A mega-sized senior living complex is under construction across the street from our condo community. It’s the third such complex on that street, since a Brighton Gardens and Sunrise Senior Residence are its next door neighbors. Those two buildings are very nice, large and spacious, with lovely cape cod style architecture. But this new place, Cedarbrook of Northville, puts them in the shade. It is HUMONGOUS. There are four massive two-story interconnected wings, sprawling out across what was once a golf course. The sign promises the entire “continuum of care,” with Private Cottages (up to 1400 square feet and attached garage), Independent Living, Assisted Living, and finally Memory Care.
Our current neighbors are mostly 55 and older, with the majority within the 55-70 age bracket. My standing joke when construction at Cedarbrook first started last fall was that it would be a convenient place for all of us to simply move across the street when the time was right.
But in the last six months, I’ve begun to think it’s not that funny. Or far-fetched.
In recent years, I’ve given a lot of thought to “assisted living.” I was always wondering whether my mom could be happy in such a place, usually coming to the conclusion that leaving her beloved home would precipitate her demise. During her last few years, it became clear to me what a burden her home had become. Trying to keep it clean, manage the bills, even navigate her way in and out, was a huge effort. Most recently, after years of chronic pain and probably already feeling the effects of the kidney cancer that would eventually take her life, she was not strong enough to make a move into assisted living.
She seemed relieved to be in the hospice care center before she died. It was a brand new beautiful place that was quiet and clean and peaceful. In fact, her last spoken words to me were “I couldn’t ask to be in a better place.” I realized then that she would have been so much better off if she had moved out of her house and into a more elder-friendly living arrangement a long time ago.
Timing is everything. That’s the takeaway from my experience with my mother. “You need to do it before you need to do it,” I told my son when he was here last winter. “Write down the date I said that and remind me 20 years from now."
And 20 years might even be too late. At 60, I’m aware of a noticeable decline in my strength and energy. I have osteoporosis in my spine, and who knows how long my back will hold out to go up and down the stairs in this two-story unit. I hate to think about moving twice between now and the time I move into “care,” so maybe the change needs to come sooner rather than later.
Recently, several friends have made the move into senior residential facilities, all active women who are still healthy, vital, and with plenty of things going on in their lives. When I first heard about it, I was a little puzzled. “They seem so young for that,” I thought. But all of them are in their late 70’s, all are widows, and all of them wanted to make the decision on their own terms.
“I didn’t want my kids to have to make this decision for me,” one friend said. “I wanted to spare them that, but I also want to remain in control of my own destiny. This gives me a chance to choose my own living arrangements, and I think living here will help me stay independent a lot longer."
They did it before they needed to do it.
Because once you need it - the extra care, the meal prep, the transportation to doctor’s appointments, the opportunities for socialization - once you’ve become frail in body and spirit, then it’s ever so much harder, if not downright impossible.
I like taking care of myself, making my own decisions, doing what I want to do when I want to do it. I’m self-reliant, probably to a fault, and being dependent on others for basic life needs sounds like a nightmare. Sure, there are days when I fantasize about having someone at my beck and call, waving a fan over me, plying me with wine and chocolate, answering my every whim. But in reality? After an hour, I’d probably tell them to buzz off and leave me alone to take care of myself.
So the idea of living in a senior residence, a kind of college dorm for the elderly, is terribly unappealing right now. And it might still be just as unappealing 15 or 20 years from now.
But. I have only one child with a busy life and family of his own. Neither Jim nor I have any siblings or nieces or nephews. All of my cousins are either older than I am, or live in other states. There is no one to care for me the way I cared for my mother (and the way she cared for her mother before that.) No one who can put their life on hold to help me maintain my lifestyle. The reality is I will have to depend on the kindness of strangers - or as much “kindness" as my money can buy.
You probably it’s silly to think about this now. Typical Becca, you say, always borrowing trouble. Besides, who knows what the world will look like 20 years from now? Or if I’ll still be around to worry about it?
I’ve been focused on eldercare for the past 30 years, beginning with my grandmother in the late 1980’s until this past March when my mom died. I’d like to stop thinking about it for a while. I’d like to focus on the immediate future - you know, the one where I enjoy life, explore new experiences, watch my grandson grow up.
But these thoughts prick at my consciousness every time I pass the Cedarbrook construction site across the street, thoughts about that slightly farther away time when I’m no longer as self-reliant as I am today.
For most of my life, I’ve let the future evolve in front of me however it chooses and I’ve gone along for the ride. Going forward into an ever more complicated world, I feel the need to be smarter, more proactive, and more decisive about the path I’ll follow.
How about you? Are you making plans for the future?