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Christina and Lisa Pledge to Grow Old Together June 6, 2010

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Your Responses Requested!.
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Although the title of this post may suggest otherwise, no, we are not getting married! Christina and I currently live about 1,000 miles apart, and it’s unlikely that we’ll be neighbors anytime soon. But last month, after I made a trip to Kansas City to help my grandparents move from their home of 30+ years to a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility, we decided that we need a plan for the future so we won’t grow old alone.

There is nothing wrong with growing old all by oneself, but I have been deeply moved by the experience of watching both sets of my grandparents age. This has made me think long and hard about how I’ll be able to maintain a high quality of life even as I age, especially since I plan to remain child-free (and probably partner-free). Presumably, having no children and no partner means that there won’t be anyone to help me if I fall and break my face, and no one will tell me when I start going crazy — which seems likely, given my gene pool. If I am destined for a ripe old age (which my heritage also suggests), I would like to lose it as gracefully and painlessly as possible.

Let me tell you about the experiences that have brought me to this reflection: First, I watched my paternal grandmother  — with whom I was very close — develop Alzheimer’s  in her early 90s, while she was living alone in a large house. By the time my dad and aunt came to terms with the fact that she needed continuous care, my grandmother was too far gone for them to plan for her future with her. Instead, they had to make difficult decisions for her, and as a result, the move was incredibly stressful for everyone, especially (of course) for her. After the move, she lived for another 5 years, and I was grateful that she was well taken care of after the fact. But I feel disheartened that her quality of life for at least two or three years prior to the move declined significantly because she hadn’t made the decision to move earlier, by and for herself.

And more recently, I helped my maternal grandparents move out of what can only be described as a filthy, mold-infested living situation into a bright and clean apartment with friendly neighbors, healthy food, social activities, and exercise. Needless to say, I’m thrilled about this move (and that they chose it for themselves). My grandpa’s health has been deteriorating for years and, although he can now barely get in and out of the car (he has Parkinson’s), he is stubborn and continues to drive, which terrifies the shit out of me… Now that they’ve moved, they have free rides wherever they want to go, so he may just get used to that. And there’s not much need to go anywhere besides church, given all the resources of the facility itself — which is great because my grandmother is still in good physical condition and has an incredible amount of energy, so living here means she is less burdened by my grandfather’s ailments and gets to enjoy herself more.

But helping them move illuminated, for me, how devastating the after-effects of alcoholism (my grandparents stopped drinking several years ago, but they are alcoholics), combined with my family’s history of mental illness, can be when one ages: Not only is their house deteriorating and dirty, but my grandmother is a low-level hoarder and my grandpa has an anger problem that reared its ugly head during the move. The visit was exhausting and stressful, especially because I was the only member of the family in town to make sure everything went smoothly.

Even though seeing my grandparents age has been sad in some ways, I feel lucky to have had these experiences… I am glad to have a relationship with them, and caring for them in whatever way I can has made that relationship deeper, one that will last beyond their lifetimes. These experiences have also made me realize that when I grow old, I want to continue living. I don’t want to be the old person who hangs on to a living environment that’s unhealthy and isolating. If I am child- and partner-free, it’s likely that no one will  tell me when I should change my situation; and if someone has to make that decision for me, it won’t be family. I love living alone now, but I imagine that in 40 or 50 years, I would appreciate being taken care of. So, when Christina and I talked recently about my experience with my grandparents, we agreed that when the time comes, we will live together, as Onely neighbors in some fancy retirement home.

In a future post, I hope to talk about how one might plan for such a thing. But in the meantime, copious readers, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about how a Oneler might best plan for, and deal with, old age.

— Lisa

[photo credit: Burtonini]


1. Alan - June 6, 2010

I’ve been thinking about an angle on all this…

Lisa said “I would appreciate being taken care of” and points out how children and spouses can fulfill this role. But I’m thinking…what about the people who do the care? Would they appreciate taking that role?

As a nurse I can tell you taking care of elderly people experiencing physical and mental decline is both physically and emotionally exhausting. And I have the advantage of doing this only a few days a week, with the assistance of aids and other nurses (and I get paid).

Imagine what it’s like for a spouse or a child, taking care of an elderly parent most or all of the time, largely on their own, without pay. In what other ways could they make a difference in the world? They’ll never know, the caretaking will take up what energy and time they have.

