HONESDALE, PA — Carol Rocklin, co-founder of the local non-profit Growing Older Together (GOT), said that she’s spent a lifetime being stubborn. It would seem that maintaining an engaged, …
HONESDALE, PA — Carol Rocklin, co-founder of the local non-profit Growing Older Together (GOT), said that she’s spent a lifetime being stubborn. It would seem that maintaining an engaged, active life at nearly 91 years old requires a bit of stubbornness. Growing old isn’t easy, she said, but “easy” never really interested Rocklin anyway.
Before coming to Wayne County to spend the autumn years of life near their son John, Carol and her husband Raymond lived in Westchester, where she had a career as the director of a social work department in a Westchester hospital. Social work wasn’t her dream, however, so she retired from the position at 62. She went back to school for a “post-post graduate degree” in psychotherapy and opened a private practice that she ran for 15 years, fulfilling an ambition she had been holding onto since her high school years in Baltimore. Browsing one of Baltimore’s Carnegie libraries, she discovered a book called “Listening with the Third Ear: The Inner Experience of a Psychoanalyst,” by Theodore Reik.
“From that point on, I wanted to be a therapist,” she said. “And it took me a long time to get there… but that’s where I landed—didn’t get to where I wanted to be until 62.”
Today, Rocklin said she’s still able to utilize her therapy skills with GOT. Sustaining a connected life is essential to Rocklin, so much so that she helped form the volunteer-based group to make connections realistic for older folks who are physically unable to maintain it themselves.
The group was born out of Carol’s experience caring for Raymond when he had become ill. In the midst of this, Carol fell and broke her foot. She relied on friends from the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, to which she belongs, to help her through that period. She and her friends realized that there were likely many other elderly people in Wayne and Sullivan counties who could use a hand.
GOT volunteers provide Wayne and Sullivan residents aged 60 and over with help doing chores, running errands, transportation and technology; volunteers also provide simple companionship—someone to play games with, go on walks with and talk to.
Rocklin cannot participate in most of the volunteer work because she can no longer drive. However, she performs the assessment interviews of prospective members. As a therapist, that kind of work is both meaningful and natural.
Marcia Nehemiah, president of GOT, said that Rocklin always knows what questions to ask and that she’s very perceptive to what people are going to need from GOT. Nehemiah got to know Rocklin well in the process of writing a book called “Crone Age,” featuring interviews with eight octogenarians.
“She’s a very interesting person because she’s very interested in the world,” Nehemiah said.
Rocklin has always had a clear idea of the things she wanted from life. Growing up in an entirely Jewish neighborhood—a result of realtors steering people into specific neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity and religion—Rocklin learned early on to resist discrimination. Learning about formalized religion taught her that she didn’t want anybody telling her “what to think.” Being hearing impaired since 18 months old showed Rocklin that she couldn’t allow physical setbacks to slow her down.
Her hearing impairment prevented Rocklin from using a telephone, confining her to “menial jobs.” Refusing to be “restricted to these silly jobs that bore me stiff,” she trained herself to use the telephone by having frequent phone conversations with friends and relatives, allowing her to apply for higher-level jobs.
Her husband Raymond was a sculptor, and while being married to an artist was “exciting,” it was “always a struggle to survive financially.” That never bothered Rocklin, though. “The struggle suited me. I couldn’t have been a Park Avenue wife,” she said.
Carol and Raymond were married for 52 years. As they grew older, and their property in Westchester became too much to maintain, moving to Wayne County just made sense. It worked for Carol, because there was a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and a local library. The problem, however, was that there were no houses equipped with a studio for Raymond’s sculpting. And so, Carol designed one herself.
“I’d never [designed a house] before—didn’t sleep for six months,” she said, about being wracked with anxiety during the process. “As it turns out, it came out beautifully.”
The Rocklins lived in that house until four years ago, when Raymond, at 90, passed away. Carol knew she had to sell their home and move to Honesdale, otherwise she would have been cut off from the social life she so values.
“It was hard to leave that house, but it was absolutely the right thing to do,” she said. “I think it’s very important for us who are aged to make every effort to be connected. If you let go of that, you’re really letting go of life.”
Not only has Rocklin been able to stay connected with friends, but she has also inspired them with her resilience.
“What strikes me about [Carol] is how she has overcome what may have daunted many other people,” Nehemiah said. “She just doesn’t give in… she’s committed to life.”
Rocklin does not romanticize the process of growing older. “It’s a continuing series of losses,” she said. With painful arthritis, Rocklin is no longer able to garden the way she did with Raymond at their home in Westchester. Rocklin is also now legally blind and can no longer browse books at the library like she did as a teenager in Baltimore, or even read the books in her home.
Rocklin never lost her stubborn streak, however. She’s still a member of book clubs and reads The New York Times every day, using magnified text on her Kindle. With the help of friends and her son, she keeps a small garden and enjoys looking at it from her sunroom. “While I have to have help, at least I can enjoy the beauty,” she said. And when Rocklin falls, she gets up—literally.
Just two weeks before our interview, Rocklin knocked over a jar of mushrooms onto her kitchen floor. She tried cleaning it, but her knees gave out and she fell to the floor.
“I haven’t been able to get up—if I’ve fallen—for years. I was very, very annoyed with myself… [so] this time, I was determined.” She crawled to the dining room and tried to use a chair to pull herself up, but it didn’t work. So then she crawled into her sunroom. “Somehow I managed by throwing myself on the bed and using a table to leaver myself and I succeeded, first time ever, for years.”
Growing old, for Rocklin, means accepting the “increasing limitations” that come with age, while fighting to stay informed about society, engaged in the community and connected with friends and family. Doing these things is a challenge every day, but that’s what makes it all worth it for Rocklin.
“The struggle is…” she pauses, “what keeps you going, at least it keeps me going… Whatever limitations you have, don’t give up the struggle.”