Part 20: Living Together

I have written many essays for about my current life at a continuing care retirement community. I am happy with my choice and would not change it.

As a retired psychotherapist, consultant and mental health educator I spent much of my professional career helping people understand and manage their feelings. Yet I do not think that I have actually written about how it feels to live in a community like this. Well, it’s time to correct that. Here are my thoughts.

Friendships become redefined

For many of us who live in my CCRC, moving here has meant separating from long, dear friendships. Every effort is made to help us connect and be part of the life at our community. Yet for each one of us, moving and adapting to this new life it is a challenge. I hear friends saying that new friends aren’t the same as those old forever friends and I agree. Fortunately email and the phone help us manage the transition. As one of my friends lamented, “You don’t make old friends.”

When we first moved, some of our mountain friends would make a special stop to see Bob and me when they came to the big city. That was wonderful but it didn’t last. Our hole in the group got filled and we weren’t missed as much. It is even harder for residents who moved here from out of state to connect with their old friends. I envy the local people who watched this place being built and now live here. Their friends, their churches and often many of their children are close by. They continue old friendships while making new ones here.

I told a friend what I was writing about and she volunteered that for her the ‘rumor mill’ was the hardest part of living here. According to her, “Everyone is into everyone’s business and then they talk about it! And most of the time the story is completely distorted.” She likened this to the childhood game many of us played at birthday parties. Start a brief sentence and whisper it to the person sitting next to you. By the time the statement gets whispered around the whole group and is articulated by the last person, it is entirely different from the way it started. I agree that we tend to talk about issues that our fellow residents are dealing with, but I feel it is an effort to share so that as a group we can empathize with the concern at hand.

Life surrounded by people

Each of our adjustments is different depending upon circumstances, but to deny that it is not challenging would be unrealistic. Perhaps it is the hardest for those who move here after the loss of a spouse. There are so many stressful situations for them to manage.

In a way there is a need to reinvent your life with the move. Most of us have much less living space than we had been accustomed to. A single woman I know turned her guest bathroom’s bathtub into storage space. I’m pretty lucky because I’m not a saver. Yet I know the struggle for some who find it so hard to give up lifelong treasures.

One of the greater adjustments in this move is that we are living among a variety of people, people who we need to interact with in ways than we wouldn’t have in our old living situation. People are always around and for friendly folks, that’s fun. Yet for people who like more privacy, it may feel like an intrusion.

I have described life here as similar to being on a cruise ship, living in a group home or an institution. Since moving into the lodge I am reminded of life in my college sorority house, people around most of the time:  in the corridors, the mailroom, the library, even outside when I am taking a walk. My only promise of privacy is when I am in my apartment.

Some people can live here and avoid too much social interaction by spending their time either in their apartment or going out in their car. I know some who seem to really enjoy that lifestyle. However there are others who would like a more people-related life but do not know how to achieve it. We have a core group of residents who belong to Hospitality and Welcoming Committee and make a huge effort to help new residents integrate into the life here. It usually works, sometime it doesn’t. Then there are residents, like myself, who call the people who seem lost to include them in dinner plans in an effort to help them integrate into the community. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Life changes are hard when we get older but even with all the varying degrees of adjustment that are necessary to adapt to CCRC life, I truly believe my friends and I are very fortunately to be living this sort of life in our later years. All the current research concludes that sociability is an important ingredient in happy, healthy aging.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

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