By France Griggs Sloat
As he entered retirement, Jim Ollier worried about all the stories he heard over the years of people falling apart without the dependable demand of the daily workplace routine. What was he going to do? How was he going to cope?
“All of a sudden you’re not going to work everyday. What happens?” Ollier says. “I heard horror stories of people not knowing what to do. I had finished working and was ready to move on, so I was looking for what others have done and how do you transition into it.”
Ollier and his wife Nancy, both of whom graduated from Xavier in 1963, learned about a new program Xavier was offering called The Second 50 that promised to help older people in retirement find meaning and purpose in the second half of their lives.
That it was founded and led by Leo Klein, S.J., a favorite acquaintance of Ollier’s, made it all the more exciting. The Olliers signed up, joining a class of, 40 who met nine times over six months. They read books, watched films and had discussions about seven topics pertinent to people as they age, such as memories, wisdom and spirituality, and loss.
“People come because they instinctively know there’s more to do, there’s more to life,” Klein says. “The challenges of old age are the new challenges.”
Klein got the idea for the program from his readings about the Hindu religion, which breaks life into three phases—youth, a time of acquisition; middle age, a time of responsibility; and old age, a time of wisdom and perspective. Klein calls it the diminishment period when people experience loss—the deaths of friends and family, retirement from work, children moving out—and says it’s another in a series of challenges people face throughout their lives.
“In America, people look at it as living their lives to the top and then going downhill, but I think you keep going up and at each stage of the journey, you have different challenges to deal with,” Klein says. “At the end, there is another challenge. Getting old. You are going up to the climax of your life. You close your eyes in death and see the face of God.”
Klein designed the program thinking Xavier needs to take care of its alumni long after graduation. It’s been so popular that he recruited a fourth class for this fall, limiting it to 34 students. He also invited retiring faculty and staff.
The group gathers on campus for food and discussions of the assigned film, book or essay. After completing The Second 50 program, Ollier was motivated to return to a project he started after retiring in 2008, writing a collection of “life’s lessons,” words of wisdom for his grandchildren.
But he was swept away by the topic of loss and limitation after watching the movie “Away From Her.” In the film, an
elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease decides to go to a nursing home against her husband’s wishes. In time she doesn’t recognize her husband and becomes attached to another man.
“That hit me, and I started thinking, what’s going to happen to us? Will one of us get Alzheimer’s or a disease?” Ollier says. “I realized we don’t know what’s in store, and The Second 50 gives you a format to help with developing a perspective for those things. The program really helped me focus on what I need to be doing in this phase of my life.”
To learn more about the program, call 513-745-4286.