My friend Bonnie and I took a walk the other day. When you are trying to get more than 10,000 steps in before noon, there’s lots of conversational ground to cover. I’d say we talked about getting old for at least 8,000 of those steps.
We updated each other on our parents. My dad is 88. He lives independently, has good friends, drives, and is a great cook. Bonnie’s mom, Leah, is 84, happily living in Florida, playing mah-jongg, and enjoying life.
A few years ago, Leah decided that she would eventually move to senior housing in Israel. She and her late husband had spent several months in Jerusalem each year. They have children and grandchildren there. She has a deep connection to Israel and was eager to retire there. Right now, she says she isn’t ready to make the move but she will know when the time comes.
My dad wants to continue to live in his condo and maintain his independence. My sister and I have been talking to him about moving to a senior community when the time comes. But we realize that maybe that time won’t come.
When the time comes – those words have a magical quality. How do people figure out when the time comes? Is it an epiphany? Divine intervention? Honestly, I don’t know.
When we are healthy, independent, and vibrant, when is the right time to make a big change? Do we move out of our long-loved neighborhoods in anticipation of what might happen?
For many people, the decision is easy. They want to be closer to children, they are tired of maintaining a home, or they are eager for a change of scenery. There are also financial and health circumstances that dictate change.
Bonnie adores her mother and isn’t pushing her in one direction or another. She does want her mom to enjoy the experience of living in Israel. She hopes she can take advantage of having friends and family nearby and being close to cherished places.
My sister and I feel the same way about our father. Let him enjoy life – as long as he is healthy and safe.
Changes that come along as we get old force us to think about how and where we live. Last year my husband and I put off a renovation project because we were sure that we would be moving to a smaller home. Have we looked at listings? Have we been to any open houses? Nope. How will we know when the time is right?
Where is the playbook to guide us?
Whether you are 62 or 92, perhaps the time has come for you to get a hearing aid. You may say you’re not ready for it. The same holds true for canes, walkers, or other assistive devices. Maybe you’ll think about it if it’s presented by your medical team. If the recommendation comes from a spouse or adult children, it’s easy to say no, not now, never, or I’ll know when I need it.
As adult children, we observe and we worry. Many of our baby boomer parents dismiss our concerns. When a doctor recommended a walker to one of my clients, she said, “I don’t want to look like ‘that old lady.’ She was 89 at the time.
Her children and I pleaded with her. The walker was a tool to keep her independent and safe. It reduces the risk of falling. She held her own for a while but sadly, she fell and is no longer able to live independently.
And then there is the hot button – driving. When is the right time to stop? After some mishaps, we try to convince our loved ones that they should relinquish the keys. It’s for their safety and everyone else’s.
Car keys. They symbolize life. Coming, going, doing, being. Although there are transportation options, they’re just not enough to meet the demand. The loss of independence is profound and can lead to loneliness, isolation, and depression. Perhaps by the time my peers stop driving, there will be a plethora of safe and dignified ways to get around town.
I’ve made some decisions based on my age. There’s 61 years of wear and tear on my body which makes me nervous about falling. I am now a winter mall walker because I’m petrified about black ice and the possibility of broken bones.
There’s a host of other decisions that will need to be made over the next several years. Some will be made as a matter of course – like my decision to become a mall walker. If I can’t hear well, I’ll get a hearing aid. If I need a walker, I hope I will embrace the Rollator. I’ll also stop driving.
Will I do this without regret and fear when the time comes? Probably not. But at some point, I’ll have to accept that (if I’m fortunate), I’ll be old.
Carolyn Schultz Eggert writes from Newton. Previously she was a reporter for People magazine. Questions? Please email her at Carolyneggert@yahoo.com.