How I Reinvented Myself At 57

I was a grant writer at the University of Cincinnati Department of Family Medicine from the time I was 28 until the time I was 57. After 29 years. I would have liked to retire but couldn't quite afford it.

Every year there were rumors that Congress was going to remove the funds for the grants I wrote from the federal budget. One year people would say, "The funds are going to be cut this year." But they weren't. Twelve months later they would say, "This year they are really going to be cut this year." This pattern continued for several years, and every year I feared for my job. Then one year my worst fears came true. Congress actually did take away the money.

I was stressed out beyond belief because I knew my job would soon be abolished. I wasn't securing even enough money to cover my salary. I realized I'd have to find another job -- which wasn't going to be easy, considering the economy.

I had another problem, too. And it was a big one. Dr. Edward Theodoru, the man who had been my soulmate for more than 30 years, had Alzheimer's. Not only did I not want to take him out of the excellent facility where he was living, he was too frail physically to be moved. Given my love and dedication to this man, there was no way I would move away and leave him alone.

It was a horrible situation to be in. However, although I knew I couldn't leave the area, I applied for national-level jobs anyway. One was to be a grant writer at the American Academy of Family Physicians in Kansas City. I was delighted when the organization said that if I were hired, I could telecommute. I was ecstatic. That would solve all my problems.

Then, in early January, Ed unexpectedly passed away. My grief overwhelmed me. But, as they say, when one door closes another opens. Two weeks after Ed's death, the Academy asked me to come to Kansas City for an interview, then offered me the job. Working at the Academy was the best job anywhere for a writer specializing in family medicine grants.

And there's where the incredibly stressful reinvention part kicked in. Since Ed was gone I no longer had any reason to remain in Cincinnati and after much soul searching I decided to upend my entire life and move to Kansas. I wanted to be physically present at the Academy. I wanted to get to know my colleagues. I wanted to be a part of the organization. I wanted to belong.

I was unbelievably anxious about the move, but I remembered that when Ed was my age, he'd given up everything to come to this country as a penniless political refugee from Romania. At least I didn't have to relinquish my language, my culture and all my possessions and money. Just thinking about that made my move seem more manageable.

Nonetheless, my new life was tremendously challenging and required my full attention. This took my mind off the loss of Ed as much as anything could. I simply didn't have time to wallow in my grief.

Almost everything was new and stressful. My only physical carryover -- other than my belongings -- was my beloved little Shih Tzu, Peter. He was a tremendous comfort to me.

Moving and getting settled was nerve-wracking and exhausting. What I really needed was what every professional woman needs -- a wife. But I didn't have one, so I struggled to manage on my own.

Having just lost Ed and having left all my wonderful friends in Cincinnati, I cried myself to sleep every night for more than a month. There were times when I wondered if I'd made a horrible mistake. But I had moved and I had to make the best of it.

One of my first major tasks was to find new service people, and I wondered if I'd ever find all the ones I needed. But eventually, and with many recommendations from my new colleagues, I found a beautician, nail salon, veterinarian, veterinary ophthalmologist (for Peter's chronic dry eye), dog groomer, bank, tax preparer, lawyer, plumber, electrician, handy man, family doctor, lawn service, housekeeper, pet store and so many more. I never realized single professional women needed so many helpers.

I struggled to adjust to the work and my new co-workers. During the first year I was more successful than at my previous job. This was a real relief. I had worried that perhaps I wouldn't measure up to the Academy's expectations.

In retrospect, I'm so glad I moved. Telecommuting would never have worked. It's critical for me to interact with the people on whose grants I am working. Further, my new supervisor is superior to the many I had in Cincinnati. Not to mention that I am earning quite a bit more.

The greatest challenge was making new friends. I'm rather shy around people I don't know and have always found socializing painfully difficult. I decided to start by inviting people at work to lunch one at a time, hoping that would lead to further get-togethers with some. It turns out that I now have more friends and closer friends in Kansas than I ever had in Cincinnati. I think that's because it requires many close friends to fill the enormous void Ed left.

It has now been five years since I moved. Sometimes I still miss Ed, Cincinnati and my previous life, but I have finally settled into my new one. I have reinvented myself, changing virtually everything about my life.

When I look back at the first few months after the move, I realize that although I wasn't aware of it at the time, it was a time when I had the most energy ever; I had never felt more alive. I've never regretted all the changes and would do it all over again if it ever becomes necessary.

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