Grandma C's BlogGMAS Blog

Introductory Blog

Life Expectancy in France:

Late afternoon on April 4, 2021, while I held his hand, my husband of 30 years took his last breath, and I went from being a wife to a widow.  

In the days that followed, I didn’t feel single. In my head, I was still married; the only complication was that my husband was gone. As reality sank in, I was forced to decide what to do with the rest of my life, however long or short that might be. 

Against the well-meaning advice of those around me, I quickly rid myself of belongings, sold my house, and moved to France. My new life in France began on July 16, three months later.

The destination wasn’t arbitrary. For years, my son, his French wife and two grandchildren, had urged my husband and me to join them. As we aged, they wanted to be the ones to take care of us. But my husband’s illness and the pandemic forced us stay where we were. Those constraints were now gone.

When I got on the plane, I was stripped of all my belongings except for what I could pack in three suitcases and the few boxes I’d shipped ahead. I was also stripped of my identity as a wife and community member. And I was stripped from friends who’d made my life so rich. But I had the love and support of my extended family along with the strong intention to re-invent myself.

Nagging questions, though, wrecked the flight. Could I accomplish one last re-invention. Approaching my 80th birthday, would I even the time or energy to do so? And was I willing to live outside my comfort zone for weeks? Perhaps even months? 

I looked back at my history for reassurance.

Re-Invention One: From Housewife to Breadwinner 

In my late twenties, as a housewife with a baby and a small child but no job, credit or family within 2,000 miles, I divorced my husband. I was terrified that I might not find a way to support myself and my family. Jobs and childcare were scarce. 

At the same time, I was determined to find a way to support myself and my family no matter how hard I had to work. 

I found a job on the Berkeley Campus of the University of California. Once I started, there was no looking back. I was so ambitious that in three years, I had worked my way up to the position of assistant to the president of the University of California whose office oversaw 9 campuses and 3 national laboratories. 

At this point, I had an excellent management salary and a job at a prestigious university system. I was set. Except the president fired me!

Re-Invention Two: From Unemployed Administrator to Entrepreneur

Being unexpectedly unemployed was a jolt. I guess the president learned I’d given a talk during a noon hour encouraging women to seek management roles and rebel at being relegated to secretarial roles. The title of my talk—WORM, as in “The Worm Has Turned”—might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I felt the loss of status keenly. Plus, being fired meant I had a negative reference  from my last employer. I was at a loss to know how I’d be able to support my family. My back was once against the wall. I was forced to re-invent myself once again. 

More through chance than planning, I ended up working as a start-up and turnaround specialist for venture capitalists. The compensation was greater than what I’d earned at the University, and I loved the challenges. No one was more surprised than I was that I had a talent for salvaging businesses.

After ten years, I tired of making money for people who already seemed to have too much. So, I branched out on my own and became a franchisee of Supercuts salons. 

To do that, I needed capital. I mortgaged my house and used all my savings to purchase my first three franchises in Nashville, Tennessee. If I failed, I’d lose everything. 

Many nights were sleepless as I poured over financial statements to see if the business would break even before I ran out of money. It was a tremendous relief when the business crossed that threshold. Later, I added more franchises in Illinois and Iowa. 

My salons were open 7 days a week, so I was on-call 7 days a week. After 20 years, I wanted a break. I roled my salons into a chain and sold them back to the franchisor. I vowed never to work again—at least not for money.  


Two of the Reasons I moved to France

Re-Invention Number Three: From Retiree to Community Organizer

The following year I reflected on how two dreams I’d secretly nourished were going to be buried with me unless I pursued them. The thought made me miserable. I had to do something.

Having ignored my health and rising number on the bathroom scale for years, I decided to get fit—my first dream. That meant losing weight and exercising regularly. 

The second dream was to write. To accomplish that, I volunteered a single article to The Union, our local newspaper, on the subject of how it’s never too late to get fit.

Without my permission and much to my embarrassment, the editor announced the start of a weekly progress report on my fitness journey, complete with photos of my bloated body. I was trapped into sharing my fitness journey with family, friends and strangers. I tried not to panic. This time I was facing not financial ruin but public humiliation.

My progress and subsequent articles on fitness over the next two years inspired an eight-week event, the Nevada County Meltdown, and I was thrust into the role of accidental community organizer.

For two months, thousands of us gathered weekly. We organized ourselves into teams. The teammates inspired, supported and encouraged each other to lose nearly 4 tons. And as a byproduct, we found a renewed sense of community with neighbors and friends.

Cutting through denial and isolation, our community-wide Meltdown garnered national attention. I both enjoyed and was terrified by the demands on me from local, state and national media. Nonetheless, with badly needed coaching from a media consultant, I gave dozens of television and radio interviews and even came to enjoy them. 

Because other communities wanted to follow our example, I published From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction along with a companion how-to manual for community organizers.

Both dreams had been achieved and I was ready to return to a normal life. But again, more through chance than planning, a conversation with an AARP executive led to my role as developer of an online community for their website. Besides leading the group, I wrote hundreds of articles on fitness that appeared on the AARP website. 

Five years later, after I’d built the AARP group into 30,000+ members, I turned the reins over to others. 


Re-Invention Number Four: From Fitness Advocate to Novelist

Now truly retired, I had time to finish a novel I’d started writing some forty years earlier. First, though, I had to learn a new set of writing skills. Could I do it?

I never slept the night before a conference call with my editor. I forced myself to ignore the headache and nausea when I dialed her number. Yet she was so skilled as a teacher that eventually I found myself looking forward to the feedback. (Although even today, I’m still too insecure to sleep the night before I call her.)

With her expertise, I finished the first three books of what is turning out to be a quartet. Will the books be published? I don’t know. The value to me is in the writing. But I suspect they will be in print at some point.  


Re-Invention Number Five: From U.S. Citizen to Expatriate in France

Looking back, I realize that most of my re-inventions were forced. (Who would choose to live with their back against the wall? Not me. I’m a coward.) The transitions were uncomfortable and painful. For sure, they required courage and faith during the toughest moments. 

At the same time, without these experiences, I would never have discovered talents that I did not know I had or could acquire. Plus, I achieved far more than I ever would have had circumstances not forced me to change.

In writing this blog, I hope my struggles to re-invent myself will help you find the courage to reinvent yourself when the need arises. Trust me, the need will arise. None of us, it seems, get through life without difficulties.

I hope you’ll join me in the adventure.