Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Good Life

We are now into one month of our downsizing lifestyle change. I started to say “experiment,” but that word is really not accurate. I’ll consider the “no TV except ABC and PBS” an experiment (so far a successful one), but the rest is basically forming thoughts and plans and actions about how we want to live the rest of our lives.

This is the house where we will grow old(er). I reflect on old age more than I used to, and, as is usually the case, Aunt Bessie pops into my head. My great-aunt Bessie was a character. Country born and bred, childless, heavy smoker for most of her life (until she quit cold turkey) - she was one of the most intriguing people I have ever known. She finally got too old to live independently, though, and so our mom checked around for an assisted-living facility for her. I went with her a couple of times to check them out.

One was especially notable. It was a huge complex, in 3 parts. You entered when you were fairly independent. It had the characteristics of a grand retirement home, with the luxury that entailed. They had parties, activities, hobby groups, meals in a fancy dining room - all the accoutrements of retirement in style. One day you would be partying with your friends, living the wild life, and the next day you would forget to take your pills, or sustain a wrist fracture, or developed arthritis - something that would hint that for you, it is time to move down to the next level - Assisted Living.

In Assisted Living, you still had activities and fun, but you had extra help. Here is one assisted living facility’s description:
Activities of Daily Living – On average, assisted living residents need help with two ADLs. The chart below shows the various ADLs and the percentage of residents needing help with them.
Activities of Daily Living, % of Residents Needing Help
Bathing 68%
Dressing 47%
Toileting 34%
Transferring 25%
Eating 22%
Other Common Services -- A full 91 percent of assisted living residents need help with housework, while 86 percent need help managing their medications.

So you move to the Assisted Living part of the complex and you’re having a grand time (even though maybe you can’t remember all of it), you age a little, you get more medical problems, and finally, you get full-blown dementia or break a hip and are bedbound. So what do you do? You are moved to the third part of the complex - the Nursing Home. And we all know what happens there.

At the time we were looking over this facility for Aunt Bessie, I remember discussing it with Ed. “Do you realize,” I remember saying, “that when you enter the first part of the complex, the basic retirement home, that you know you are never leaving? That they will just move you from one section to the other, then to the funeral home?” The facility sales rep promoted that as a great advantage to their place, but that just struck me as creepy at the time.

We lived in a town years later that had one nursing home and one funeral home, and they were right beside each other. Ed thoughtfully said he figured they’d just install some kind of giant chute going from the former to the latter for ease of transfer.

Ed and I talk about death, I guess, quite a lot. Some people might consider us morbid, but really, we're not. For one thing, it’s something we know will happen to all of us, so there’s no use skirting around the issue. For another, we’ve been in the ministry so long, it’s a subject that we are comfortable with. For another, we’re both in the second half of our lives, and it is pertinent not only to us, but to the many friends we have seen die over the last few years.

We were reading an AARP article about ways to make your home amenable to senior living. They suggested wide doors which will accommodate wheelchairs, handles on the doors instead of knobs (because the knobs are hard to grasp when one has arthritis), and a minimal amount of steps. We finished reading the article, looked up at each other, and we both had the same thought. This house has all of those things. This is our house not only for our present selves; this is the house for our old selves. This is the last house we will ever live in. We see our future.

We, of course, don’t really know what in detail the future holds, how well we will progress physically or mentally (hey - no sarcastic comments here, please!), how many or few years we will be blessed with. Nevertheless, we are in a small house that suits us, surrounded by things that remind us of those we love, things to challenge us, and things to bring us pleasure. I patiently wait for the dial-up to move me around the Internet, thankful that I am even connected. We laugh at the local ABC weatherman and the fact that we use rabbit ears to get two free channels. We can pick up the phone at any time and call our kids or talk to family down South. We are warm and cozy with a fire made of wood that Ed sawed and split himself, eating delicious meals that he cooked, sleeping under a quilt that I made, and marveling at the blanket of snow outside the door, with our loyal Aussie Babe snoozing at our feet.


1 comment:

Cuidado said...

I'd say you are a very lucky person.