For Charlotte, the transition to a retirement community wasn’t an easy one. In fact, she wasn’t happy about the move at all. Today though, she’s living her best life, and she says moving into a Holiday community was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Though blessed with a supportive family, Charlotte’s journey to independent living included facing the loss of her spouse, and health issues that often come with age. The events that led to her move were trying, but she loves that her retirement community has empowered her to forge new friendships.
As she puts it, “I’ve had both good and bad in my life.”
Charlotte grew up on a farm in rural Michigan with seasonal vegetables, apple and cherry orchards, chickens that laid fresh eggs, and horses to ride. “In retrospect, I was very fortunate to live in that setting and have that fresh food,” says Charlotte, “but I didn’t realize it at the time.”
As a young girl, she longed to live in the city so she could walk to the soda shop and movie theater with her friends or go trick-or-treating – a tradition she missed out on because her closest neighbor was a mile away. The kids at school would tell her how lucky she was to have horses, but she knew that they weren’t imagining all the chores she had to do. She’d tell her classmates that they were welcome to come over and see how much they’d like cleaning up after the horses.
A busy life
Charlotte’s wish to leave the countryside was granted when she married her husband, Jack. They made a home in Davison, Michigan, described by Charlotte as “a small town where everybody knew everybody.” Her neighbors included firefighters and teachers, police and mafia members.
Charlotte and Jack both worked for General Motors. Her husband was an accountant, and she was a switchboard operator. Since graduating from high school, she’d been working toward a college degree one course at a time. She was paying her own way and continued to take classes, even on top of working full-time, raising a family and volunteering each summer as director for the Community of Christ’s junior high camp. It seemed she was good at everything she did, and she won the International Youth Service award for her work at the camp.
Even with everything on her plate, Charlotte would tell herself, “I’m going to get through this college thing.”
During those busy years, Charlotte began making wreaths and flower arrangements. “I was only doing it to relax,” she says. “It calmed me.”
What started as a way to unwind gradually grew into a small business. People noticed Charlotte’s talent and started requesting arrangements. Local businesses ordered them for window displays. Jack filled his car with Charlotte’s flower baskets and sold them out of his trunk in the parking lot before work – they sold out every time.
For 25 years, Charlotte balanced family, flowers and working at General Motors, where she climbed the ladder from switchboard operator to administrative assistant for one of the directors. She took an early retirement and decided to go into ministry – which included finally finishing her college classes. Charlotte earned a theology degree and became an ordained minister, a pioneering achievement at a time when many churches were resistant to female leadership.
Though her new career had just begun, when Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the couple decided to move to Fort Wayne, Indiana where both of their daughters lived. Jack wasn’t sure how much time he had left, and he wanted Charlotte to be close to family. They bought a beautiful home in Pine Valley and fixed it up just how they wanted, complete with every accommodation Jack would need for his condition. Sadly, he passed shortly after they moved in and Charlotte lived there alone for several years.
In addition to her grief, Charlotte had her own health issues. Dealing with fibromyalgia, which comes with symptoms such as dizziness and loss of balance, one day she fell and hit her head. She remembers it was daylight when it happened, and it was dark when she woke up. Following the accident, she spent 11 weeks in the hospital, two of them in intensive care.
Charlotte started to experience bad headaches and seizures as a result of the accident. Scared that she might have a seizure while driving, she gave up her brand-new Chevy Malibu. “I turned it in on my own,” she says. “I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone.”
Charlotte says her daughter sat her down and stated, “Mom, if you’re not going to drive, you’re not staying in that house anymore.” It was time to be around people.
One of Charlotte’s neighbors had moved to a nearby Holiday community and was happy at the senior living residence. Charlotte’s daughter said, “If it’s good enough for Eppie, it’s good enough for you.”
Making the transition
“At first, I didn’t want to come,” says Charlotte. “I thought, ‘I’m going to move in here, and I’m not going to like it.’” On her first day, when she went to lunch, she felt so uncertain that she went straight back to her room without eating. She wasn’t sure where she fit in.
Eventually, Charlotte started venturing out more. She’d sit at the same supper table with the same women every day and they began talking. “Once I found people that I was compatible with,” Charlotte says, “it helped a lot.”
At first, she would just join her friends during meals, and then they started visiting each other’s apartments, going on outings together and participating in the community’s events. The ladies are also part of a group called the Lunch Bunch – every month they venture into town to try a local restaurant.
Over time, Charlotte and her new friends have become a close-knit group who feel more like family.
The ministry of community
Not long after she moved in, Charlotte saw a mother and daughter standing in the lobby of the community. The apprehension on the mother’s face reminded Charlotte of herself. “I think I know how you’re feeling,” Charlotte said to the woman. “I didn’t want to come here either. I didn’t understand their philosophy and what it was all about. Once you get in here, I think you’ll like it. You’ll make friends.”
Charlotte encouraged the woman to give it a try, to stay just three days. “I felt the way you do, and now I love it,” Charlotte told her.
That wouldn’t be the last time Charlotte helped ease the concerns of a new resident. She joined the Holiday Resident Ambassador program so she can help them feel welcome. She shows them around, introduces them to other residents at meals, answers their questions and encourages them to take part in experiences they enjoy.
Her advice to new residents: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t feel like you have to do everything. Just join in the activities that interest you.”
As for the apprehensive woman Charlotte saw in the lobby? “She’s still here and has lots of friends,” says Charlotte. “God has always used me in strange ways. There’s always something that comes up, and I’m glad to be there to help.”
Schedule a tour and find out for yourself how good life can be at Holiday. A resident ambassador will be happy to show you around.