In last week’s blog post, I discussed my belief that all retirees should at least consider the possibility of moving to a retirement community. No, it won’t be the right senior living choice for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to at least look at this option with an open mind; while weighing out the pros and cons against other choices. You may ultimately discover that your preconceptions of what it’s like to live in a retirement community are inaccurate. And while any move may require a period of adjustment, you may even find that your reservations about finally “pulling the trigger” and choosing a community were unfounded once you settle into your new home and community.
A new CCRC resident’s story
A few years back, I had the pleasure of corresponding with a man named Dr. Harvey W. Austin. Dr. Austin, a renowned cosmetic surgeon, and his wife, Arleen, were enjoying retirement in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He had read my book, What’s the Deal with Retirement Communities?, and we emailed back and forth on several topics related to senior living and making the decision to move to a retirement community.
Interestingly, Dr. Austin also had written a book, entitled, Elders Rock! Don’t Just Get Older: Become an Elder, about how seniors can become what Dr. Austin calls a “Wise Elder, a Joyous Elder” by changing their mindset to thrive during their later years. In the book, he describes the concept of “Elder” as “a STAGE of life, not an AGE of life,” and asserts that “Elderhood is full of aliveness, joy, and creativity — our birthright.” It’s a powerful analysis and first-hand account of the natural beauty of the aging process.
A little over a week ago, I received an email from Dr. Austin with an update on his and Arleen’s retirement living decision that seemed prescient in light of the blog post I wrote last Tuesday about how retirees should at least explore the prospect of moving to a retirement community.
In his email, Dr. Austin shared that he and his wife had recently relocated to StoneRidge, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) located in Mystic, Connecticut. I found Dr. Austin’s email update on the next step in his journey both inspiring and encouraging, so much so that I asked his permission to share its content with you.
Dr. Austin’s email
We’re settling in.
New scenery. New people. A new stage of life…the last third of the last third. I am 82 and Arleen, 79.
To our new life in Mystic we have moved. At an age that most, perhaps you, would consider rather “advanced.” She and I traveled from Medford in the great Northwest, 2,500 miles, to arrive at the land of my roots — New England. Not Arleen’s, though, for she was born and bred a California Girl.
Being here feels right.
Partly because we are Elders. We are not just a couple of old-adults-trying-to-be-young- adults. We are more than that. She and I, both, have long been Elders, members of that glorious third stage of life — Elderhood — to which most adults have never aspired because they didn’t know it existed. We do know, and we have declared ourselves to be Elders. It’s rather difficult to talk about — I had to write a whole book about it, Elders Rock!, before I understood the huge difference between being an Elder…and just getting older.
My motto, as part of being an Elder is: “I don’t mind whatever happens.” Arleen’s motto has long been: “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
I love the quote by Alan Watts that goes, “As we grow older, by default, our world grows smaller and smaller until, at the very end, we become much like a tube, with a great deal of interest in what we put in at one end and take out the other.” Bad mental picture…and a mediocre way to end a long and exciting life. Not me. Not Arleen. So, we are aware…and avoiding that crappy default thinking.
So much to do here, to think here…that we might have to work hard to be a tube-thing.
The cool thing about a “retirement facility” is that our “unconscious identification” has begun to shift. When we lived in a separate home — you know, the ‘burbs with our yard and lawn and car — we were isolated from our neighbors, rarely seeing any except as they drove off. So, our “basic social unit,” like almost all married folks, has been — “couple.”
Something happens to expand that unconscious identification when we, aging, move into a very large home…in our case, a home of some 300 people. Sure, we all have separate apartments, but we all eat together in the dining room or at the informal grille, we go on trips together, we have groups, we have committees, and a pool, and an auditorium for talks and movies. So, Arleen and I seem to be expanding our identification to become more like, well, “community.” Perhaps a throwback to a time-before-time when “tribe” was the basic social unit. So much bigger than mere “couple.” And it feels good. It feels right.
And the cool thing about our retirement facility — StoneRidge — is that everyone seems so happy. Oh, sure, a few sit alone at their table and bend over their food…and that’s a choice to make…but not many do that. There are smiles and laughter…and it doesn’t matter if it comes from someone in a walker or in a wheelchair. Happy. Perhaps “joyous” is a better word. There’s something about being here that everyone speaks about, struggling to name it. There’s an excitement. It’s a little like the old TV show, Cheers — “where everybody knows your name.” The whole place, residents and staff alike, knew both our names even before we came. And it seems like everyone tells us it was like that for them too.
Old folks. And more than a few are actual Elders…and that’s cool. Folks are happy. Having fun. A good thing, indeed. We are glad to have found it.
A comfortable move, a natural fit
Dr. Austin’s email provides an insider’s look at what it’s truly like to make the move to a CCRC or other retirement community. I would imagine that during their senior living decision process, the Austins likely had some hesitation about whether to make this move and when would be the right time.
But as you can see from his email, they are already feeling like StoneRidge is “home” and they have been welcomed into a big new 300-person family, but with the added advantage of access to a full continuum of care services if they ever need it. As Dr. Austin notes, “Being here feels right.”
I’m happy to hear the Austins have found their new “tribe.”