Clareyse Nelson on a Nepal trek, with her guide’s 6-year-old daughter.
Clareyse Nelson wasn’t looking death squarely in the face. She wasn’t coping with a life-altering experience, or even with that eventful milestone of retirement, which occurred for her in her late 50s. At 65, this now 71-year-old resident of northeast Minneapolis felt it was time to start a list, simply titled, “65 Things I Want to Do Before I Die.”
The physical list, recorded in a journal, is now long gone.
“I lost it on a plane, on one of my trips-I don’t remember which,” Nelson said, “but it was left in the pocket of the seat in front of me. When I contacted the airline and told them I’m a writer and it’s very important that I get this back-they were pretty unresponsive. I never saw it again.”
Its contents are still clear in her mind, though.
“I remember and have done quite a bit on it,” she mused. “My list was and still is determined by things I’ve never done, and things I like.”
One of those things Nelson likes, is travel.
“I’d always wanted to trek in Nepal,” she said.
In 2007, when the opportunity to go with a well-traveled friend arose, instead of second guessing her age and ability, she seized the chance, checked it off her list and hiked the beginning route to Everest, a trek that started from the town of Lukla to Namche Bazaar, at an altitude of about 11,000 feet, an activity which gave her a satisfied feeling of accomplishment.
Nelson has hiked the Inca Trail, seen Michelangelo’s David in Italy, and has been fishing in Canada, but there are still places she hasn’t been. Next on her list is India, or Turkey, perhaps. “And if someone asks me to go trekking somewhere, I will go!”
Practicalities and persistence
Nelson began to tire of the routine and predictability of the tasks involved with her work as laboratory manager at the blood bank at the University of Minnesota Hospital. “I knew I wanted to do something else-I didn’t want to be so worn out by my work that I didn’t do my dreams.”
In addition to those dreams, also on her list are some decidedly practical matters-such as writing a will. “Life, fortunately, gets in the way,” Nelson stated, who chalks this item up on the still “to do” portion of the list.
Another more immediate goal on the still-to-do list is to lose weight. “Sometime. Before I die. Maybe,” she finished.
Nelson also has plans to finish writing a book, and to find a way to preserve 80 acres of undeveloped land she inherited in northern Minnesota, an important to-do for this committed environmentalist who also surreptitiously plants trees in the park across from her home.
“I don’t have to do great big things. I think I have an attention deficit-” she laughed. “I’m always doggedly forging ahead with something new … and I want to do the active things now, while I can!”
A wonderful treat on the list that she described as “heaven!” was to have someone clean her house once a month, so that she “has more time to do stuff!”
Bike trips … no regrets
One of the things she’s had time to do on a regular basis is lead bike rides as a member of the Twin Cities Bicycling Club, an activity driven by another list item, buying a custom-made bike-glorious and red and without the cumbersome higher crossbar found on the majority of women’s bikes.
“I thought-65 years old!-how could I possibly spend so much on a bicycle? Five-thousand miles later, I’m thrilled that I did. The bicycle keeps me happy.”Clearly a woman with an abundance of energy, was anything uncharacteristic or wild on her list-anything her friends might be surprised about?
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied thoughtfully. “You already know who you are and where your passions lie-my list was guided by that. I might never learn to tango, and I’m OK with that.”
Nelson has taken singing lessons at MacPhail, Spanish class at the Resource Center for the Americas, and she raves about the wonderful opportunities available to seniors at places like the University of St. Thomas and through the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“I felt more invisible in my 50s than I do now. Now, I don’t worry about things so much. Life is easier in that respect,” Nelson said. “For example, I used to go to restaurants and if I was being led to a table I didn’t like, I’d say nothing, thinking, oh, I don’t want to be a bother. Now I simply ask for another table-without a second thought.”
An independent woman, single all her life, Nelson also reflected on death and loss.
“You begin to learn to live with losses; you lose more friends. There’s the loss of parents, and you become ‘an orphan.’ That’s a milestone. Then one day you suddenly realize you’ve become the matriarch,” she said, speaking of her large extended family. “You start thinking about that awareness that we’re all going to die. At 18 you don’t think about that-you feel as if you’re going to live forever.”
“Quit saying someday,” Nelson said.
And of regrets? With confidence she said: “They don’t come up.”