a personal reflection by Debbie, a member of Silver Birch Village
It was hard to watch my parents age. When my Mom and Dad were younger they had a large circle of friends who got together often. As my parents aged, they found their house was too big and too much work for them. They made the decision to sell that house and move into an apartment across town. When they moved from their long-term neighbourhood, they didn’t see their friends as often. As they grew older, they started seeing their friends even less. It didn’t help that my Dad no longer liked night driving.
When my Dad got sick a number of years later, he didn’t want my Mom to be left alone in the apartment so they put their names on a waiting list for a retirement home. Unfortunately, the list was long and my Dad passed away before they were able to make that move. Without my Dad, my Mom was incredibly lonely in that apartment. All of her children worked full time, her friends and family were scattered around the city and my Mom no longer drove.
When her name finally made it to the top of the waiting list for the retirement home, the move was difficult and intimidating. She had to leave all of the shared memories that she and my Dad had made in that apartment and move to a new home on her own. It took some time to settle in, but to my amazement my Mom started to thrive again. She once again had people around her. She joined art classes, exercise groups and Friday night cribbage. She began to smile again.
Having many people around is a real benefit of a retirement home, but there are also a few drawbacks. Most retirement home apartments have a microwave and mini fridge but no stove, so my mom can no longer cook for herself. Meals are served at specific times, not necessarily when she feels like eating. And of course there is the cost – upwards of $46,000 annually for her one bedroom apartment.
I admire my parents’ foresight in planning their future. They knew that changes would be needed at various stages in their lives, and they addressed those changes as best they could with the options that were available at that time.
But being a part of my Mom and Dad’s experience caused me to reflect on what I want my senior years to look like. My husband and I want our aging process to look different than my parent’s, and we are able to do that because of cohousing.
It seems that all too often, the current cycle of aging involves these steps:
- living in our home until a sudden health crisis occurs or we are no longer able to manage the workload of maintaining a large single family home
- moving to an apartment that is easier to maintain
- moving to a retirement home when living independently in an apartment becomes too difficult
- moving from there to Long Term Care if medical needs dictate
I wanted to avoid the pitfall of having to make housing decisions under pressure or in times of crisis, and then finding few alternatives available. I feel that by moving into a cohousing environment, my husband and I will be able to remain there indefinitely, unless we need some type of specialized care. Cohousing will replace the need to move to a retirement home.
Because we are going to be part of an intentional community we will already be living among friends and good neighbours who know us. Of course, we will maintain our relationships with friends and family outside of that community, but we will not have to worry about night driving for social connections, since we will have community built in. When we eventually lose a partner, the surviving partner will have a caring group of people around them to help with the grief and loneliness.
I feel that moving to cohousing now while we are in our 60s and still fairly young is smart planning. Relationships take time to build. Cohousing is not only about aging in place – it is about living in a social, nurturing environment. It is for people of all ages. I want to be part of a community that rallies around one another when needed; but I am really looking forward to having great fun with the group of wonderful friends and neighbours in Silver Birch Village