Wednesday, March 29, 2023



It is not all that surprising that I can relate to Dan Padgett’s frustrating dilemma. After all, he and I have a lot in common. During the final years of his long career in municipal government Dan has nursed his dreams of a mobile, nomadic retirement….including a well-equipped motor home that will serve as the primary residence for him and Nell as they drive off to see the world. 

As Dan’s retirement date draws near those seductive possibility are harder than ever to resist. In the end, however, it seems that his nagging wanderlust….the lure of “places-to-see” and “people-to-meet” in the remote corners of the US and beyond, has only managed to complicate things. 

As the story I call Family Matters opens, Dan has concluded that his carefully constructed dream is a perfectly reasonable vision of what retirement ought to be.  The truth and the attraction of it is so self-evident….at least until he realizes that his wife has created her own, very different notion of their Golden Years. 

For decades Nell has followed her husband all over the state, from job to job. Every few years she had been forced to establish a new home in a new town. Finally, after half a dozen such moves they finally returned to Tanner, where their odyssey had begun all those years before. To her way of thinking they were finally home. More to the point, she was determined to never move again.

So while Nell looks forward to the permanency of their Tanner retirement, Dan continues to dream his “on-the-road” dreams….of going off to see the world, unimpeded by the anchoring limitations of a permanent home. The logic of it is so clear to him. But in the face of his wife’s objections why does he continue to dream that dream? Why is he so eager to dismiss her desires for a very different future? What can he possibly be thinking? I believe the time has come to ask him.

(Gil) “Tell me Dan, why does it look like you’re walking all over your wife’s dream? I learned a long time ago that’s not really a good idea.”

(Dan) “Believe me, I don’t mean to be putting her down. I just keep hoping that she’ll finally come to her senses….to realize how great it would be to see all those places we’ve dreamed of seeing and do the things we’ve always wanted to do.”

(Gil) “What makes you think that both of you have ‘always dreamed’ about seeing those places and doing those things? Could it be that you’re trying to turn 'your' dream into 'her' dream? If that’s so, what if she doesn’t buy your idea of retirement? What happens then?”

(Dan) “I suppose you could say that is what’s happened….at least up to now. She’s just so darn stubborn. I’m offering the perfect way for us to get out from under all the stupid stuff that comes with owning a home like ours….the housekeeping, the yard work and gardening, the cost of it all. We could put all that behind us, and be free to go wherever we wanted to go, for as long as we wanted. Can’t you see how great that would be?”

(Gil) “It doesn’t matter what I can see. This is about Nell. And I’m guessing that what you’re describing doesn’t sound so ‘great’ to her? It’s not the way she wants to spend her retirement. Right?”

(Dan) “You can say that again. She says that she’s actually looking forward to the gardening, and her silly clubs….all the stuff that keeps us here in Tanner. That’s what she wants. Can you believe it? The very things I want to get away from….the day to day chores and upkeep, the meetings that never seem to end….are exactly what she wants more of.”

(Gil) “Why do you suppose that is?”

(Dan) “I don’t have a clue. I keep asking her to explain, but she can’t….at least not in a way that makes sense to me. It’s like she’s living in some other world.”

(Gil) “Would you mind if I took a guess….a slightly different take on what you might be dealing with? I may be wrong, but I’d like to hear what you think of it.”

(Dan) “Go ahead. God knows I’d like to find someone who can sort it out for me.”

(Gil) “Well then, how about this? What if the two of you are bumping heads because you don’t agree on what each of you means when you talk about ‘home’? Maybe that word means something different to her than it does to you. Could that be what you're talking about? (As you might guess by now, I’m prone to playing the pseudo-wise guru.)

(Dan) “What the hell does that mean?”

(Gil) “You tell me. If I backed you into a corner and forced you to define ‘home,’ how would you do that? What does it mean to you? How would you describe it?”

(Dan) (I won’t include all his false starts---the hemming and hawing that proceeded his final reply.) “It seems to me that when you get right down to it, home can be anyplace we want it to be….wherever Nell and I are together. It’s not about a certain piece of land or some special building. It’s a matter of being happy together wherever we are. That’s what makes full-time RVing so appealing to me. We could go anywhere we wanted, and still be home.”

