Part 1: Westward Ho!

Westward bound thoughts have crossed my mind for about three years. I love my family and friends in Baltimore. I love my pretty, comfortable and spacious condo. I enjoy my social life and religious affiliation. I am settled with my doctors, dentists, cleaners, dressmaker and other service people who make life work. Moreover, I have a devoted personal aide, Gladys, who works two days a week to assist me with chores I find difficult to accomplish due to chronic arthritis.

So why, you ask, and I ask myself, move anywhere, especially across the country from East to West Coast? I don’t have a simple answer to this seemingly simple question. That’s why it’s taken several years for me to embark on this flight.

My Life in Baltimore

For the past 10 years, my general health has been excellent, but rheumatoid arthritis has caused joint deterioration, requiring multiple reconstruction surgeries. To provide moral support with each surgery, one of my dear children have come to Baltimore from their respective West Coast cities. Since all three of them each work, non-vacation travel is difficult. Following my seventh surgery four years ago, my children brought up the idea of me moving closer to them.

At first, I totally resisted. My life is in Baltimore, I replied. However, time has a way of changing one’s perspective. My grandchildren in Seattle have birthday parties, recitals and special events I miss. My newest grandson, Oliver, 21-months-old, is an adorable toddler, and I am missing the joy of watching him grow.

In Baltimore, my spacious condo really has more room than I need. With chronic arthritis, I rarely entertain at home. A separate dining/living room, great room off the kitchen, second bedroom and home office, are a lot of space for my current lifestyle.

Another reason for me to consider moving is the Baltimore weather. Although the mid-Atlantic states have a temperate climate, the humidity is generally high year-round. Winters vary from cold with little snow to extremely cold with frequent snow and ice storms. As a senior with arthritis and multiple joint replacements, a fall on slippery leaves or snow or ice is a serious concern and risk.

An Oasis in the Desert

Joan London visiting Mount San Jacinto State Park in Palm Desert, CAIn 2009, I tried an experiment. For three months, I lived in Rancho Mirage, California, an incredibly beautiful desert city near Palm Springs. I felt great. I thrived. I made new friends and truly enjoyed life. I rented a car and drove to Los Angeles (LA) to visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. Most of all, I proved to myself that I could successfully relocate.

I returned to the Palm Springs area for the past two winters and really enjoyed these visits. I’d love to relocate to the Chocella Valley permanently, but the desert location poses several problems.

First, the summers are extremely hot, at points in excess of 115 degrees. Therefore, remaining in Ranch Mirage from mid-May to mid-September is not desirable to me. Second, driving back and forth to LA is tiring and stressful. If I’m going to be in Southern CA, I’d like to be closer to LA. Third, if I have health problems or surgery, my children are not close by.

Still, none of these reasons seemed compelling enough for me to move, until this past August. Then my thinking changed.

The Big Shift

In August, I had surgery to correct scar tissue around my vocal cords that was interfering with my breathing. This surgery, none of my children were able to make the trip. I had to depend on the kindness of extended family and friends.

Following the surgery, I was told to practice complete voice rest. In other words: No Talking! After two weeks of silence, I was allowed limited speaking for six weeks. Living alone, despite visitors and assistance from my aide Gladys, was a most unpleasant and difficult experience.

About two weeks after my surgery, on a quiet Sunday, a huge hail storm suddenly hit Baltimore. I canceled plans with a friend for dinner. Since I couldn’t speak, I spent a long silent day and evening alone.

Two days later, on Tuesday, a totally unexpected 5.7 earthquake hit Baltimore and the East Coast. The epicenter was 90 miles from my condo. Alone eating lunch, I first heard a roaring noise. Then my chair and the floor shook. I felt the building move. As I sat in my chair digesting what just happened, the National Weather Service Alert beeped on television. A man’s voice calmly stated that an earthquake has just occurred.

“What?” I said out loud to myself. “An earthquake? We don’t have earthquakes on the East Coast. Is this a joke? Or worse, a terrorist attack with a bomb in nearby Washington, DC. Have terrorists taken over communications and are lying to us?”

My fears quickly melted as national news broke on television confirming that indeed an earthquake had occurred. My condo was unharmed, but other buildings in the area were affected. The Washington Monument at the Mall in DC, only 60 miles from Baltimore, was cracked and is closed indefinitely for repaired.

Earthquake news remained in the headlines for days, but quickly became interwoven with news that the worst hurricane in East Coast history was headed directly toward us, due to hit Saturday.

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Gladys and I bought non-perishable food and made sure my flash lights worked. She left early on Friday and I settled in for an enjoyable catch up time on my computer and iPad. Then the unwelcome visitor, Hurricane Irene, arrived early. By midnight Friday the wind was howling and the rain hitting like drums playing on the roof. By 2 am, I had lost cable and electricity — and I had forgotten to buy a battery-operated radio.

After a frightful night, Irene abated, leaving me isolated in my “No Talking” mode, with a defrosting refrigerator/freezer, water from the freezer dripping in a huge puddle on the floor, and a cell phone that was rapidly losing its charge. I texted a friend who fortunately had not lost power. He kindly came over and took the groceries to his home. Then I, like so many Baltimoreans, waited four inconvenient hot days and dark nights for power to return.

Surgery, hail storm, earthquake and monster hurricane — enough drama for me to say I’ve had it living alone! It’s time for a change. It’s time for a new journey to begin. It’s time for +55 senior living. It’s time for me to relocate to the West Coast. I planned my trip, purchased tickets, and here I am about to land in Seattle. Reflection time is over. My search is on.

###

Written by Joan London, a freelance writer from Baltimore, MD, who lives in a +55 condominium with Mia, a sweet Russian Blue rescue cat. Blogging about her search for the just-right-fit senior living facility on the West Coast, is London’s latest freelance endeavor. Her blog will explore the pros and cons, ups and downs, whys and why nots of this 67-year-old single woman’s new life journey. Join the discussion on the SeniorHomes.com blog or email your questions to joan@seniorhomes.com.

Read part two of Joan’s Journey: Two Flights Forward, One Flight Back.