How do you plan to spend your retirement? A little fishing, a little golf, some travel, maybe indulging in all those hobbies or sports you’ve been putting off in favor of your job for the past twenty or thirty years?
Some people achieve this idyllic state in retirement. Most don’t have that luxury.
We’re all getting older. But have you really considered what your aging years will be like if you can’t live in that idyllic state. For some of us aging is a lot more than a bit of slowing down, a little more gray hair, a couple (all right, several) extra pounds, occasionally forgetting where we left the car keys – or the car.
Just for a minute, suppose you were in a car accident. Or had a stroke, or a heart attack, or experienced some other event that left you unable to care for yourself in the style to which you’ve become accustomed. Don’t say, “It can’t happen to me”; every day it happens to people who thought it wouldn’t. Look at Christopher Reeve. Suddenly quadriplegic at the age of 43, and hoping for a miracle to make him independent again. Life can change in a heartbeat.
Suddenly you find that you can’t care for yourself, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or more intimate activities. You’re dependent on others to feed, clothe, and bathe you, even perhaps to turn the TV on and off or to get you the book on the nightstand. Who is it that you will depend on to do these things for you? Your wife or husband? Your children? Another relative or even a friend? Maybe. Are they there with you 24 hours a day? Can they be? Or do they work, or have families of their own, or even live on the other side of the country?
If any of those last situations exist, you’re probably going to be dependent on strangers for at least part of your care, either at home or in an institutional setting.
Familiar Comforts – and the Lack Thereof
We all get comfortable. We take things for granted: the easy chair in the den, the nearness of the kitchen to that den, the dog lying at your feet. Maybe a favorite musical instrument that you enjoy playing occasionally on a deck that looks out over a peaceful stretch of green. The smell of flowers in the spring from that yard, or the scent of leaves and chrysanthemums in the fall. Holidays among your family, with your favorite food and drink.
We take them all for granted.
Let’s go back to that image I asked you to imagine. You’re disabled, whether by age or accident or illness. Say you’re in a nursing home. You require too much care for your family to provide it; your spouse has several years left until retirement, and anyway you need round-the-clock care. Your kids live on the other side of the country, and their careers and families won’t permit them to uproot themselves to care for you.
So you’re in that nursing home. You’re in a strange bed, in a place where you can’t regulate the temperature, change the d?cor, turn off your roommate’s television if it bothers you, or even shut off the canned music that’s piped through the facility’s halls and rooms all day. You don’t happen to like the music they play, but that’s too bad. You can’t play your guitar or piano any more; even if you could, the guitar would probably develop legs and as for the piano – well, have you ever checked the tuning on a piano in a group facility?
You don’t have your dog any more, though if you’re lucky you’ll be in a more enlightened facility where there’s pet therapy once a week or month.
Privacy? Nonexistent. If you get visitors when your roommate is in the room and you’re not ambulatory, get used to an outsider at family gatherings.
And we’re not even talking about bathing, toileting, dressing, that sort of thing. It can be fine, with caring assistance, or it can be awkward as anything, if noncaring staff make you feel as if you’re a nuisance and talk about you as if you’re not there even as they’re helping you.
Remember all those nice scents you used to enjoy outside? I hope your memory is good, because most of the time you won’t get to smell those things. You may have windows in your room, but chances are they won’t open. Actually, your memory will probably work well only with the more distant past.