(Gil) “So, how about Nell? If I asked her to describe ‘home,’ would her answer be the same as yours? Would she agree with your ‘home can be anywhere you two are together’ idea?”

(Dan) “Not a chance. Her idea of home is tied to a place….right here in Tanner. It’s the house we live in now, along with her friends, and gardens, and clubs, and church. For her it’s all about this particular place and everything that goes with it. Every time I try to explain that it doesn’t have to be like that, she throws all her Tanner stuff back in my face.”

(Gil) “So the real hang up, what has you two at each other’s throats, is the notion of ‘home,’ and what that means to each of you. You simply don’t agree about that. Right?”

(Dan) “I suppose that’s it.” (He paused a moment, before asking his question.) “If that’s true, how the heck do we get past it? Can you see any way for us to do that?”

(Gil) “Oh man, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it’s wouldn’t be easy. It would be a complicated thing. I’ll bet I could write a whole book about that. In fact, I have.”

There you have it. The scene has been set and the Padgetts’ frustrating dilemma has been spelled out for everyone to see. What if it was you? How would you define “home?” Can you imagine how their Family Matters story will play out?


Blog excerpts are taken from October Years - a writer’s blog compilation.

    If you, or someone you know, is one of those October/November Years folks a quick Google search of “Gil Stewart’s Amazon Author’s Page” will provide further details of all 21 of my Kindle and paperback stories.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Let’s Hear it for Late-Life Boldness

(Original posted 10/2015)

Do you ever wish that these late-life years, our Octobers and Novembers, came with a crystal ball? If you are like me, by this stage of the game your timing and energy may not be what they once were. There are moments when it would really help if we could see around the next corner of our life-path….to have a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it. Alas, like every other time of life, October and November do not provide that kind of foresight. 

There are times, of course, when each of us indulges in our own form of looking around that next corner. How often have we said with conviction that “I am definitely going to do ‘this or that’ next year” or “I’ll never do ‘this or that’ again”? Do we say that intending to predict the future? Probably not, though we may have wanted it to sound that way. In the end, however, it is not our predictions, but the choices we actually make, that will shape our future. 

Perhaps you know someone who is weighed down by late-life realities, apparently ready to give up on his or her future. What happens when the future we can’t see and don’t know has already defeated us? How do we move beyond that stubborn barrier….when a change of course seems not to be worth the effort? Whatever the answer, I believe that using our October/November status as an excuse to cease our “Becoming” is to sell ourselves short.

Months ago I mentioned in these pages that I planned to title my next story October Bold. And now, having completed the first draft, I find that the name still  seems to fit. It describes the simple tale of a sixty-something pair….she from Oregon, he from Iowa….each of them still dealing with the loss of a spouse. In time they will come face to face with the unsettling reality that a new relationship, if that is in the cards, is bound to require a change of course and attitude. 

Getting the best from the relational possibilities the pair faces will require change. And the necessary changes will require a dose of October Boldness. After all, the questions they must answer now are decades removed from when they were first asked. 

As I have said before, the October Boldness I advocate is not a matter of daring adventure or great physical risk, but rather the risk of nagging doubts, hurt feelings, embarrassment, or head shaking snickers. It includes a willingness to venture beyond our comfort zone….proving to ourselves that our fragile egos can deal with those doubts and challenges. 

More to the point, October/November Boldness is a frame of mind. It is a conscious decision, no matter how timid, to reach for what we perhaps assumed was out of reach. It requires a willingness to act in the face of all the reasons we have created for not acting. It’s about taking a chance. After all that we’ve gone through to reach that time of life, why not be bold? Haven’t we earned that right….in a late-life sort of way?

Let me put a personal spin on this. Perhaps someone will buy my books…. maybe they won’t. My blog may be read….or not. Either way, my own Late-Life Boldness allows me the opportunity to be true to myself….to create the characters I imagine into being, and send them off to create a future for themselves. Hopefully they will be bold enough to seek the best of what that future can be. After all, even at our age, we deserve the chance to give it our best. 

It’s what I call ‘Becoming’….moving ahead toward a hopefully better version of who we are. Though we can’t avoid the change that is part of every life, we can influence its course….how it plays out in our own Becoming. After all, perhaps the most important of all change agents is the small voice in our head or our heart, urging us to become the person we are meant to be.

