My mother will be arriving in exactly one month, for her three months “pilgrimage” to Southern California, a place she fell in love with at first sight. “I can’t wait to see the dogs” she told me a couple of days ago – never mind me. Most people balk at the thought of sharing their house with their mother for such a long time but I don’t see her often and, at 77, I am not sure how long she will be able to stomach the required 13 hour flight.
I see changes taking place in her, and not just the slowing down of her pace, the tiredness that sets in more easily, the little aches and pains that take their toll. It’s also a mental shift I am witnessing: she is fearful of things that didn’t matter much until not long ago, she worries more and is more resistant to novelties and change in general. I understand it is the normal course of the aging process and, as parents go, my mother is still healthy and active and very independent. And also very aware of how she is changing.
It’s interesting that, as we get older, most of us stop adapting to change well, at least until that change becomes inevitable. Maybe it’s a way to hold on to what we have conquered, maybe, if we don’t change, time will move more slowly. Whatever the reasons, I am witnessing this reluctance to change, to discard, to start afresh in many of the older people I interact with.
A fellow blogger, Susan Roberts, who is definitely not even close to old age, recently shared with her readers her impending move from South Africa to Australia. That is a momentous change indeed, a move that might have been unthinkable, for most, a mere 100 years ago. Now, moving countries, cities, states or continents is fairly commonplace. We are a tribe of displaced people, very few still living where we were born.
I moved countries three times, mostly on reasoned impulse (yes, an oxymoron but in line with my personality). My way of dealing with new country/job/housing/friends has always followed the same pattern: going through the motions of all the practicalities attached to a move, leaving little time for thinking – the sheer amount of details to take care of can become crippling if placed in a bigger context. Every day, I would zero in on a set of surmountable little problems tied to bureaucracy, packing or unpacking, buying needed objects, performing tasks on the new job. Then, six months into it, I would fully wake up to my new life, with some of the pieces of the puzzle already neatly in place, emotionally equipped to withstand the impact of the drastic change. Or the consciousness of it: the “shit what have I done?” moment of reckoning. Then life goes on, the missing pieces keep on finding their way in the bigger picture, habits are formed and a life, not altogether new anymore, has been established.
Could I still be capable of such drastic change, I asked myself as I read Susan’s post? Recently, I stumbled on a number of articles and blogs all relating to couples approaching retirement age, still healthy, who decided to travel for a year or two, or relocate to some far-flung (and less expensive) locales. It looks like the first wave of baby boomers is getting creative in their approach to older age: forget downsizing and moving to Florida, more like living out of air b’n’s apartments or anchoring down in Costa Rica or Tahiti. All these choices, though, were made by couples. I didn’t come across any single men or women embracing drastic life turnarounds.
Clearly such life upheavals are more easily withstood with a buffer in the form of a companion by our side. I suspect the charming English ladies who move to the Exotic Marigold Hotel must be a scarce commodity. Yet, at a time when families are more and more fractured and it is not uncommon to find ourselves alone in our golden years, I am confident the second wave of baby boomers, or even third (i.e. those in their 50s now), will get even more creative in their approach.
My mother, who lives alone, their two daughters nowhere nearby, made me promise we will not dispatch her to a retirement home when her time comes. She would rather have live-in help, if at all possible. “But, let’s say you become bedridden, would you really like your world to be restricted to a couple of women and our visits?” I pressed her. “Absolutely” she said. I am convinced there must be a better option. While I apply my brain to it, I will also work on not losing my appetite for change. It might come in handy when my time comes.