By Connie Jeske Crane
You’d figure that for 68-year-old Joei Carlton Hossack, the definitive answer to the never-too-late question would be travel. Joei (pronounced “Joey”) has been RVing for 20 years. As a travel writer, she’s penned several books including, A Million Miles from Home—All Roads Lead to Istanbul, and Kiss This Florida, I’m Outta Here—Diary of a Solo, Full-Time RVer. She’s also contributed to publications such as West Coast Woman and RV Times Magazine.
Well-known within the congenial North American RV community, she supplements her writing with gigs as a speaker and lecturer. Yet talk to Joei for a while and you start to sense that travel is just—to use a bit of an obvious metaphor—a vehicle. Joei’s venturing has merely set the stage for many other discoveries. For instance, Joei’s travels (most often aboard her “very, very small” well-loved 10-foot 2004 Adventurer camper) have enabled her to pick up new professional skills. “I started writing at the age of 50,” recalls Joei. She’s also taken up blogging, photography, public speaking, and various forms of crafting.
In addition, through travel Joei has gained a network of friendships that stretches across North America, and the chance to pursue many varied interests. For example, at her various stops, she’s always game to develop her inner foodie. As she writes in an article for What Travel Writers Say: “I have been to wine tastings. I have been to chocolate factories for sampling. I have been to ice cream factories…so how could I resist an olive oil tasting?” But even as Joei thrives—in a campfire circle, meeting with her wine club, visiting family in California, publishing books, and deciding where she’ll point her RV next—this richness actually springs from a place of great pain.
When Joei was 45 and her husband Paul 49, the couple sold everything they had in Toronto (including her profitable wool shop). They then bought a motor home “in Great Britain and embarked on a journey that lasted two-and-a-half years. We went through Great Britain, most of Europe, parts of Africa.”
Back in North America, Joei and Paul bought a home in Florida. But then, on a trip back to Europe, everything changed in one terrible moment. “Sixteen days into that part of the trip my husband had a heart attack and died in Europe. So in one instant everything about my life changed, you know? I went from having a nice career, having just a fabulous husband, enjoying seeing the world and it was like the rug was pulled out from under me.”
The first year after Paul’s death, Joei says, was horrible. “Anyway you look at it it’s going to be horrible until you kind of go through it.” After an initial mourning period, she made some major decisions. “One of the decisions I made was that I was going to continue travelling and seeing the world. All the places that we planned on going to together I was going to do on my own. And my sister said—I’m very close to my sister, I talk to her every night—and she said ‘You know you really don’t have to do this. You don’t have to push yourself.’ But I know how I am.”
Joei pressed ahead and spent a summer volunteering on three archaeological digs in England. This was something, she says, “We had planned on doing together.” For that entire summer, whenever she wasn’t working, Joei spent long stretches of time alone dealing with her grief. “It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” she says now. As she talks about this period in her life, Joei reveals a mighty strength of character and self-discipline. Her account of the difficulties is unflinching but you realize she was equally determined to work her way through and find joy again. “You know something?” she says. “If you put yourself out an inch, somebody will help you for the other foot that you need. But you cannot sit there and expect people to come to you. They won’t. So it doesn’t matter that you cry all the time. For the two minutes that you’re not crying, get out there and do something. And make it something that you always wanted to do.” When it comes to other aspects of her life, Joei applies the same strong-minded approach. Here are some of her thoughts on successful aging:
Top of the list for Joei is lifelong learning. “I find that once I’m successful at something I want to go on and do something else. I always want to be learning. I always want to be doing something different.”
While she maintains close family ties, Joei feels it’s equally important to mix it up. “I still get out there and I’m still making friends, and that to me is so important.” As she moves out in the world, Joei ignores society’s negative stereotypes about aging. For her the recipe is “just waking up every morning and putting your clothes on and doing something that you have an interest in….And the friends that you want to make will come because they want to do those things as well.”
Joei is particularly rigorous in “keeping her mind clear”, as she puts it, saying our minds are very sensitive. “I stay involved with people who lift my spirits. You know, there’s a lot of people out there who really just want to drag you down, and I never discuss illness, I never [get involved in] bad-mouthing anybody. Because whatever I take from other people I want to give back and share with other people I know.”
To stay physically fit, Joei says “I get out and I walk as much as I can.” About six years ago she moved into a condominium in B.C. and settles there between travels. “Now I’m in a neighbourhood where I can walk everywhere. The library’s across the street, the senior centre, three grocery stores.”
She adds, “I do try and eat right. I’m big on fruit and vegetables and cereals and whole grains and stuff like that. And I do a lot of cooking for myself.”
People are forgetting to prepare financially for retirement, warns Joei. “I think that my generation is probably the last of the old people who have money, because the ones who are coming up have not prepared the way we did… I saved enough up so that I would enjoy my old age.”
Joei is realistic about life. In discussing the impact of losing a spouse, she relates a travel story that took place some 16 years after her husband’s death. “You know I was parked at the Walmart in Spokane and I met a group of homeless people and one of the fellows was there because his wife [disappeared] and he has basically bankrupted himself looking for her. And he said to me…‘How long does it take before you stop missing [your spouse]?’ And I said ‘I’ll let you know when it happens.’”
Ultimately though, for Joei Carlton Hossack, it’s never too late to rediscover joy in life. “Although I don’t have children, I’ve got sisters and brothers, I’ve got nieces and nephews that just think the world of me…I don’t beat myself up over what has happened. I just drive on to what it is that I want.”
Read Joei’s blog to find out more about Joei, her books and her travels.
About the Author: Connie Jeske Crane is based in Toronto and frequently writes about health and wellness, green living, and parenting.