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In Transit: Lessons from Jackie

August 1, 2017

           A TTN friend suggested I interview Jacquelyn S. Browne, Ph.D. when I needed to talk to a gerontologist for an article assignment. Jackie had helped the fledgling South Florida chapter get on its feet and sometimes providing meeting space at Nova Southeastern University, where she had developed and directed a masters degree program in gerontology. 

           Her philosophy grew out of her almost 40 years of a private psychotherapy practice and teaching, which included courses in spirituality for social workers. A vivacious and sensitive therapist, Jackie believed passionately in the potential of the older years, and the studies that showed that spiritual and artistic development contribute meaningfully to improved mental and physical health.

            At the hour long interview in her office in Miami Gardens, I quickly got a few quotable sentences for my article, and then not-too-subtly brought up my own uneasiness with this stage of life. When Jackie passed away in March 2017, after a relatively brief bout of cancer, I looked back at the notes I had taken and realized how much she had helped me personally. 

            I had what I call “skid marks on the brain” from my rather abrupt exit from an intense, 50 year career. My transition was taking a long time (years!) and I was impatient that, despite experimentation, I hadn’t yet found my “next big thing.” Jackie said: “Yes, it’s not so great not to know. It’s normal not to be content or happy all of the time. Assume there is a next. Be okay in ambiguity.  We’re all yearning for meaning, the ability to live according to our values and what we care about most.” She counseled that I should live with the questions and not work so hard on the answer side. “Don’t focus on finding but on discovering and noticing.”  

            Jackie expressed great enthusiasm for the potential of older people, and recommended that we rethink the issues of control and dependency. “There are a lot of unknowns, and pre-need, we don’t know what kind of help we might need. People equate needing help with weakness," she said, but “the reality is we are all interdependent—think of growing food. We have the ability to predict, control and manage the parts that are uncertain. We need to learn to keep fear at bay so we can be flexible and grow and learn.” 

            “Being an elder is harder today because we’re all pioneers, there’s no prescription to follow,” Jackie said. “We need more models and ideals for how to fully live these years.”  She thought TTN members should engage each other in conversation about “how to live to your last breath.”

~ Ronni Sandroff