It is Wednesday morning, the first of October, and I am at my computer calendar planning my meals. Not a world-shattering project, but my routine. It will be six years in November that I have lived this life of eating most of my dinner meals in a community dining room. When Bob and I first moved here, we chose the 21-meal plan and I have remained on it ever since. As I have explained before, this means instead of the allowed one meal a day every day, I have chosen to return nine meals a month and get a modest credit of $5 per meal.
As you can see, the money savings are hardly the reason for the choice, but it is rather my need to protect myself from the overstimulation of people, people, people. I may be eating out for a few meals or away a few days a month, so why should I waste the money even if it is only a $5 refund a meal. Many of the 350 residents here make the 21 meals plan their choice, I assume for the same reasons. Even though I am pretty much done with cooking now, occasionally I still remember how to cook something good and store it in the freezer, ready to use for one of those savored nights at home by myself with a good book.
Meals that offer social interaction are becoming increasingly more important for our well-being. Research on longevity shows that social interaction is as important as exercise and mental stimulation in fostering successful aging,
Each of us here manages our meal plans differently. Usually, I chose to eat dinner; some residents prefer lunch when the dining room is less crowed and more casual. These lunch diners can get a dinner-type meal or a lighter, salad/sandwich-type meal. Some people, often the single men, choose breakfast as either part of their meal plan or as a very reasonably priced extra meal.
My pattern is to eat dinner with a regular Monday group and a regular Saturday group. For my other meals during the week, I will either eat at home, initiate a dinner date, someone may invite me, or I come to the dining room alone and the maître d’ will place me.
Some people who are uncomfortable with these choices carry in most of their meals. The dining room is generous in preparing food to go, but eating all of one’s meals in their apartment further isolates these people. However, this is independent living; opportunities are offered us, but no one tells us what to do, nor should they.
A more difficult choice
Another choice people make here, more dramatic than meals, is the choice to leave the “institution.” There have been two recent departures. These are surprising, because they seldom happens. Both of them are very good friends of mine. In fact, I am planning small goodbye cocktail parties for both.
My young, young old, single female friend has been dealing with a liver cancer diagnosis for almost two years; two operations, radiation, recovery, testing and then a diagnosis of no cure or long remission. Her only choice was harsh chemo with the expectation of few good results. She decided not to undergo the chemo. Then, after a surprising and pleasing invitation from her California family, she decided to die in their home. So far, the move has been successful and life with the chaotic family of busy parents and three kids has made her happy. She is under hospice care and, with strong meds, is currently leading an active life and is very happy with her decision.
The other folks leaving are a couple in their early 80s. They moved here from Arizona to be close to their daughter when this place first opened. Their life here has consisted of lots of walking and golfing; they order in all their dinners and eat by themselves in their apartment. Their new home will be a house in an over-50s retirement community in this same area so they can remain close to their daughter and her family. I said to them, “I can understand the restlessness of living in this place for six years and wanting a change, but I sure don’t understand the wish to keep house, cook and clean.” They decided that since their lifetime friends and age-mates are happy in their own homes, why shouldn’t they be, too?
And then there is the man who is living in my former cottage. He and his English bulldog moved into the Lodge a few years ago. I had never met him but had heard many complaints about his unleashed dog wandering around the grounds. That went on for a while, and then I heard he had moved into my vacant cottage. He and his dog were much happier there. He would sit outside his front door and the dog would happily play around him. Then I heard the dog had died and that was very hard on him.
The other day, when I decided to eat lunch in the dining room to use up some extra meals before the end of the month, I happened to sit with this man and I offered condolences on the death of his dog. He was quite chipper accepting them. He went on to tell me, “I had two dogs and lived on a farm. When my wife died, I decided to move here. I gave one dog away to a close friend because I knew it would be too hard, having two dogs here in an apartment. Apartment living turned out to be too hard for even one dog and for me. Recently, when my dog died, my friend insisted I take the other one back from him. I didn’t think that was right, but he kept offering, so I did. There is no question that I am a pretty happy guy now and so is my dog. I can’t get over how much he is like his brother.” Good story.
More stories next month. It’s the little things in life that count.
Written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist specializing in child development. Margery currently lives in a continuing care retirement community outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her senior living experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”