I have decided to make a former client my role model. I met him half a dozen years ago, when he was in his early eighties and moving to a retirement community. As we began planning his move, he said, “I lost my wife three years ago. Sorting through our belongings makes me feel like I am losing her all over again…I wish I could go away and come back after the move.” And so he became our first “I’d rather go on vacation” client. Since then, I have often thought about his ability, and his willingness, to articulate his feelings and take a course of action that worked for him.
I met him again several years later and learned that he had moved to a different apartment in the community, to be near a woman he had met. “She introduced me to the literary club,” he said. “It consists of me and five women. We meet every Thursday before dinner, laugh, drink and talk about no literature.” Then he continued, “She is a very interesting woman, an artist.” The door to her apartment, across from his, bore a sign, “Outrageous older woman lives here.” He introduced me to her. The sign was appropriate.
The former director of a multi-hospital system, he still taught in the graduate program he had helped found at a nearby university and had lunch with current and former students regularly. Before I left, he confided, “This move [to the retirement community] has so exceeded my expectations. I never expected that my ninth decade would be so rich, stimulating and enjoyable.”
I met with my former client again a few weeks ago. Sadly, I learned that his friend the artist had passed away. He was on his way to the chess club, where he and other members met regularly with the chess club of an inner city high school. He was leaving soon, he explained, for the second half of an oral history project conducted by the American Hospital Association. They had interviewed him in 1980 in recognition of his leadership role in the industry, and they wanted to meet with him again, twenty-eight years later. In preparation, he was reviewing his professional accomplishments since that time.
I thought to myself, the oral history people have it all wrong. What is important here is not his contribution to the health care industry; it’s the way he lives life now. A typical baby boomer, I plan to work forever, but when I am in my eighties, I hope I’ll have the same comments about my ninth decade, and that I will form new, meaningful relationships, laugh, and give back to others. A legacy is not something you leave, I have decided, it’s something you make. My former client is my role model because he has made a great one. I hope I can do the same.