packed in anticipation of her next international assignment. She is quite happy to be just where she is.
For years, Sally had made Cambridge, MA her home base, where she enjoyed a lovely, terraced, rent-controlled unit. When the city phased out the capped rents, Sally needed to re-evaluate. Her fixed income was no longer a match for a Cambridge lifestyle.
As she considered other options, it became clear that the cost of living was not the only factor to influence this decision. Sally’s 90th birthday was in sight.
“I started to feel vulnerable. I needed to be thinking about the future.”
Sally imagined a scenario in which she might need immediate assistance. Certainly, Cambridge offered many wonderful assets, but for Sally, it seriously lacked a safety net for emergency situations.
Sally looked into several senior housing options. She was seeking an apartment to continue her independent lifestyle, yet offer quick access to support services if help was necessary. She stepped into one building in Brookline that immediately felt right. She liked the strong sense of community that was instantly apparent. Financially, it was considerably more manageable than her current housing. The setting was ideal. This native New Yorker was delighted to find many of the amenities in Coolidge Corner that she had once enjoyed as a resident in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. From her apartment, she could walk to the dentist, the cinema and Trader Joe’s.
Leaving a roomy two-bedroom unit to move into a more compact setting required time and effort. The downsizing process was eased significantly by Sally’s wise decision to work with a moving consultant. Together, they sifted through the treasures and tchotchkes that she had gathered from her world travels. By June 2016, Sally was ready to move into her new residence.
Life was good. Sally found other residents who shared her vigorous stride and her desire for connection.
“I wanted to jump in quickly and contribute to the community.”
Sally joined the Resident Council. She explored the many interesting discussions and classes held in the building. She also frequently stepped out the door, exploring the offerings of the immediate neighborhood or jumping on the T to visit friends in Cambridge. Her new digs provided a very solid foundation from which she could continue her energetic pace.
One morning in February, however, everything came to a screeching halt. When Sally arose, something was just not right. Her balance seemed off. She felt unsteady as she moved around the apartment. Her primary care physician instructed her to get to the emergency room. The seriousness of the situation didn’t register. Sally asked a friend for a lift to the hospital, never realizing that she could have benefited from the speed of an ambulance.
The MRI indicated that Sally had suffered a minor stroke.
As Sally reflects today, there are many reasons to feel relief that it was not a more damaging situation. Sally’s speech has not been compromised. She has not experienced extensive paralysis.
Yet, while the stroke registered as “minor” on the medical scale, Sally has found that its residual effects have translated into major adjustments and losses.
Three months following the stroke, Sally is trying hard to manage. It feels like an uphill trek.
“These days, I don’t know whose life I am living.”
Sally faces serious mobility limitations. She uses a walker and moves slowly. She no longer has the endurance for the long walks and trips on public transportation that were an essential part of her daily life. Her peripheral vision is limited, and that impacts her ability to read books and computer screens. For a spirited, life-loving woman, these are challenges that are taking their toll.
“I would title this chapter of my life as “My Vision of Hell” and “Just Shoot Me.”
Interestingly, the management of her building recently secured a sizable grant to study the components that people need to successfully “age in place.” Essentially, the project will consider ways to offer all residents like Sally the supports they need to remain in their homes after experiencing life-altering changes.
“I tell them that I’m the poster child for this project!”
Sally sees this as an opportunity to put a positive twist on her situation.
“I hope they will sit down with me so I can help answer the big questions: ‘What do I really need in my limited state to have the support and confidence I need to still be part of this community?’ “
She has applicable insights to inform those who plan and provide support services.
“I can tell them what it’s like to suddenly discover you are in someone else’s body.”
There have certainly been many tough days when Sally has wrestled with difficult questions.
“I’ve had such a wonderful life…why do I need to deal with all this? Why am I hanging around?
Yet, as her 90th birthday approaches, Sally has decided to embrace it fully. She is hosting a party in her building to which she has invited all of her fellow residents. Later, her family and closest friends will join her for high tea at the Ritz. And, she will embark on her first trip since her stroke last February. She and a friend are taking a weeklong cruise that conveniently leaves from Boston harbor.
This is a milestone that deserves recognition, and Sally is responding in the style she most prefers: surrounded by those she loves and, once again, with a packed suitcase.