So why not scrape off those limiting barnacles and be more open to taking those chances? Step out with your own brand of Late-Life Boldness. Who cares if you end up looking silly or out of place? If you’re like me, you’ve been there before. To hold back or hesitate because of what someone else may say or think about my feeble efforts strikes me as a cowardly and very unbold reason for not acting.

I pray that you can be bold in your own Late-Life ways. If there is something you want to try or do, and there is nothing more than your own timidity holding you back….then give it a try. What are you waiting for? Will it be easier next year?

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

ELDER ORPHANS - November Epiphany



      A November Epiphany

     ( originally posted 1/16/2016)

I won’t apologize for this bit of repetition that I offer for those who did not see it the first time, or perhaps need to be reminded. It is one of those subjects I have dealt with before, and may well address again some day. It is, in my muddled, moss-covered opinion an increasingly serious matter…. that deserves another look.

For seventeen years now I have tried to make the case that late-life, our October and November Years, works best as a shared effort, when two or more of us….friends and lovers, family and caregivers, face that sometime harsh time together. I have written whole books making that case….following my Tanner Chronicles friends as they stumble toward the relationships that will help support them in October and beyond. 

Having spent so much ink stressing that point, you can perhaps imagine my pleasant surprise when I first came across an effective and incredibly descriptive way, just two familiar words, of defining the unfortunate seniors who are forced to face late-life alone.

Perhaps those folks are Elder Orphans. Take a moment to repeat those words out loud. When I first heard them they had the ring of an epiphany….a striking, suddenly-revealed truth. In two short words, catchy and amazingly accurate, is captured the essence of a growing, wide-spread October/November crisis. I was impressed at the time, and still am. Like a lot of things, the more aware we become, the more we are able to see the all-too-obvious signs all around us.

Lest you think my not-so-nimble mind has created that simple, yet startling insight, I am happy to credit a Huffington Post blog by Carol Marak, part of an extended blog series on Aging Alone that addressed Elder Orphan problems and possibilities from a personal perspective. 

“Who will care for them?” she asked. “Who will look out for those unfortunate ones?

Dealing with late-life complexities is hard enough in the best of circumstances. But who will help the aging, the childless, the single….when they are alone and in need?”

Those 'lonely ones' are, of course, the Elder Orphans. Like their infant counterparts, they are literally on their own at a distressingly vulnerable time of life, and just as much in need of caring support.

Chances are they are socially and physically isolated, living without a family member or surrogate. Too often they are lonely, depressed, and perhaps dealing with diminished decision-making capabilities. To make matters worse they are seldom acknowledged as a group or class that needs help.

So what does the future hold for our Elder Orphan population? By all accounts their numbers are increasing, and the help they need will grow accordingly. Looking ahead it is likely that more seniors will need more help for a longer period of time. 


    According to Ms. Marak a recent AARP report offers precious little solace, confirming that the demand for elder caregivers continues to grown faster than the supply. In the face of funding shortfalls and rapidly increasing costs, Caregiver per Orphan ratios are steadily declining across the country. Being an Elder Orphan is not going to get easier.

Though I operated without that catchy label for all those years, my Tanner Chronicle stories often focused on those who qualified as Elder Orphans. Take for instance Johnny Blanton, one of my favorite Tanner friends, who reminded me of a special fellow, someone you may have known. 

In Best Friends and Promises Johnny lives in a low-cost, county-owned apartment, surrounded by neighbors who scarcely acknowledge his presence. Though he would be unwilling to admit as much, (actually he would scream like hell.), in many important ways he had become an orphan. You tell me, is this a viable depiction of an Elder Orphan?

For all his gregarious instincts Johnny Blanton led a spartan, decidedly isolated existence, the unfortunate result of circumstances over which he had little control. In the course of his four-year residency in the County-operated Senior Housing Complex he had concluded that, as a group, his neighbors suffered from a multitude of shared failings. To a person they were old, financially strapped, grouchy, and judgmental. Most depressing of all, not one of them subscribed to his long-cultivated interest in having a good time.

Wary, unsmiling widows were everywhere. He passed them in the hallways. They crowded the dingy activity room. Without exception he found them  unnaturally distrusting of his well-intentioned attention. At one time or another he had approached nearly all of them, hoping to spark some degree of interest, and had struck out at every turn.

