It takes a village...to get old in
I come from a long line of women who manage to stay active, engaged, alert, and independent into old age. I also come from a long line of men who die young. But, assuming that I take after the - ahem - weaker sex, I'll be around into my 80's, possibly even into my 90's.
My mother died at the age of 81. Up until her final brief illness - although, at the time, the ghastly two-and-a-half weeks of that illness seemed anything but brief, especially to her - my mother was volunteering at least three days a week in the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store (where she bought as much junk as she sold); taking courses; attending Mass daily; delivering communion to shut-ins in nursing homes; going shopping; and traveling. At the time she died, my mother had three trips planned: one to Chicago for a family wedding; one to Cape May, NJ with the retiree club from her church; and one to Vienna and Prague.
Less than a year before she died, my mother had moved from the house where we grew up into a congregant living facility. There she had her own very nice one bedroom apartment, two meals a day, built-in social activities - and no worries about finding someone to fix the roof, mow the grass, or shovel out the driveway. (The place she lived also got big bonus points because it was right across the street from her church, so she could walk to Mass in the same church she'd been part of since her move to Worcester in 1946 - which was the same church my father had grown up in. Location, location, location.)
My mother's leaving her home of many years relieved her (and her five children) of a major burden. But if she had wanted to stay in her own house, we would have all figured out a way to make it work for her.
Well, I don't have the five-kid thing going for me, so I'll be a bit more on my own than my mother was, but my goal will be the same as hers: to stay active and independent for as long as possible - I hope right up until The End. And don't we all want that?
But I can already see that there are some accommodations that we'll need to make if we want to stay put for the rest of our lives. And why wouldn't we?
We live in a neighborhood where you can walk everywhere - including to the doctors, dentist, and hospital. Not to mention hardware store, drugstore, dry cleaners, coffee shop, grocery stores, movie theaters, cobblers, bookstore, library, and "downtown." We live in an area that has restaurants. That's on public transportation - and is in short walking distance from all three of Boston's train stations. That's alive day and night. That's safe. That's quiet.
But our condo? Well, nothing's perfect.
That light fixture in my little computer room? Sure, I could get up on the ladder and change the bulb, but I wait for the cleaning folks to come and have the tall young man change it for me.
We need better lighting on our staircase - so wonderful in that it takes up so little space in our small condo, so terrible in that it is steep, winding and treacherous - and, while we're at it, we should carpet the stairs and put in a railing before one of us takes a header (which will probably be me carrying an armful of something or other while wearing a too long bathrobe).
Not to mention that HVAC filter that only my husband seems to know how to replace....
Still, it's home and I'd like to stay there for the foreseeable future - and maybe beyond.
Maybe not tomorrow, or even the next day, but I will definitely be looking into Beacon Hill Village , a local organization that helps people stay put, in their own homes, where they want to be, for as long as they can be.
Beacon Hill Village helps persons age 50 and older who live on Beacon Hill and in its adjacent neighborhoods enjoy safer, healthier and more independent lives in their own homes–well connected to a familiar and attentive community. Faced with the prospect of leaving the neighborhood they love in order to obtain the services of a retirement community, a group of long-time Beacon Hill residents decided to create a better alternative–Beacon Hill Village is designed to make remaining at home a safe, comfortable and cost-effective solution.
BHV was founded in 2002 ago, and, according to our little local newspaper, The Beacon Hill Times, now has 460 members. It sponsors social, cultural, and educational events; runs exercise classes and wellness clinics; and connects people up with the services they need - transportation, errand-running, home repair, computer assistance, etc. - to stay independent - all at discounted prices.
This is Beacon Hill - an affluent neighborhood - so I'm sure that nothing on their menu is rock-bottom, but they vet the services and - I'm guessing here - they help make sure that you don't end up with "no shows" (like the plumber who decided not to show up for us a couple of months ago - fortunately, it wasn't an emergency).
Membership ain't cheap either - $600 a year/$85o for household. But peace of mind with respect to vendors, plus social opportunities to keep the elder from isolation is worth $12 a week. And for those who can't afford the membership, there's a subsidized, deep discount plan available for those over 60 - fully paid membership is available to those 50 and above. The subsidized plan costs just $100/year, which includes a $250 credit towards programs and services.
Beacon Hill Village claims membership from those aged 51 to 99. Fifty-one seems a bit on the young side - hard to imagine someone in their fifties who wants or needs to take advantage of the social/cultural opportunities. Maybe it's just plain worth it to have access to decent repair people.
(Maybe I need to check this out.)
BHV has become a national - and international, even - model for other neighborhoods and towns. According to the Beacon Hill Times article I saw, more than a dozen villages have sprung up since last fall, and another 20 are in the making.
I am, hopefully, a decade or two away from not being able to run errands and change (most) light bulbs.
Still, I'm delighted - and relieved - to know that Beacon Hill Village exists. (Equally delighted and relieved, I'm quite sure, is my much younger sister. If you don't have children, but you've got sibs, it sure works out better in terms of growing old if you're at the front end of the pack. Thanks in advance, Trish, for all the help!)