Christine (right) and Kenyan friend Hillary Shilosio
Christine taught public school music for eight years in the US, religious education and music in Botswana for nine years, and worked for thirteen years in Ohio at Bluffton University teaching drama and choral music and then serving as director of the student union for another two. In the fall of 2012, she received the Faculty/Staff Service Award at Bluffton for fostering a spirit of community on campus through relationships with others, including students whom she mentored and inspired. Christine has certainly mentored and inspired many, which is why I wanted to interview her about aging, and what it means to acquire disabilities in the process.
“I feel like I have become a bionic woman,” Christine says with a smile. “I get up in the morning and I put on my eyes; I put on my ears; and I put on my teeth.” Sure, she encounters challenges. “I’m stumbling, and I say, ‘I used to teach dance!’” she laughs. “Balance is just so hard.” Loving to be with people as she does, “not being able to hear is a big frustration, but we figure it out.”
Christine first moved with her husband Jack into a duplex at Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio (MHCO) in 1998. In the decade following Jack’s death in 2002, Christine has changed residence within MHCO numerous times due to changes in the level of assistance she needed. She is anticipating another move, this time into one of the new “Green House” homes of Willow Ridge.
Christine adapts well to new adventures as they come. It helps that each change brings both new and old faces. “My hobby is people.” And that remains true, as she uses email and Facebook daily, keeping up with many family members, and friends. Many are former Bluffton international students from Africa, who refer to her as “grandma,” a testament to her years of hospitality and relationship building with those students far from home.
Like many who experience changes in their abilities, Christine appreciates her tools, or “toys.” She picks up a grabber and demonstrates its abilities—reaching for things, closing doors, all from her sitting position. “This is marvelous!” she exclaims. “I do not know what I’d do without it.”
Keeping faith and humor alive is crucial. “If you have a sense of humor, you can live through a lot of things,” Christine says. “Throughout my life, when I was feeling good about everything, a mountain top feeling, I knew God was there. And the same for when I was in the deep valley, worrisome times. I knew God was there.”
Chris receiving the Faculty/Staff Service Award at Bluffton University
Changes in physical abilities eventually meant she needed to give up driving. “That was one of the hardest changes to deal with. I was used to being so independent.” She knows this hard loss is something she shares with many others who are aging.
As God’s timing would have it, just as she needed to give up her car, friends alerted her to a homeless woman who needed a car to get to her new job. So Christine donated the car to her. “Knowing that it helped someone start over again made that loss much easier.”
Some of the best parts of aging? “There’s no peer pressure!” And, “I think differently about a lot of things now.”
Kathy Dickson has been a Field Associate with ADN since 2009. She attends First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio. This article first appeared in Connections newsletter.