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They Found Purpose in the Pandemic

How these four have turned this rough time into a giving time

By Erin Flynn Jay

When Amie Clark, founder of the senior living site TheSeniorList, surveyed over 10,000 people over 60 about their struggles and concerns during COVID-19, she came away with one pleasant surprise: A third of the respondents said they are living a more purposeful life now, in a multitude of ways.

Stratz family, Next Avenue, purpose
Credit: Courtesy of the Stratz family

What's more, more than 85% of those surveyed said that living a purposeful life is either extremely important or very important.

"Now that we are almost eight months in, people are discovering new ways to be fulfilled."

"Whether exploring new interests, surrounding themselves with positive people or starting conversations with new people, they are doing what it takes to live the purpose-driven life they desire," says Clark, about TheSeniorList survey's results.

Clark's interpretation of TheSeniorList's survey findings is that older people may be giving more thought and attention these days to what makes them happy and feel fulfilled.

"The pandemic forced many people to change their pace of life and the meaningful activities they were participating in," she says. "Now that we are almost eight months in, people are discovering new ways to be fulfilled."

The Drive to Help in an RV

Candace Rivero and friends, Next Avenue, purpose
Candace Rivero and friends

Take Candace Rivero, who is 65 and semi-retired and living in an RV. She teaches RV driving lessons and transports RVs from manufacturers to dealers. Right now, Rivero is traveling with a 63-year-old friend who sold her Nashville house and bought an RV. "She is not comfortable driving it, so she and I are traveling together, and I am doing all the driving for her," Rivero says.

Home for them this month is Crestview Fla., in the Florida panhandle.

"We dodged the Delta hurricane by moving [the RV] farther inland for a few days," Rivero says. 

Rivero would love to RV in a smaller unit in Mexico but that's off the agenda for now due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Her advice about finding your purpose in the pandemic: "your life, NOW, today, this week, this YEAR ... no matter what the outside circumstances are. There will always be outside circumstances." 

Love Thy Neighbor

Retirees John and Debbie Stratz are finding purpose by helping neighbors in their Palm Springs, Calif. gated community. For instance, they've picked up groceries for those who couldn't go out.

 "We're all in this together," says John.

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He was a pharmaceutical sales executive for 30 years and she owned a graphic design company for 20 years. They each tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-August and have since recovered.

"We were lucky that we had mild symptoms. I am grateful to be here; grateful that I can talk to my grandchildren on FaceTime," says Debbie. 

Her purpose lately has been bringing joy to her three grandchildren in Seattle and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Since she didn't think they could go trick-or-treating on Halloween, she put together a package of coloring books, crayons, pencils, little purses and candy for them. Then, she made bracelets to coordinate with the crazy nails she got them. 

Debbie also recently made her girlfriends' grandchildren Christmas balls with their grandkids' names on them.

Clark was surprised to find a sharp difference in her survey between men and women regarding purpose in the pandemic.

"Women find living a purposeful life even more important than men, with fifty-eight percent of them saying it is extremely important, compared to just forty-three percent of men," says Clark.

Crowdsourcing for a Purpose

One of those women, Nancy Aure, of Madison, Wisc., has been reaching out to assist people, even ones she doesn't know. Aure says she now contributes to GoFundMe crowdsourcing efforts (sometimes anonymously) for those facing unexpected health challenges or tragic events they have no control over.

Nancy Aure, Next Avenue, purpose
Nancy Aure (center)

She wouldn't have done that before the pandemic, Aure says.

Aure, a mother of seven adult children and grandmother of five, also had COVID-19 and recovered.

"The whole hospital stay made an emotional mess of me," she recalls. "I didn't sleep well. When I got out, I was so ready to live life again. I was so grateful that I had recovered."

Clark offers this advice about finding purpose in 2020 and beyond: "Exploring your interests' donating time, money or talent; or simply starting a conversation with a stranger, are all ways to start the journey."

Photograph of Erin Flynn Jay
Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, publicity expert and author. Read More
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