Well, like, kinda-sorta. We’re at Village on the Isle visiting my 89-year-old mother in Venice, Florida. “Everyday’s a new day” is their motto.
The joke around here is that every minute is sometimes a new day—because nobody remembers much of anything for very long. Really, it’s a mean joke about some very nice people in a very nice place. And of course, the joke’s on us, since we’re all going in that direction.
Another joke (kinda-sorta, a joke) is that at this very moment we’re all the youngest we’ll ever be.
I love my mother a lot and we’ve had many good days despite a few rocky patches. Most of the time, especially when I review pictures of her over the sixty-some years we have known each other, I think she is terrific. She’s smart and funny. (For years she was a star in her local comedy troupe.) She took care of me when I was a baby and a child and a teenager and a young woman—and now it’s time for my siblings and I to take care of her. Kinda-sorta. Because our mom has decided to take care of herself. Mostly.
When mom decided to sign up for Independent Living at a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) she gave her children “middle-aged independent living” as well. Like many of her generation, who remember parents taking care of their aging parents at home, she vowed never to be a burden on her children. After these folks won the big world war, their congresses passed laws to ensure they would never be totally dependent on their families. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Home Health Care and Hospice have made it possible for them, and for many of us baby boomers, to live securely in the middle class.
Sooner or later many of us will face the question of when or whether mom should go “to a home”. (I say “mom” because dads usually die earlier.) It gets to the point that you can’t ignore it anymore. Sometimes she lets the dishes go for days. The yard is a mess; she can’t kneel down and weed like she used to. You see her food wrappings in the garbage—ice cream, cookies, frozen pizza. Her house needs painting, a new roof. That moldy stuff is starting to crawl out of the shower. Or she called you after she drove somewhere and doesn’t know how to get home. Oh boy, you think, somebody has to help take care of her. And it’s probably you.
Your life is about to change, and so is your mom’s. But there are options, and our generation is exploring many of them. Mom can move in with you, or the other way around. My friend Susie is doing this hard work with her mom, as she did with her dying dad. It’s very hard and I admire her a lot. But many people just can’t do what she does and they make other choices, sometimes based on finances; sometimes, not.
There are nursing homes and assisted living facilities and contractors who will turn Little Johnny’s old bedroom (he’s 42 now) into a hospital room for your mom. There are even fabulous “grannie-pods”—back yard trailers that plug into your electric and gas and give mom her own apartment where the swing set used to be.
I got lucky with my mom. When she turned eighty, she started thinking about the next twenty years. Let’s face it, nobody much thinks about those years before they’re—well—if they’re lucky, when their parents get close to eighty. And many of us are thinking about it now. For the next 18 years about 8,000 baby boomers will be turning 65 every day—and many have parents in their eighties. And guess what’s the fastest growing segment of the population—people over eighty.
Tom Kelly, in his early sixties, a handsome, disciplined man (he recently lost a couple hundred pounds)is the CEO of my mom’s place, Village on the Isle, a CCRC that was featured in a PBS documentary “Retirement Revolution” several years ago. (PBS is coming back again this spring). He’s proud of the work he and Katherine Margraf LHRM (Licensed Health Risk Manager), the COO, an attractive slim blonde woman in her 40s, have done. They are continually rehabbing their retirement village, bringing it’s standards up to snuff and beyond. Village on the Isle, which was in financial trouble a decade ago, is now earning gold stars and winning citations. Kelly and Margraf know the “elderly business” inside out, and they are legitimately proud of the caring, well-run faith-based institution they have built.
So, for us, and for herself, mom made the right choice. We know she is safe, we know she has nutritious meals available every day, that she has many social options from which to choose and that there is a nurse on duty in case there is a problem. We also know that if she has another stroke, or a heart attack, or breaks a bone, she can recuperate in Village on the Isle’s excellent Skilled Nursing Center, and when daily life is too much of a struggle for her, additional help is available next door in the Assisted Living section.
And I’m learning from my mom that if we have bad day, she’s going to forget about it tomorrow, and I am, too. Because tomorrow, after all, is kinda-sorta a brand new day for everybody.
Everybody dreams about dying suddenly in their sleep, but that hardly ever happens. People’s bodies fall apart, a little here, a little there. A pill for this, a pill for that. We forget things. We circle the wagons. We become accidents waiting to happen. A CCRC guarantees that we’ll have a familiar place to be and appropriate care as our systems start shutting down.
As Tom Kelly says, “If you don’t plan how to control your life in advance, you’re going to find yourself making crisis decisions. It’s easy to make a bad decision in a crisis, and you might find you’ve dealt yourself out of the game.”