Part 22: Senior Communities Embrace Life, Even at the End

Just before 8 p.m. on a beautiful fall night in Santa Monica, the enchanting quiet of my “senior hotel” room was blasted with high-pitched sirens, annoying loud beeps and screeching tires. I was seated at my desk in the exact spot where, and time when, the recent 5.0 earthquake occurred. This evening, however, the unwanted sounds were manmade—those of an ambulance and a fire truck arriving at the front door of Holiday Villa East (HVE).

Unfortunately, living at HVE, these sounds are all too familiar. In fact, I hear them routinely—some weeks Ambulancemore frequently than others. The location of my room allows these unnerving sounds to penetrate into my room day and night. That’s a compromise I’ve made to occupy a lovely space with a balcony overlooking a busy urban street with three major hospitals, two fire stations and a police station within less than a mile.

Rapidly, the noises stop. Ambulance double-doors slam and footsteps scurry up the ramp. A resident needs immediate medical care.

Welcome, Joan’s Journeyers. Our story, but not our blog, ends here. Privacy and respect to residents and staff are in force. By its very definition, senior communities have at least one occupant per unit who is 55 years or older. Residents may be completely healthy and independent or they may have one or more mental or physical health issues. A variety of lifestyles, services, and amenities are available at senior housing.

At HVE, independent seniors and those in varying stages of health are welcome. The youngest resident is 57 and the oldest 104. Some residents live unassisted by mobility aides or personal helpers. Others require health care, including hospice. Thus, the inevitable coming and going of emergency vehicles.

Surprisingly, when the emergency vehicles arrive, there is almost no disruption of daily living at HVE. Dining, activities, and socializing continue uninterrupted. No one clutters in the hallway or stands and watches the cot go by. Illness, dying, and death are part of the rhythm of life at senior living.

The privacy and respect bestowed by each resident and employee to the affected member is a reflection of the bonds of friendship and caring that develop in a community where folks spend much of the days. Table-mates call each other if one does not come for a meal in the dining room. They inquire, “How are you? Do you need anything?”

When a resident goes to the hospital or rehabilitation center, a family member generally keeps in touch with a key person at the community, who keeps concerned folks up-to-speed. When a resident dies, the effect ripples through the community. Often the family conducts a celebration of life service at the senior residence. A photo and obituary may be placed in the hallway foyer. A monthly bulletin may feature an article written by a resident-friend of the deceased. Loss, sadness and grief become acceptance. Soon, excitement spreads throughout the community—a new resident is moving in. Their friend will be replaced, but not forgotten.

In the next Joan’s Journey, I get up front and personal with cherished memories I share of three fabulous folks who died within the eight months I have lived at HVE. Like ships passing in the night, these wonderful individuals enriched my days. If you live at a senior community and a friend passed away there, please share your story. If you have questions about illness, dying, and death while living in a senior residence, SeniorHomes.com and I invite you to comment in the box below. We will answer your questions and feature your comments. Until the next post, enjoy the Journey, day by day.

Joan London, a freelance writer who specializes in topics on aging, enjoys living in senior housing in Southern California, where she is close to her children and grandchildren. London has a new roommate, Heather, 6 months, a beautiful Ragdoll Kitten. Follow her series, Joan’s Journey, on SeniorHomes.com.