Plans Before Sunset: A Woman Who Says “Yes” to Life

I once met a famous man who said, “We are all in transit.” Just passing through. Best, then, to talk with someone who willingly provided her perspective on the lengthy journey.

As she approaches her 10th decade, this lovely individual offered more than her share of wise guidance just by describing her plans. They do need revision on occasion, don’t they?

Before you hear her voice, let me give you some background.

Catherine Pearlson (CP) was born to the generational expectation of taking your male spouse’s name when married. These days we might perceive it as an automatic first step toward removing one’s identity. Men in the business world trimmed off some more of her selfhood, despite her degree from one of the finest universities in the world. Remember, she lived in the real-life version of TV’s Mad Men moment.

Her dad died early, but CP benefited from a kind stepfather and a sparkling presence, as well as three qualities in equally short supply: resilience, boldness, and wit. She persisted and persists.

Losing friends and loved ones infiltrates any long life, but Ms. P. continued to say yes to the crazy journey each of us encounters, no matter how much time it took to reclaim herself. Her will and self-affirmation survive, despite more than one serious illness from which she rebounded.

Catherine has known the death of one spouse and divorce from another. Here is what she told me:

On Monday, I was at the Senior Center when I noticed a flyer on the wall:

Therapy for Healthy Seniors

It spoke to me.

My ex-husband passed away a few weeks ago, and it took me back to a dark time in my life. The feelings always lurked inside, ready to emerge. They returned me to the birth of my current name and the beginning of my best identity. The yin and the yang.

A few days later I met with the therapist. She radiated kindness as I recounted the familiar stories. The general outlines. She asked about my goals. Here’s what came up after I went home:

  • I want to make peace with myself before I die.
  • I want to accept the people who populate my life for who they are as they reveal themselves to me.
  • I want to spend my time doing things that reflect my vision of my best self. Pretty lofty targets. But I guess that’s what goals are, right?

This charming woman mentioned inventing her name. I asked her for details.

In the aftermath of my divorce from my second husband, I realized I wanted to choose a last name for myself.

If you had asked me at the time, I would have said the desire came from not wanting to go back to my maiden name and certainly not wanting to keep my married name.

Now, in hindsight, I know it primarily came out of a yearning for my own identity, no longer attaching myself only to the role of a wife or mother or my determination to do something creative in the world.

I chose Catherine Pearlson because it sounded like a writer’s name.

Here’s one unexpected thing I learned from doing this: when I told my children, my family, and my friends about my new name, not one of them questioned the decision.

They accepted the alteration straight away. My inner conviction came through to them. This was a significant boost to feeling right about the first step in my new identity.

Upon severance of the marriage, the judge said I could change my name for free as part of the divorce decree. I refused. I counted up my pennies and paid for the name change as an independent action.

My friendship with CP popped up in the last few years. She is a glowing delight, still learning, still finding a way forward even during a pandemic, and still writing, too. I hope her words speak to you as they did to me.

How many people do we meet who are beautiful inside and out, with a dash of wisdom, too?


I have changed the name of “Catherine” to protect her identity. The first image is the Umm al-Fahm Skyline at Sunset by Moataz Egbaria. Next comes Crepuscular Ray Sunset – Telstra Tower, Canberra by Fir0002. Finally, Preparations for the Open-air Concert of the Dülmen Summer at Wiesmann Sports Cars, Dülmen North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (2018), by Dietmar Rabich. They were all sourced from Wikimedia

12 thoughts on “Plans Before Sunset: A Woman Who Says “Yes” to Life

  1. I love this blog post, Dr. Stein! Thank you so much for sharing! 10 decades? Does that mean CP is 100 years old or older? She sounds like an amazing woman, a heroin of sorts.

    Being that I struggle with identity – hence, my “dissociative identity disorder,” I can relate to CP’s need for independence and her own fresh identity. I’ve also experienced so much loss that I, too, want to find peace and meaning in certain things before I die. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to live to 100 let alone 50. But I do know that I want to leave a different legacy behind – a legacy of a different identity and reputation than I have now.