Except for Mrs. Perkins, who lived across the hall from his apartment and provided him with a steady supply of day-old newspapers, Johnny had not made one female acquaintance in the entire thirty-unit complex. He took that sad reality, and the slight it represented, very personally

To make matters worse Johnny’s success at making friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Some were deaf, blind, or immobile….which tended to limit their “good time” potential. Sadly, the few who still found a few beers a viable social pursuit were no more affluent than Johnny. After years of having Aaron Peck and others pick up the tab, he was reluctant to cultivate drinking buddies who expected him to play that role.

As a result, his social life had become seriously constrained. For three years Willie Thomas, who did not drink at all, but played a mean game of cribbage, had been his most reliable ally among the residents. With Willie’s passing the previous December that welcome friendship had been lost.

In his heart of hearts Johnny Blanton was a very social creature. It appeared, however, that in the sterile confines of the Senior Complex his declining years were destined to be lived out in a state of stagnant depression. To his way of thinking it would take a miracle to change that unfortunate situation.

An unfortunate situation, eh? One that begs for a compassionate storyteller to provide the “miracle” Johnny is hoping for. That, however, is something for another day. After all, storytelling….fictional accounts of non-fictional situations….is one thing. Living real life in the Elder Orphan lane is something very different. It is, however, something that you and I can play a part in addressing.

You see, most of us know an elder orphan, probably more than one. They sit in the midst of our congregations. We may pass them shuffling behind their walker in the supermarket aisle, or rub elbows with them at the senior center. You may also find them in hospital emergency rooms, often their only source of the health care. They are, in fact, everywhere….out of sight….right before our eyes.

So, from the first time I read Ms Marak’s post I wanted that label and what it stands for to be part of my personal October & November Years dialogue, with you and myself….now and in the future. 

And along the way I hope I can be observant enough, and bold enough, to spot the elder orphans who cross my path….to acknowledge their place in my world, and perhaps take the time to hear a bit of their story. 

That’s an important thing, you know, showing them that for at least a few minutes someone cares enough to listen. There are so many folks out there who need that casual gift….the simple act of acknowledging and affirming their presence. Isn’t that what every orphan wants, no matter what their age?

Thursday, March 9, 2023




    As seen through younger eyes retirement has the look of an easy, carefree time of life. One of our grandsons is certain that it must be “the sweetest thing can play computer games all day and all night if you want.” 

    Of course, those of us who have reached that time of life know the truth is something more than that. We’re talking about a new lifestyle....about learning new ways and how to put those ways to work in our new life. Think of it as Retirement 101....the first grade of a new and different kind of learning. 

    There are probably a million roads leading to that retirement space....that place of life-after-work. Fact is, each of us arrives via our own unique path.

    Yet no matter how we approach it, as we grow nearer to that goal it seems the thought of it becomes more seductive. I know it was for me. But then, having finally arrived there, some of us will be disappointed to find that the reality of it is something less than our dreams. Actually, as I have confessed before, I for one very nearly flunked retirement.

    You see, many of us have spent years dreaming our dreams of that special prize. “The Golden Years” we call them, the ones I have labeled October Years

    If we are that sort, we have painted glowing mind-pictures of how it will be....the things we’ll do and the places we’ll see. For many, the fortunate happenstance of being born into the “pension plan” generation, with its generous payouts, will make those dreams financially feasible....assuming they can stay healthy, and couples can agree on which dreams they want to follow. 

   I must admit that I have been reminded, sometimes rather forcefully, that for those whose career centered on the never-ending challenge of keeping house, while feeding and nurturing the family, (they were called “housewives” in my generation....the indispensable link in creating a real family), the retirement dilemma I describe has the ring of false distinctions and cosmetic the same old play being performed on a new stage. (In Family Matters I tell the story of such a couple who are unable to agree on their retirement dreams.)

    Yet, within the confines of those relational realities, October life leaves prospective retirees, the ones contemplating that lifestyle change, with an elemental set of choices....deciding how to use the time their new status will provide. 

