Five years ago my husband, Bob, and I left our home of 20 years in Snowmass Village, just outside of Aspen, Colorado to start a new life in a senior retirement community. We had chosen a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in a suburb of Denver 15 minutes away from where our youngest daughter and family lived.
Because I was a psychotherapist and had a busy practice, we had agreed not to talk about our move much in advance of it, because I didn’t want to worry my patients too far in advance about their therapist leaving.
Changed My Whole Way of Life
I was so laid back about the move. I let my husband make all the arrangements as well as trips to Denver to meet with salespeople, designers and other moving specialist. Our place was just being built, so we had lots of choices to make. In retrospect, I realize how uncharacteristic this was of me to be completely absent from any of the decision making.
Yes, it was Bob’s wish to move. He didn’t like the snowy, icy, winter road he had to drive to get to back and forth from our house. And because he never agreed to build that second garage, his car sat out all winter and he hated scraping off the ice. Besides, the altitude of 8,000 feet was getting to him. I was agreeable with his wish to move. And we had just sold the lot adjoining our house, so we could afford it.
It wasn’t until about six months after our move that I realized I had been in complete denial of moving. I hadn’t wanted to tell anyone. I didn’t participate in any of the planning. I just zombie-like changed my whole way of life. So what is my verdict on my CCRC now five years later?
Life at a CCRC
It was easy to make friends; there weren’t many of us in the beginning, and as people slowly trickled in, and they were included in our group. Also, Bob and I were a couple, so we had each other. Today, I greatly admire the widows and widowers who move in, often after a recently deceased spouse, and have to learn all our names and make friends. There are many supports for newly arrived residents, but I still marvel to myself at their bravery and wonder how I would have managed if I were in their shoes.
Actually, I don’t think it was so bad for me to be in denial about the move. My mind just blocked lots of potential anxiety and by the time it dawned on me how uncharacteristically I behaved, I was settled and engaged in a new way of life, which makes me happy.
I never had a problem with not having to cook regularly, and I welcomed weekly housecleaning, which includes changing linens on the bed. That was great because we had bought a new, king-size bed with a very thick mattress. We each fixed our own breakfast and lunch and ate diner in the lovely dining room with friends we made dates with or were paired up with by the friendly maître de. Often we would meet with friends in their apartment for cocktails before dinner. It’s a fun social life at our CCRC.
No One Lives Forever
When people move into a CCRC, if all goes well, it is one’s “last stop.” We have chosen a way of life that will take care of us until we die. That’s our rational decision. Emotionally, death is always very hard.
I tell my friends when we see yet another picture of a resident that has died, “This is why we came here. To be taken care of until we die. And no one lives forever.” They agree with me, but it doesn’t make us feel any better. When our CCRC opened, we early residents complained to the Executive Director (ED) that we had heard via the grapevine that someone had died, and we, collectively, hadn’t been told. That was when the ED began placing a picture of the deceased on a table in the mail room notifying us of the death and the plans for a service. This pleased us. It was very unsettling to be speculating if one of our new friends had died.
Now, five years later, having seen many pictures, residents wish they could avoid going into the mail room for fear of seeing death. Of course, the reality is that death is part of life at a CCRC and is always sad to face. We make this senior living choice as our last stop.
End of a Life-Long, Happy Marriage
My hardest experience during my five years here was my husband’s death three years ago and the end of a life-long, happy marriage. He died quickly with very little suffering, so there wasn’t much time for me to prepare emotionally; not that one can every really prepare. The support my fellow residents gave me was more than I could ever have expected. We are a family here, and everyone treated me as a member of their family suffering a loss.
My children and grandchildren flew in from all over and were wonderful, but of course they have to go back to their own lives and their own grief. My fellow residents kept calling me, comforting me, including me, now a single, in their diner dates and activities. Certainly Bob’s and my friends in the mountains would have been supportive of me, but there would not have been as many or in as close proximity to me.
The Right Place For Me
There is no doubt in my mind that my CCRC is the right place for me and I know it is my last stop. I am so glad Bob and I made this choice five years ago when we were physically and mentally sound. Maybe psychologically I wasn’t ready to face my last stop, but fortunately I had someone to lead me. And our four adult married children applauded the choice for it being our choice and not having to make a decision for us.
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.”