Part 2: A Way of Life In Progress
I am following an unchartered trail. However, it is a path I want to share with my age mates who are trying to figure out the rest of their lives. Hopefully, my experiences will also be helpful for baby boomers that are helping their parents make a decision about their last stop.
Downsizing was a challenge in making my move. Most of us living in my retirement community struggled with what to leave (meaning give away or dump) and what to bring. Bob and I were pretty lucky as our Cottage had a basement and a two-car garage. Our new friends who moved into the Lodge had harder choices.
It’s So Hard To Get Rid Of Pieces Of Your Life
I remember looking at my professional books from graduate school in the 80s, knowing that I didn’t need them anymore and, worse yet, that no one else wanted them. They were outdated. It is so hard to get rid of important pieces of your life. But then one needs to realize how miserable it is to live in too crowded a home.
I have discovered that there is usually one half of a couple that wants to keep and one half that wants to get rid of. I’m the “get rid of” half which, at times, can be hard on even a long, happy marriage. After Bob died, I discovered he had brought many trinkets and papers with him that I thought he had disposed of.
The one thing you don’t need to get rid of is old clothes you like. Since we’re all new to each other, we are always admiring our new friends’ vintage clothes. Yesterday I was wearing an old skirt I loved and the compliments kept coming. It’s simple things like this that makes life so happy here.
Living in your own home, which is what Cottage living is like at my retirement community, is different in many ways from living in the main Lodge. Bob and I were inexperienced movers; this was only our fourth move. As a child I had only moved once. We moved into a Cottage, which is really a duplex with two bedrooms, two baths plus a den, basement and two-car garage, as we thought this would offer us the autonomy we wanted.
Social Activity Essential To Healthy Aging
Initially, I was reluctant about the meal plan. There is the option of turning it down completely with a slight financial refund. However, Bob felt by signing up for the twenty-one meals per month plan, we would go to the Lodge to eat and we would meet people. He was right. Meals and dining with different residents is an important part of making friends.
A study published in the April 2011 issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science states,
“Social activity has long been recognized as an essential component of healthy aging, but now we have strong evidence that it is also related to better everyday functioning and less distractibility in old age.”
Bob and I lived together in our Cottage for two years and I continued living there after he died for the next year and a half before moving into the Lodge. While some Cottage residents choose not to integrate themselves into the life of the community, Bob and I did. We had our meal plan. Bob went to the weekly men’s coffee, took an art class and used the pool and the gym. I went to a number of exercise classes, also used the gym, and became involved in the governing of the community. We went over together to lectures and parties.
Our Cottage was a seven-minute, uphill walk to the Lodge. I sometimes found I was walking back and forth three times a day. Some of our Cottage buddies drove their car over, which was easy to do, but Bob and I chose to walk. After Bob died, I continued living in the Cottage. I would cherish the summer walks home after dinner. It was the same seven minutes, but this time it was downhill, viewing the beautiful sunsets over our majestic mountains.
It was the meals and the activities that helped Bob and I make friends. Some of our new friends moved here because they had cared for their aging parents to the end and they didn’t want to become that burden to their children. Others had a simpler reason: to get rid of the big house and enjoy the pleasure of prepared meals, maid service, no maintenance responsibility, arranged transportation and age mates.
Choosing To Be Close To Family
One of our perks in moving is living close to our daughter and her family. I would urge anyone choosing their “Last Stop” to find a senior residence near one of their children if at all possible. I have friends here from the East and South that find living out West quite different but made the choice because this is what their kids chose.
I must admit that when we initially started thinking about moving to our last stop, we knew we needed to be near a major airport so our kids could get to us easily in case of an emergency but did not realize how important their presence could be. For twenty years we had lived with the challenge of our kids flying in and out of the small Aspen airport, being delayed by bad weather or a variety of obstacles after landing in Denver, so we wanted to avoid that.
When my husband was still living, it was fun to have our daughter and family fifteen minutes away. Since Bob’s death it gives me tremendous security to know that one of my daughters and her family is around to help me in an emergency. I have also learned as I have lived at my community how hard it can be for a resident with a health issue when there is no family in the area.
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.”