    Though it may sound like the least of our worries, using that time productively can be a serious challenge. The fortunate ones began their preparation years before....cultivating interests and capabilities that will help them adapt when the structures and strictures of employment are removed. The rest of us, the unprepared, are left to deal with the burden of empty, unstructured days.

    As you can guess, the giddy exhilaration of sleeping in every morning soon wears off. That’s where the real test begins. Without a plan, retirement can quickly become a matter of empty days waiting to be filled. But how....with what?

    Without those answers that new lifestyle will have the feel of a clean slate or, if you are a writer, a blank page. No matter how you describe it, at that point your new “retirement” job will include filling in those blanks.

      For some the most conventional wisdom about retirement is about finding that “something” which draws them beyond themselves. In my case the answer seemed to be just the opposite. I was pulled deeper within myself, making sense of the stories I was telling. Yet, no matter where it takes you, the right retirement answer for you is bound to be a very personal thing. 

     Whatever it turns out to be, I happen to believe that the right “something” is waiting out there, in one form or another, for everyone. If that is so, it is a matter of exploring the possibilities to find what works for you.

    Looking back, I realize that I started my own search for a viable retirement lifestyle with only the vaguest notion of what I was looking for. I wanted something I could look forward to doing....a reason to get up each morning. Ideally it would provide an opportunity for the creative expression I had never found in my work. 

    Fact is, my initial efforts were timid and half-hearted....and the results bland and uninspiring. Finally, as my frustration in not making a connection grew, I convinced myself it was time to be bold, to take a chance, even risk failure.... the kind of behavior rarely expected from a school administrator. 

    But things were different this time. If my work, whatever it might be, pleased others that was fine. But in the end I intended to do what I wanted to do, and be the primary judge of my sometimes dubious results. I finally turned the corner when I accepted the truth of it. I didn’t need to satisfy anyone else.... only myself.

    That I finally stumbled onto what worked for me was a matter of “try, try again.” By then I realized that Roma’s gardening did not suit me, I couldn’t get interested in woodworking, and it was hard to get excited about something as pathetic as my golf game. 

  Not until I came across a thirty-year old manuscript, a story I had written and set aside, did it dawn on me that perhaps I had found my retirement calling. I had walked that storytelling path before. And though it had not suited me as a younger man. This time around it seemed to be a fit.

    In time story telling and blogging would help fill my personal retirement void, taking me places I never expected to visit. Today’s technology makes that possible. No wonder I have a hard time getting my mind around the reality of this internet world. How else could these geriatric ramblings of mine be read from Maine to Alaska and beyond. 

    Take it from someone who very nearly flunked can be a daunting that requires serious attention. Many of us will begin the process with grand ideas of how it will be, but precious little experience in actually living that new life. 

     Still, we mustn’t be intimidated. Having waited a lifetime to get here, we must work to make retirement a liberating experience. For perhaps the last time in our life we will have the opportunity to choose our own future. 

    The goal is simple settle on a life and lifestyle that suits us, that holds our interest, and helps us continue the never-ending process of Becoming. No matter what path we choose, it deserves the best effort we can muster. After all, it’s the rest of our life we’re talking about.

Thursday, March 2, 2023




                        LITTLE HELL

 ( Originally posted Oct 2019)

It is fair to ask what brings me back to these blog pages. After all, I’m the guy who said it was time to head for the sidelines, that he had run out of October (and November) things to say. And that may have been true at the time. But that was before the following bit of elder wisdom that had me thinking second thoughts.

For people like me the notion that ‘old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe’ is a cop-out. Those of us who are still able should be raising hell on behalf of whatever we care about.”

Those are the words of Parker J. Palmer, from his book On the Brink of Everything — Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. I am pleased to recommend the book, and especially the implied permission it gives me to continue with my own low-grade ‘hell raising.’

Later, in those same pages Palmer adds, “I may be old, but I’m still a member of this community. I have a voice and things I need to say, and I want to be part of the conversation.” 

        With that in mind I invite you to consider the following bit of elder-babble.


No matter what our age, our life-journey has included its share of highs and lows, twists and turns……which can be measured and charted in many different ways. 

      Drawing on our own recollections we can track our life’s path in terms of our school and work history, the things we have done and not done, how successful or unsuccessful our efforts have been, or the family we have helped create. Like a wilderness explorer blazing a trail through the forest we have left all sorts of personal markers in our wake.

