New Hampshire village where Great Grandfather Herbert Nichols was born and where many of his relatives lived until they died.
Atul Gwande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
Sunday evenings, David and I watch a BBC series, Waiting for God. We’ve been watching the half-hour episodes, now all reruns, ever since they were first released in the U.S. Because the series ran for only seven seasons in the UK, and the BBC seasons were short, there are not many episodes.
Thus we know each episode by heart, and can recite the lines before the actors speak. We even recite them to each other from time to time. Neither David or I are exactly like the characters Tom and Diana, two older people consigned to life in an assisted living facility, but we share characteristics, and the older we become, the more we understand them.
Reading Atul Gwande’s book (title above), I have come to better understand some of the frustrations of older people face with a debilitating condition. I began reading Gwande’s book after Tom Sightings mentioned it in his blog post a few days ago. The first chapters depressed me so much I sent it back. Sitting in a waiting room yesterday, I pulled my little Kindle out of my purse and found the book was still there. I began reading again, and soon became engrossed. When I got home, I ordered the book once more, and now am well into it.
Basically what Gwande describes is what I had figured out on my own over the past several decades.
Researching my family tree, in the nineteenth century I see a pattern where the surviving member of a couple lives with a relative. Sometimes, as in the case of my grandmother’s grandmother, a father lives with a daughter and her family. Or an aunt makes her home with her sister and nephew in his family home.
By the twentieth century, maiden aunts live with an aging mother or father in the parental home. For example, Great Aunt Ida lived with my grandmother’s grandmother until the latter died at which point Ida married. My Aunt Marge lived with grandma who suffered with diabetes and ALS until she died.
Aunt Marge never married, but when she was in her seventies, she became a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Aging. I learned much about aging first-hand from Aunt Marge, who did not enter a retirement home until she was 91. Had she an alternative, she would have stayed in her apartment home where many other aging couples and singles lived and aged in place.
The building was well sited, in the center of Sheboygan WI, facing Lake Michigan. Marge had a view of the Great Lake from her living room. Sadly, when the owner of the building died, his son sold this prime piece of real estate to a developer who turned it into vacation condos for those who could afford a second home. The renters who could not afford to buy were displaced. Marge and all her friends, most of them retired single female school teachers like herself who had lived in the building for decades and were on fixed incomes, moved to retirement facilities. A year or two later most of them were dead. I am still angry about this travesty.
In the early chapters, Gwande describes what happened when several older people of his acquaintance became institutionalized after their families could no longer care for them or they could not live on their own. I found the first chapters difficult. Then he describes how some enterprising souls created ways to improve the lives of those who could no longer live independently or with relatives. I am half-way through the book, so I don’t know where he goes from here.
This week, David received a note in the mail from a religious non-profit retirement facility of our acquaintance about an upcoming seminar on support for residents aging in place. We’ve signed up to attend the 21st of October and I will report about the event later. After years of courting David and other aging residents in the county, the religious group, which founded two assisted-living retirement facilities here in Arlington, decided to expand their mission to community outreach. We shall see how this works.