    I suppose that, since childhood, my mind has been trying to find a “safe” and “acceptable” identity that doesn’t get harmed, or that can withstand pain or even torture, or that can start over again and again. My dad was unpredictable, and my mom lacked the kind of warmth we still crave to this day. Life was chaotic for us growing up, and without realizing it, dissociation took over – one identity change at a time. It was our own independence in secret, and it was our own means of escaping the feelings of pain, disgust, betrayal, and more. Men hurt us, and they controlled us. Their pleasures meant more than our pain. Our need for identity change, freedom from invisible male chains, and reinventing ourselves was constant. It may not have been the same as CP’s need for change, but we can certainly relate to some aspect of that. We’re not as wise as CP, but we can certainly find the beauty in her journey and stage of life.

    Mental health promotion comes to mind when I read that sign that you reflected: “Therapy for Healthy Seniors.” I’ve always thought of therapy being good for the healthy as well as the sick. And I always wondered if there were specific forms of therapy for the elderly. I may only be in my late-40s, but I worry about whether or not I’ll get to grow old, and if my mind will remain lucid enough to avoid dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I worry about whether I’ll live through tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. My many personalities within struggle with different aspects of myself, and the fears that they learned to cope with in their own ways since childhood. We wonder if there would be therapy for us when we grow old, or even for the many alters within who don’t age. We wonder about how to focus on mental health more so than mental deficits, and whether or not we can simply embrace our parts without asking them to change their own identities to “just one” (i.e., being a “singleton” instead of a “multiple”). We like our identities as they are now, but we each have areas we would like to improve through therapy, and we each have different goals in this lifetime. We wonder if therapy is open to all that, from, perhaps, humanistic and existential perspectives.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You are welcome, Dragonfly. Part of what is required to have a sense of satisfaction in your identity is to set aside some of the worries about reputation. Others’ opinions cannot be escaped, but we can become hostage to them. People think far more about themselves than they usually do about us.

    As to “decades,” the first decade begins with birth and ends on the last day of your ninth year. Your 10th birthday begins your 2nd decade. You can figure out the rest.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Dr. S. My brain is a bit foggy, so my math skills lack. She’s approaching her 10th decade, got it! She’s in her late-80s. Got it (I hope)! Forgive me if I’m just not up to math these days. I used to love it and stats, but now I struggle to recall even basic words, names, and the like.

      Thanks also for explaining about identity satisfaction. I’m really not satisfied with my identity at all, even absent external human influences. I have enough going on internally that I feel “less than” all the time. I’m not sure what will help me feel more secure in who I am, or even more confident. I have very low self-esteem in some areas, yet I can be self-motivated in others. I’m confused as to who I am most of the time. I think I have a sense of self, or perhaps a few senses of multiple selves. That’s the best I can describe me.


      • I knew you could do the math. It is a common mistake, so don’t get down about it. Identity confusion comes with the DID territory. With time and continued work, you should feel whole. Keep going!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S! Right now, my system is working with one another (via co-consciousness). Still not whole, but I think I’m getting better.


      • Wonderful!. Co-consciousness is the direction a wise therapist guides you toward. Keep going!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful inspiration. Thank you for sharing this story of a brave life well-lived!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dr. Stein, thanks for sharing this story of an amazing woman! I can well understand her desire to change her last name to reflect her new identity. As a divorcee, I’ve never felt the need to return to my maiden name. Living in Brazil at the time–my ex-husband had returned to Guyana–I forged a new identity under my married name. Disconnected from its Guyanese ethnic/cultural associations, my married name took on a different meaning in Brazil. With its connection to Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, my work colleagues found it different and alluring. Some of my male co-workers loved to hint at its connotations of the bacchanal.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nothing less might be expected of male coworkers! You do seem to have traveled a somewhat similar road to the one CP undertook. You are both strong women. Thank you for your comment, Rosaliene.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Beautiful article, such an inspirational insight. Thank you for sharing this story of a brave life well-lived!

    Liked by 1 person

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