This morning I set out to expand on another of those life-journey trail markers……namely, the most impactful friends I have made along the way, and how they have helped me become the person I am. 

We humans like to blame someone or something else for what goes wrong in our life, while taking full credit when things turn out right. Yet too often we fail to recognize the contributions of our friends and allies……especially the ‘best friends’ we have made on our journey to today.

The logic seems so sound, so rational. Everyone needs and wants friends. They complete the person we are……helping us fill in the blanks that are part of every life. That is true in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood, even in elderhood.

We know, of course, that deep friendships are not a matter of random choice. They happen because mutual needs are being met. It is also true that over the years our needs have changed, replaced by new ones that lead us to new and different friendships. It seems to me that over time those close friendships, including the ones we have left behind, can act as trail-blazing markers, helping to tell the story of our Becoming.

At different stages of our journey different friends have helped us learn different life lessons. In a real sense I believe we can chart important parts of our own path to Becoming by remembering the best-friends we have won and lost along the way. 

That was the story I meant to tell this morning, the notion that revisiting those life-changing friendships will help us understand the person we have become. Sadly, a closer look at my own ‘best friend’ history was enough to raise more than a little hell with my logic.

It took about five minutes to realize the truth of it. Perhaps that ‘best-friend tracking’ idea does not apply to me. Instead of remembering a string of best-friends, and their contributions, what I came up with was largely a list of kind and caring acquaintances, good people who were good friends, but not 'best friends.' 

    Though I certainly appreciate all those folks, and the ways they have helped me, when it comes to close, life-changing friendships…beyond the family circle that has always been central in my life……I was able to count just three individuals, three 'best-friends,' who played the life-changing role I have described. For some reason I expected there would be more.

First there was the high-school best-friend, my long-time buddy. Careening together through adolescence and into young adulthood he and I managed to give each other permission to raise a little hell a few times....taking us to places I would never have gone on my own. Though the results were not always productive, I owe him my thanks for the vivid memories those side trips created, and the way they impacted the timid young man I was in those days.

        And then, of course, there was the high-school girlfriend, the first girl I knew who seemed to like me just the way I was. As intimidating as it sometimes was, it was first and foremost a learning experience. Truth to tell, I remember being an interested learner. But then, a year later, I was off to college, and she remained in high school. Before long ‘out-of-sight out-of-mind’ had won out.

Then in college, I met Roma, the one I was not willing to let out of my sight or my mind. We met in our freshman year and for 67 years continued to expand the role of Best Friend, and what that meant to us. The person I am today is largely the product of that Best Friendship.

        Beyond those friends, and their impact on my life, what if in my remaining years there was a new 'friend' to factor into my 'best friend' equation? What if another age-appropriate candidate was to arrive on the scene, in an age-appropriate way? I am told that can happen. I have, in fact, written a dozen stories about such events.

Still, returning to my original point, the close and meaningful friendships that you and I have made in the course of our life journey (no matter what their number or when they arrived on the scene) have most certainly played a role in our Becoming. I know for sure that those on my micro-list have met that test. 

               All of which brings me to my suggested homework assignment for you, one that I highly recommend. The instructions are easy-peasy. Simply turn off the TV, crank the recliner back a notch or two, and close your eyes. If you haven’t dozed off by then, make a conscious return to your past. Introduce yourself to one or another of the once-close friends who have perhaps not crossed your mind in ages.

With that old friend perched clearly in the front of your mind ask yourself a few questions. What did you learn from your time with him or her? How might your life be different had he or she not shown up?

Make that internal dialogue as real and personal as you dare. Dig as deep as your comfort zone allows. This is not about sharing your insights with anyone. It’s about you exploring you.

Though I have no illusions of it happening, if you are so inclined I invite you to share your own bit of friend-related ‘hell raising’ with the rest of us……in an appropriate, abridged form, of course.

What do you think? Might it be time to revisit one or more of the ‘someones’ who once played an important part in your life……to perhaps mentally thank or scold them for their role? 

        Most of us recognize the ways we were shaped by parents and family. I’m not sure how many of us understand the important ways our friends and friendships have played a part. I think it’s worth the effort to see where that takes you.