Photo by Sarah Kowalczyk
Anyone who has spent 15 minutes in a seventh-grade classroom would agree that after teaching middle school for almost four decades, Christine Howe ’69 had earned a carefree retirement. Instead, she became a hospice nurse.
In her new profession, Christine manages patients’ symptoms to keep them comfortable and works with them and their families to prepare for what lies ahead. “Physically, they are getting weaker,” she says, “but it’s an intensely active time emotionally and spiritually.”
As a kid, Christine wanted to be a nurse, not a teacher. During her sophomore year at Wellesley, she applied to nursing school and planned to transfer, then realized she just couldn’t bear to go. “After talking to [my advisor] Clifford Green and doing some weeping, I decided, ‘I can’t leave this place. I haven’t learned as much as I could yet,’” she says.
As it happened, Christine did leave early. After falling “madly in love” with her roommate’s cousin, she finished her degree in religion and biblical studies in January 1969, got married, and moved to South Carolina, where she found work as a middle-school teacher. She had a daughter at the end of that year (“our first class baby”) and a second in 1972 (Kathryn Cousar Rosenberg ’94). Though nursing was in the back of her mind, she says, going back to school wasn’t financially possible.
When her marriage ended in the late 1970s, Christine and her daughters moved to New England, where she taught middle-school language arts and later added English composition at a local college to her schedule. By age 59, she says, “I decided I was never going to retire as a teacher. They’d have to drag me out.” She did feel ready to stop teaching college, however. A friend asked what she would do with the resulting spare time. “She said, ‘If you could do anything in the world, what would you be?’” Christine recalls. “I immediately said, ‘A nurse, but it’s too late.’ She said, ‘No it’s not.’”
So Christine, who lives in Peterborough, N.H., looked into an evening/weekend nursing program at Rivier College in nearby Nashua; when she called, she learned she would have to take a qualifying exam. The test was that Saturday, and there was one seat left. “I said, ‘Save that one for me,’” she says.
Christine passed the test and began taking prerequisite classes. (Her fellow students were about 30 years her junior.) She found that after a lifetime in the liberal arts, switching to anatomy/physiology and microbiology was a challenge. “It was a lot of memorizing, and looking through a microscope,” she says. “It was all very new and very exciting.”
Exciting, but also exhausting, as she was still teaching. “I didn’t do anything else,” she says. “I would see the children and grandchildren, but I didn’t watch TV, didn’t go to movies, didn’t read novels, didn’t have coffee with friends.”
She finished her associate’s degree in nursing in May 2009 (taking her licensing exam the day after her 40th Wellesley reunion) and began working as a community wellness nurse for Home Health Care Hospice and Community Services (HCS) in Keene, N.H., that fall. In 2013, she completed her B.S. in nursing, and now she’s a certified hospice/palliative care nurse with HCS.
Despite their differences, Christine sees parallels between her current work and teaching. “The people I deal with are all in transition,” she says. “There has to be a lot of respecting wherever they’re coming from, and honoring the fact that change is hard, whether it’s a 13-year-old whose body is changing and he doesn’t recognize himself, or a person who realizes that life is limited.”