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My Move into a Retirement Village

BacherBP Sharon Bacher admiring the lounge of her new home

Like everyone, I have had to cope with transitions through the various stages of my life. I have been a child, an adolescent, and a young adult. I left home, got married, and somehow coped with the vicissitudes of young adulthood.

My husband's death., at the age of 58, thrust me into early widowhood. I had never actually even lived on my own and had depended on my husband to look after me. But suddenly I found myself living in a new country where I did not speak the language and had minimal support. I was also struggling with an angry and rebellious teenager who did not want to live in Israel and was determined to return to South Africa. These times tested my strength, sanity, and resilience.

Over about 10 years, I lost everyone near and dear – some through my move to Israel, some moved away, and sadly, some passed away.

Each case forced a challenge; I had to let go of the old and familiar, and embrace a scary new future. I kept having to redefine who I was and what my life was about. One thing became clear to me – what was, was … I had to take my future into my hands.

Since retiring, I have become increasingly aware that I am on my own. My daughter now lives in South Africa and I will have to struggle through my old age, alone. My father's death two years ago brought this home most forcefully, for we were very close and my life pirouetted around his in a way that was comfortable for us both. Now, I felt truly alone.

I grew anxious. What if I got sick and could not care for myself? What if I broke an arm and could not put on my clothes? What if I got dementia? Would my daughter come to help me? Did I even want her to pick herself up and sacrifice her life for my needs? And who would handle my financial affairs? Who would take responsibility for my dog and cat? Who … what … where?

I discovered that my concerns were typical 'third age' worries. Even for those with a spouse or partner and children who live in Israel. I fell ill a few times and some of the 'what ifs' happened and were horrible. My friends were fantastic, but they too have their problems and crises and cannot always be available to help me – nor do I care to keep testing their devotion. They too are growing older and some are themselves caring for partners with dreaded diseases. I did what I could to feel more secure… I took out insurance for continuous nursing care. And I appointed friends I trusted to take on the continuing power of attorney for me when and if necessary.

Horrible, horrible. I coped but still, I worried. And developed high blood pressure and anxiety. And was lonely. Without my father to take care of, I felt like a rolling stone. "No, no!" I said to myself. I do not want this to be my life."

Fast forward and I decided to go into Protea BeKfar, a retirement village in Bnei Dror. I could take my pets with me, and live semi-independently, yet when the crunch comes, be taken care of. Moreover, it is a lovely village where life is comfortable from aleph ad taph! The staff is wonderful and kind and the move has improved my quality of life in countless ways.

Nevertheless, there were stressors. I developed an agonizing attack of neuralgia along my left leg and hip, which lasted two months. In hindsight, I know that I was not mindful enough of the fact that I was transitioning through a significant life phase, heavy with psychological and emotional undertones, and I was making extremely important decisions about my future. 

Photography lesson in the beautiful village park. Who knew there was so much to consider when composing a picture?

These are some of the most important lessons I have been learning…

  • Transition involves loss as well as gains. It means giving up well-worn ideas and comfortable patterns and embracing new ones. This is hard. But, on the positive side, it is an enlivening and exciting experience and is remarkably empowering. I look forward to new relationships, opportunities, and adventures. Transitioning is a great antidote to boredom.
  • This transition has a major psychological meaning. For me, it involves accepting the painful reality that I am alone and will gradually (or not so gradually,) lose my independence. And then there's the fact that this move is in one direction only. It is truly a transition into 'old' age; of facing the inevitable.
  • Then there's the challenge of downsizing and getting rid of those treasures that suddenly you realize your children don't even want. They're not going to take the Noritake dinner services your parents were so proud to give you. You're never going to play that piano again because your hands have become arthritic and you might as well give it to someone who will enjoy it. And as for those 19 volumes of the Jewish Encyclopedia – you can't even give them away. You develop a new understanding of the value of material objects and the things that become important to you are only the ones you need. Anything you haven't taken out of the cupboard for 10 years, must go. Who needs all the clutter? But getting rid of it is a challenge. You do it once, and then you do it again … and then after you've moved, you do it another time. There's no room for baggage!
  • What about friends? Will I still see my friends? Will they remain friends, when I move? Will people like me be here? Will I make new friends? Do I even have the energy to make new friends? This kind of major change pushes me out of my comfort zone, to make new friends and engage in new activities. The fun part is that I am now painting on glass and working with clay and I have a swimming pool in my backyard. And oh yes, I forgot – there's Tai Chi!
  • My daughter came to help me move, which was great. She accompanied me and made a parallel rite of passage. She suddenly was faced with the reality of an elderly parent moving into her last stage of life – which raised a whole lot of psychological and emotional stuff for her, too. And since we went through it together, I hope it was positive and reassuring for her, too.
  • And another important issue is identity. I'm so happy and strong in the knowledge that this transition didn't just happen to me. I read the writing on the wall. I faced my reality. I decided to move out of my comfortable predictable existence and take hold of my future. And doing so has been remarkably empowering and freeing. I know that many things can happen to disrupt the comfortable future I've constructed for myself. There could be Covid or worse. There could be terror or even war. There could be – who can guess – but, within the realm of my imagination and possibilities, I know I have done the very best that I can do. (And I hope I have provided a good role model to guide my daughter in the future.)

For the moment, then, I am feeling good!

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Thursday, 06 October 2022

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