It’s Never Too Late
by Richard L. Mabry, MD
When I was in my thirties, just starting my medical practice, my vision for the future was simple—work hard, raise my family, build a nest egg, retire at sixty-five, and relax. I figured that I’d travel for a while, then sit in a rocking chair on my front porch and watch the world go by. But well before the magic age for my envisioned retirement, I found that I was burned out with the private practice of medicine. I’d been in it for over a quarter of a century, and I needed a change. Unfortunately, I had no other skills. Besides, I was too old to change. Then I received an invitation to become a professor at a prestigious medical center, an invitation over which I prayed, an opportunity I discussed with my wife, and one that I eventually accepted.
When I made the big move (and a move from private practice to medical academia is big, make no mistake), I was fifty-seven years old. I was entering a new situation, one with which I was unfamiliar. The rocking chair on the front porch was still a vision out there in the future, but right now I had to get used to a whole new set of circumstances. In my new position, I was fortunate enough to work with my wife, Cynthia, who was also my nurse. Together, we set up a section previously missing from the department where I held my appointment. I soon settled into a routine that included writing textbooks and professional papers, teaching our resident physicians, and speaking and teaching literally all over the world, not to mention caring for patients. Maybe I hadn’t been too old to make the change.
Years passed, and one day Cynthia asked me if it wasn’t time for us to retire. Shouldn’t we be planning some trips where I didn’t lecture or teach, trips that were just for fun? I agreed, and on September 1, 1999, Cynthia officially retired from the medical center. I planned to follow a few months later. But fourteen days after her retirement, my wife suffered a life-ending stroke. Cynthia was sixty-two when she died. I was sixty-three, and, so far as I was concerned, my life ended when hers did. No retirement together. No travel. No rocking chair on the front porch.
To help me cope with Cynthia’s death and the depression that followed, I used journaling, in the form of emails to my friends and family, posthumous messages to her, the outcries of a troubled heart voiced in many ways. Almost two years after Cynthia’s death I allowed a friend to read what I’d written. He told me, “You have to turn these into a book. There’s too much help here for others going through the same thing.” I took that advice with a grain of salt, but eventually I decided that perhaps I should see if I could make something good come out of the most terrible event in my life. But how could I do that? This was an entirely new area into which I was stepping, and I figured I was too old to learn.
By this time, God had blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman. Kay encouraged me, we prayed about it, and I signed up for a writer’s conference where I hoped to learn more about writing and publishing. But even as I made the arrangements I doubted my ability to succeed in this new field. Writing a medical textbook or a professional paper is much different from writing a non-fiction book on the loss of a spouse. Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge, and soon I found myself immersed in a new world, one I needed to master. It wasn’t easy, but in 2006 The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was published. Since that time it’s ministered to thousands of grieving individuals. Not only that, with its publication came a number of speaking opportunities, helping others get through their own difficult losses.
Eventually, my speaking to grief groups slowed down. Certainly by now it was time to settle back, dust off that rocking chair, watch the world go by—right? No, not really. At that writer’s conference, I came under the influence of two men who were great teachers, published authors themselves, and they inspired and encouraged me to try my hand at writing fiction. Of course, it was well past the time when I’d envisioned retirement and the rocking chair. Was I ready for yet another challenge? I decided I was, and I went for it.
It wasn’t easy. I spent four years writing four novels that garnered forty rejections. I actually quit once, but through circumstances that can only be called providential I reconnected with a woman I’d met when she was an editor, a lady who had become an agent. She took me on as a client, and eventually I got my first contract for publication of a medical thriller. I got that contract when I was past seventy years of age.
Now I’m almost seventy-seven, have just seen the publication of my fifth novel, and recently completed turning in the manuscript for what will be my seventh published novel of medical suspense, my eighth book overall (not counting all those medical textbooks). I’m more than a decade past my previously projected retirement age. I’m still in the middle of this new career, and I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for me down the line.
So, in answer to those who might be asking if you’re too old to undertake something new, here’s my advice: it’s never too late.
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, past Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the author of five published novels of medical suspense. His books have been finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. His novel, Lethal Remedy, won a 2012 Selah Award from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. His most recent medical thriller, Stress Test (Thomas Nelson), was released in April, and will be followed by Heart Failure in October.