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My Transition into a Retirement Home – Part 2

A ceramic artist strives to find the soul of his clay lion — at Protea Village Photos - thanks to Protea Village

Thank you for responding so well to my article about my transition to a retirement village. Here are my thoughts 6 months down the line.

The Move

My move was relatively painless. I hired a professional, to shepherd me through the entire process, liaise with the retirement village and arrange movers, and packers. By the time I moved, my little garden was already laid out, the house was clean, my possessions in cupboards, etc. and I slept comfortably, in my dear own bed.

Everything bustled. My house was alive with artisans and functionaries who gave me the spiel on how things worked. I was shown the panic buttons, and how to use the internal telephone, and neighbors came to say 'hello'. I was given flowers and lunch vouchers as a gift. Over the next few days, the empty cartons were spirited away, my fixtures put up, and smiling men connected my television and took care of problems. I felt like I'd fallen into heaven.

Finding friends

I need not have worried about making new friends. People are instinctively friendly and reach out. For some, it is just a pleasant 'hello' and the usual getting-to-know-you chatter. Where do you come from? How long have you been in Israel? Do you speak Hebrew? Do you have a partner? Usually, when people heard I was on my own without children in Israel, their faces grew sad. Nu, I know this reaction. I wanted to reassure them; I'm used to living on my own; I like my life.

Living in a closed society can get pretty stale and people welcome the opportunity to make new friends. Some have been living here for years and know all there is to know about one another. As Anne said about Zoe, who complained about a meal, "Pah, she doesn't remember what she eats. Never mind her grumbles, she eats everything. I know what she likes better than she does, herself!"

Moreover, they have all lost friends along the way. Some have aged and become infirm. Others are forgetful. Many have aches and pains and answer your question about their health, with, "I am doing my best"; or "briut, rak bruit." They no longer participate in activities they enjoyed for years. Our bowling green stands sad and empty, as does the miniature golf club. People who used to enjoy these facilities have moved on and the demographic has changed. Many activities were curtailed during the isolating years of Covid.

Institutionalization

We worry that we will become institutionalized. I suppose it is true that the better we are looked after, the more dependent we will become. But life is never without ripples, breaks, and challenges. We have to continue adjusting to changes, and losses. The coming of new people awakens curiosity and brings new excitement to everyday events.

The best predictor of one's ability to make new friends is the past. If you had friends before, you will be open to new relationships. Old residents make it easy but, you need to be responsive and assertive in return.


Getting down and dirty in the gardening club — at Protea Village

Getting rid of prejudices

What could be a challenge, at least at the beginning, is living among aging people. You have to get rid of your 'agism' prejudices and refrain from classifying people around age or ability or disability. You get used to seeing people trundling around with walkers and clutching their caregivers. As you get to know them, you begin to think of them by names, "Carol" or "Margie" – and not as a class of 'old' people.

You get used to repetitive conversations. People may not remember your name, or that they have met you. They repeat their stories and jokes. And people want you to know them; not just as they are now but as they were. A couple, a teacher, a doctor … a functioning member of the community. On the plus side, if you suddenly blurt out more about yourself than is comfortable, chances are that your listener will soon forget your 'tsoris'; – she has probably forgotten already.

I have no problem going to the dining room alone. I just walk up to a table and ask to join. When I go to events there is always a nice someone who invites me to sit next to her. She could become my new best friend!

Activities

There's a lot to do and one can try this or that. The chuggim are free as are all the materials: paint, tools, clay – I even have access to a kiln. I can work out in the gym, do exercise classes, including Zumba for seniors, balance, Feldenkrais, and yoga. I enjoy Tai Chi and am tickled pink at having a swimming pool in my own 'backyard'!

The way we feel

Probably the hardest part of growing old (aside from illness and loss of function), is dealing with one's feelings.

For me, it has not been difficult. Maybe it's because I did a lot of the emotional work before I ever left my apartment and neighborhood. I have a long history of saying goodbye to people I have loved and have developed a capacity for waving away one situation and embracing the next. So, having made my decision, I no longer think about what I've lost.

I ask other people what has been difficult for them in adjusting to the village. A lot hinges on how the decision was made, when, and by whom. I meet ladies who have lost a life partner at an age when they had already become frail and less resilient. They have come to the village because it is difficult and lonely to cope on their own, even with family living close by; even with a caregiver. And others are here because their children wanted peace of mind. People who come in with their partners do best because couples do best in our society anyway, and they have built-in companionship. However, all couples face widowhood, and those already settled in the village, are surely at an advantage for being contained within the structure of predictable routines and understanding people. Widowhood is easier to bear for those already settled in their future home.


Great places for hosting the whole family — at Protea Village 79

Loss

If I can pick out any single theme of living here, it is the theme of loss. You can't reach your seventh decade, without dealing with the loss of possessions, the loss of continuity, the loss of memories, and the loss of a future. We need to change doctors and suppliers and homes. But old age is an age of loss. We are in the process of losing our independence and sharpness of thinking. Our senses and reflexes are dulled; our bodies lose flexibility and function. We look in the mirror and see wrinkles, hunched shoulders, baggy arms, and a craggy neck. What can we do? This has nothing to do with the transition to a retirement home – it is just how it feels to grow old.

In old age we are confronted with the reality of death. Our own death; the death of those we love .In the village, the reality is that a new person can only come in when someone else moves out, and we know what this usually means. The sight and sound of an ambulance give me gooseflesh. Some people take flight into busyness; anything to escape thinking about their final destination.

Loneliness

Even within the village, there are people who are lonely. There are those who are infirm but don't yet need a caregiver. Or maybe they can't afford one. They need friendly visitors to pop in and remind them that they still have voices and something to say. When one goes for walks through our lovely park, people stop to exchange a few words. A major factor in reducing depression is having contact with people. Even little courtesy conversations help mitigate loneliness. I keep this in mind, and whenever I pass someone in the village I stop to chat. Eating in the dining room and trundling back and forth to one's apartment, is another opportunity to be 'touched' by another person and reminded that one is alive.

As you can imagine, there is much talk about family. About children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. One woman is over a hundred years old and surrounded by wonderful children who visit her all the time. She is also surrounded by pictures of some 160 sons, daughters, and offspring across four generations. How lucky she is!

I keep in touch with old friends and have expanded my social circle and activities. I seldom feel lonely. I have taken on some new responsibilities and try to keep up with my old ones. It has taken me time, but I have managed to construct a life that is well-balanced, keeps me busy enough, and keeps my brain active.

I am really happy with my life and choices. I am happy I made my move while I am still physically strong and mentally resilient and am optimistic about my future. 

 

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Monday, 24 June 2024

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