Peace Corps at 64

Sandy Orrillt

Born in Berea, Ohio, my parents and two older siblings relocated to Florida when I was just a tender preschool-aged kid.  I eventually married an avid sailor and we enjoyed the pleasures of the warm Gulf waters with our three kids.  As his yacht charter business failed, complex dark clouds of financial uncertainty loomed large on our family horizon.  After our number one son graduated from high school and was accepted to the Air Force Academy, the rest of us­­ moved lock, stock and barrel to Southern California, closer to my husband’s relatives.  Family nature outings in Cali expanded beyond sailing including snow skiing, hiking, biking and dune buggy play with occasional sailing trips to Catalina Island.  After our son’s USAFA graduation, we now had an honorable rocket scientist in the family, while the rest of us remained devoted to living our best lives outdoors whenever possible. 

My work history included time as a 20-year sales and marketing manager at a prestigious performing arts organization in Orange County, California.  This was a far cry from all things outdoors, but it helped pay the bills.  I developed an early interest in video, preferring to stay behind the camera.  This hobby included capturing histories of older folks through video-taped story-telling and old family photos.  This was a great way to preserve life histories for those that like to talk more than they liked to write.  My interest focused on those that had lived through WWII; but also recorded more than my share of wedding videos.  Videography was never going to pay the bills, but I was fascinated by it, often watching TV with the sound off, so I could note filming techniques.

My career in non-profit arts marketing ended at age 59 when my less glamorous but more pressing role as an at-home nurse and attendant began.   As a full-time caregiver, I spent four years providing the most comfortable home-care environment possible for my husband of 35 years until he succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy-body dementia.  As anyone who has spent time with a dementia patient knows, there is no more difficult calling than watching a loved one transform from a once vibrant personality to a barely recognizable stranger.  When he passed, I was rendered a widow at 63; only able to imagine a dim future with a few more lonely, empty years left.   Luckily, as time and the stages of grief progressed, I was able to process more clearly and imagine another path.  Retirement does not have to be an unhappy limp to the finish line even if you find yourself at retirement age financially ill prepared and alone.  I’m here to tell you how creative retirement decisions literally saved my life and became some of my most cherished experiences.

I am a happily retired PCV, US Peace Corps Volunteer.  This means I dedicated two years of my retirement to living abroad as a volunteer representative of the United States. Now I’m fired up to explain why I joined and why I think it’s something other folks should consider too.

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