As we grow older, we all have to confront the age-old question: Where do I want to live out my final years? If I could afford an adult community, would I really want to?
Where am I going to live until I die? That’s the burning question my Wednesday hiking group of retired physically fit women in our sixties, seventies and eighties try to answer.
Newspapers and magazines give the facts about the price range of the broad spectrum of senior-living arrangements but seldom explore the tough emotional issues of leaving one’s family home. How does it feel to see your physical capacity diminish and the accumulated treasures of a long life become a mountain that must be moved? And how do we organize our fixed incomes to get what we want for our final years?
I have already moved three times, jettisoning treasurers from my first 35-year marriage when the father of my four adult daughters died at age 62; and a second time, when I left my house to marry again.
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The 2,000-square-foot home in West Seattle my second husband and I bought is recovering its value after the Great Recession. But before the upturn in home values, he died and I cast about for a place to live that didn’t require driving on freeways or large mortgage payments. I signed up for an apartment on Capitol Hill near frequent bus service to all my children. I was unprepared for my eldest daughter, Grace’s, response.
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“You can’t live on Capitol Hill. There’s no parking.” Surprise, surprise. She pictured herself looking after me in my old age, working her business on her laptop wherever I was living. Capitol Hill was out of the question.
I was the faultfinding disciplinarian as our daughters grew up. I never expected any caregiving offers from them. I figured I was on my own as are so many single people over the age of 55 — widows, never married, divorced or childless. Her offer of care warmed my heart. It seemed selling my home was premature; the loan to value remained unfavorable.
But, the question of where to live remained. If I could afford an adult community, did I want it? Do I want to live with a bunch of old people in a cruise-ship atmosphere where every minute is programmed by overly enthusiastic game wardens? A perpetual summer camp for geezers? Could I choose long quiet days of reading and writing in such a place?
Recently Grace and her husband decided to build an accessory-dwelling unit (ADU) on their property in Lake Forest Park where I would live out my days. I was thrilled with this “aging in place” option. Co-op housing is also an affordable multigenerational arrangement, but I liked the idea of living close to a daughter. I decided to get a feel for my future experience by walking from her house to the Third Place Books shopping center. Navigating the 30-second stop light at the six-lane highway, the parking lot and escalator plunged me into the future. The Disney-like picture of a sweet old lady on a solo adventure slipped into a dark hole. There was no way I could manage that trek at age 95. I felt like crying.
I probably have two more moves, the first to this darling cottage while I am still able to enjoy walking the Burke-Gilman Trail, the second to a retirement home with assisted living and a bulletin board of events for people with walkers.
Grace and I talked about my aging, about the necessary care she couldn’t provide. “But mom,” she protested, “I’ve imagined everyone surrounding you in your final days, celebrating you.”
“You can bring me to your house when it’s time for hospice,” I gently suggested.
By sharing the emotional challenges as well as the financial and lifestyle givens with my daughter, we realized we can relax, trusting that we will find the best place for me to live until I die.