Onely - June 6, 2010

Alan — absolutely. I experienced that kind of exhaustion somewhat when I visited (and stayed with) my paternal grandmother before she moved to assisted living, and I especially experienced it the few days I spent with my grandparents last month, trying to help them move while also negotiating their individual problems. Not only was it physically and mentally exhausting, but also emotionally draining — I couldn’t believe (and it made me very sad) that I was the only person in the family able to be there during the move, and I hated having to tell my very angry (and confused) grandfather that he could not leave the house for a doctor’s appointment that didn’t exist… It was awful, and yet at the same time, I was glad that I could be there, because it was important for them.

Along related lines, I believe Bella DePaulo has written about the fact that single people are often the ones who become caretakers for elderly family members. I am the only grandchild who stayed in the midwest (I have two brothers, both of whom live in CA) and I was the only one willing and able to visit my hometown consistently enough to witness both sets of my grandparents aging. I am pretty sure that neither of my brothers will be able to understand – or will be willing to relinquish their time/energy – to help my parents when they grow old… Even though I have no desire to be that person, I I can see why I might become her… Leaving my grandparents this time made me very sad because I felt like I was leaving them alone, and being there helped me understand for the first time why anyone would volunteer to be in that position, as unpleasant of an experience it would be…

— Lisa

2. Daisy-Boo - June 7, 2010

This post has stirred up a lot of thoughts and emotions in me. I realised I don’t have anyone I could ask to grow old with me.

My best friend and I have drifted apart and our different life choices have only served to widen that gap. All my friends are in long-term relationships and none of them want to be single in any case. My older sister is single but she and her adult daughter are very close and also I know my sister still has hopes of remarrying one day.

I’m afraid of one day being unable to take care of myself and having few options available to me. I honestly don’t know who I could turn to. Private retirement homes are very expensive in my country and state facilities are dismal at best, nightmarish at worst.

I suppose all I can do is to try as hard as I can to be financially secure in my old age so I can pay for someone to assist me.

Alan - June 7, 2010

I’d point out that having a spouse or child doesn’t guarantee a caretaker. I know lots of people with parents and spouses in nursing homes.

Daisy-Boo - June 8, 2010

You’re right. A spouse or a child doesn’t guarantee a caretaker and that’s kind of sad too.

Things are a little different in my culture in that the expectation is that children will look after their elderly parents. It doesn’t always happen but I think many elderly people have some kind of assistance from their children. Multigenerational homes are common, with two, three and even four generations living together.

RKiwik - September 10, 2010

Yes, but what does that tell you about the education they received? In my family my grandparents and even uncles or aunts have always been helped by their spouse or their children or even nephews – and it was when they suffered terrible health problems and needed constant attention too; guess why.

You know how the saying about making your own bed goes, don’t you? 😉

3. anony-mouse - June 8, 2010

There are many “old age people’s homes” that need to be shut down because they mistreat their residents – like having them sit in soiled nappies for hours et al. So that’s definately something to avoid.

I don’t know about where I will be living at certain ages, but I DO know that I am at a high risk of several diseases that I do NOT want to be getting. I’m already very housebound with multiple serious medical problems and the thought that I’d get to 60 and then have a stroke, get another dementia diagnosis, another cancer diagnosis etc isn’t something that I wish to go through.

So I have completed an “Advanced Care Directive” telling my closest family members of certain medical treatments that I do and don’t want in the future if I’m even in a position of not being able to tell the doctors myself (eg. if I’ve had a stroke, heart attack etc)

Plus I am a passionate – extremely passionate – supporter of legalised voluntary euthanasia and should I ever get to a situation that I do not want to like in and with, then I will exercise VE.

85% of Australians support the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia for people who are terminally ill or suffering serious health problems.

I just wish that some of the 85% were more vocal – it’s only left up to the sick or the elderly to do anything and the politicians know that they can just avoid the oldies ’cause they’re not scared of them.

It might be a good topic to address one day ….


4. Even Coupled, You Can Still Die Alone « Onely: Single and Happy - June 16, 2010

[…] stereotypes trackback This is a follow-up post to Lisa’s piece about the importance of support networks in old age. We’ve all heard the stereotype that if you’re single, you risk dying […]

5. Bella DePaulo: Know Your 1,138 Marital Privileges, Courtesy of the Feds | Blog All Over The World.com - June 29, 2010

[…] above. We (Christina and Lisa) are not related, nor are we "intimate partners," but we do plan to live near and look after each other in our old age. So anyone holding a grudge against Lisa would likely know how much it would hurt her they […]

6. brnda - December 9, 2017

brenda ges mae stefan

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