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(Mari)golden Years

Posted in Aging, Health, and Women's issues

Something along these lines (but with waves)

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.




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  1. Sounds like an intriguing idea. I wonder if it has been tried, are there any examples?

    I saw the Marigold movie and enjoyed it.

    My mother is now in assisted living, after having spent 6 years of widowhood living alone and isolated in a small town thousands of miles from her nearest kin – her own stubborn choice. After a medical crisis, which was a bad scare, she agreed to move, sell the house.

    She now lives in Chicago, about three miles from the home of my youngest brother and his wife; maybe 15 miles from the home of his twin and his family, and within a day’s drive from a grandson and his family. Her health has improved and so has her outlook on life, which was perilous.

    Still – the burden of care seems to have fallen on my SIL. She does a lot of errands for Mom, takes her to doctor’s appointments, brings her library books, etc. Though Mom is lucid and in relatively good health, she needs caretakers to help her bathe, clean, etc – if Mom lived with my B and SIL all that work would revert to my SIL.

    I try to talk to her at least once a week. Mom has come out of her shell a little, but she won’t venture out much, Mom is beyond dance classes and cooking communal meals. She participates only reluctantly with her fellow residents. Mom has told me that she sees fellow residents decline mentally and physically, and then disappear – they transfer to the more intensive care wing – and it frightens her. She used to say she was only waiting to die – she’s recently stopped saying that, which is a good thing. Still, her life is not one of richness or happiness. It’s complicated.

    October 4, 2012
    • I believe you did the right thing for the health of your mother but our choices are so limited, especially when old people become incapacitated one way or another. I can’t help thinking of assisted living facilities as ante-chambers to our final rest. It’s important to feel needed, part of something at any stage in our lives but especially so when we get older. I think it’s the only way we can thrive and keep on living when enthusiasm even in the face of adversity, loss and failing bodies. There has to be a better way than just parking our aging selves in the care of strangers, even if well meaning and well trained. Once again, we are the first generation figuring this one out and hence going through the growing pains. You put it really well – it’s complicated.

      October 4, 2012
  2. silvia

    And I will take care of the shape of our bodymind status offering yoga sessions and gathering our neighborwoods into some enjoyable community dance workshop. you’ll be in charge of paying the bills, find the best vets for our dogs, preparing deliciuos meals of course and sofagirl might teach us how to survive in the wilderness – you’ll never know what life can bring you even at a certain age

    October 4, 2012
    • Ok, you have a room too, next to the yoga studio

      October 4, 2012
      • silvia

        fine my dear, as long as it’s upstairs – even if it might be tough to climb stairs! I’ve always had dreams of a room upstairs

        October 5, 2012
  3. Io voglio la stanza al primo piano con finestra sul fiume….posso gia’ prenotare? In fondo non mi manca molto all’eta’ giusta….

    October 3, 2012
    • Purtroppo non so come si dice “LOL” in Italiano, però ho davvero fatto una bella risata 🙂

      Concordo — l’idea di Claudia non è male!

      October 7, 2012

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