The image that always comes to mind, when thinking of my golden years, is a large, rambling house on the ocean, somewhere in Cornwall, where the water is rough and the waves hit hard in winter. Tea is served in the afternoon, old-fashioned British style, scones and crumpets and marmalade, to a coterie of chatty ladies in funny hats and grumbling men clutching the newspaper and hoping for a whisky.
With the rain hammering the windows, we will have spent the days cooking and baking, reading and re-reading, kvetching and harping on about each other and our worst habits. The “we” in this story is my girlfriends and I, our husbands or partners, our brothers or sisters or single friends, whomever has found her/himself caught in old age alone or with the prospect of being shipped to a more or less swanky assisted living facility. Never mind that my girlfriends and their husbands and our siblings are scattered all over creation and that my current house in the canyon is about 6,000 miles away from Cornwall. I suppose Cornwall can be negotiated. Afternoon tea cannot.
I come from a culture where generations lived under the same roof until the end of their days. My grandma died in her bed, one Sunday afternoon, after a card game with her girlfriends and having come home complaining she wasn’t feeling well. We were all there. My mother, on the other hand, lives alone and my sister and I fret about the day when she might not be fit and well enough to take care of herself. I live in LA, she lives in Rome and our mother is in Bologna. Then what? My mother has made it abundantly clear she doesn’t want to be shipped off to any facility, swanky or otherwise, and I dread the thought of a procession of caretakers, who cannot be supervised, tending to her. So many friends I see struggling with the same conundrum now that families are split, mobility has made it easier to fragment us all over the world and the family network that existed in countless cultures has frayed or disappeared. The question arises “Who will take care of us?”.
It’s easy to see why such a charming, but not exactly groundbreaking, little movie such as “The Best Marigold Hotel” was the hit of the Summer with a certain section of the adult movie-going crowd. The idea of outsourcing our old age to third countries is not so far-fetched anymore, especially at a time when we live longer and our savings might not take us that far in the ever expensive Western world.
Without relocating to Bali, my idea is simply to pool some friends’ resources together, buy or rent a large property and move in together. Everybody would apply their expertise to communal living, be it cooking, plumbing or just barking orders. The same pooled resources would afford us cleaning services, a couple of cars and any assistance anyone might need. We would be there to remind each other about meds, doctor’s appointments – no change in our behaviour would go undetected and who better to understand our frailty, our failing bodies, our fears than the people who have known us all our lives?
Children and grand-children would be welcome to visit anytime and we wouldn’t feel like a burden; joys and sorrows would be shared and yes, we would get on each other’s nerves from time to time but, compared to the sadness of days alone or the fabricated cheerfulness of assisted living, it would be a small price to pay.