Part 23: Famous 1873 Poem Describes Senior Living

Ron. Harriette. Jerry. Three names commonly used in today’s Western countries. Common names, yes—but unique to each individual who answered to the words. For me, “Ron,” “Harriette”  and “Jerry” are the names of folks whose memories evoke smiles on my face and joy in my heart.

These three folks, “like ships passing in the night,” touched my life ever so briefly along my journey of senior living at Holiday Villa East (HVE). Within six months of my arrival, each had passed away. But their friendship, kindness, intelligence and grace, under the most difficult of circumstances, will remain with me forever.Joan's friend Harriette (left)

Welcome, Joan’s Journeyers. In our last blog, I was completely upfront about the life-cycle experience of illness, dying and death at senior living. I chose this topic for discussion because I believe it’s extremely important for a senior and his or her family to consciously explore one’s feelings of all aspects of senior community living—before one makes a choice of residence. A past blog, “Senior Communities Embrace Life, Even at the End,” posted on Oct. 1, discussed this topic.

Our current blog advances further to personally highlight three fabulous folks who experienced illness, dying and death while living in a senior community.

Ron, Harriette and Arlene

Ron was one of the brightest men I have ever met. His keen knowledge at every class we attended was astounding. At our Writer’s Workshop, Ron was developing a fascinating horror movie screenplay. At Brain Games, he shyly answered difficult questions when no one else knew the answers. During Spanish class, he retained vocabulary while many of us floundered.

One evening, shortly after we met, Ron and I sat in the HVE living room and chatted intensely about this and that. Ron never mentioned that he was not feeling well. The next morning, I learned that Ron was hospitalized during the night. Ron died the next day.

Harriette was quite tiny in stature, but her presence filled the room. Her strong voice and outspoken comments enriched conversations. In the 1940s, Harriette was recognized by TIME magazine as the first female “pitchman” in the developing Hollywood music industry. Harriette’s stories about the golden days of Hollywood were priceless.

In the dining room one evening after dinner, I stopped to chat with Harriette, who preferred dining late. She asked how I was feeling, never mentioning that she was in pain. Her conversations were always stimulating, displaying her outreach to friends and her interest in the world near and far. The next morning, I heard that Harriette was hospitalized. She passed away a few days later.

Jerry was a man among men both in his family relationships and professional career. Married for more than half a century to lovely wife Arleen, Jerry was proud of his family—and he passionately loved his work. Jerry was an “editor’s editor.” Writers, editors and publishers turned to Jerry to develop and/or improve their drafts. He lectured worldwide, and wrote prolifically for journals, books and textbooks.

I only had the privilege of meeting Jerry once, at our Writer’s Workshop. Despite his debilitating illness, Jerry wanted to share his vast knowledge with our group. What an honor, and what dedication to his craft and to others. Despite his diminishing strength, Jerry spent several days preparing a lecture on how to successfully write and sell a novel.

On the day of the workshop, Jerry mustered his strength and delivered a heartfelt and meaningful lecture followed by a spirited discussion. Our group was enthralled. This was Jerry’s last lecture. He died shortly thereafter. Jerry’s wife Arleen remains at HVE and is one of my delightful dining room table-mates.

Chilling tales of the fragility of life? Yes. Difficult to come to grips with? Yes. Do I still miss Ron, Harriette and Jerry? Yes. Do I wish they had never crossed my path? A resounding no.

Like ships flashing friendly lights in the night

In his 1873 book, Tales of a Wayside Inn, famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Theologian’s Tale” drew a literary picture of ships passing in the night, flashing their red lights in friendship. Longfellow’s metaphor alludes to people we meet briefly, but who deeply touch our lives. For me, Ron, Harriette and Jerry are such individuals. Their short presence in my life reinforces my decision to live in a senior community, where my life is fully shared with others.

For the next Joan’s Journey, we will travel from life inside a senior residence to community involvement. In the meantime, SeniorHomes and I invite you to share your experiences in the comments below. Until our new journey, enjoy the trip day-by-day.

Joan London, a former Houston Chronicle correspondent and noted magazine writer/editor, specializes in freelance writing/editing of issues relating to seniors. London moved to a senior community in Southern California, where she has enhanced her quality of life and is close to her children and grandchildren. Follow her series, Joan’s Journey, on

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