Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aging in Place

Mother and I take time for a photograph
as we visited a peach orchard in Grand Junction

This weekend while I was visiting my mother in Grand Junction, Colorado, I learned a new term when I read an article on aging in a special section of the Daily Sentinel.  The term "aging in place" is one I had somehow missed reading about, or hearing about, before I read this particular article.  "Wow," I think to myself, how did I miss seeing this term before?  Since learning this new term, I learned it is the name of an organization and that there is a web site by the same name.

So what does this term mean?  According to the home page of this term means the following:  "Aging in place” refers to living where you have lived for years, typically not in a health care environment, using products, services, and conveniences which allow you to remain home as circumstances change. In other words, you continue to live in the home of your choice safely and independently as you get older."

Now, just because I hadn't heard the term, it doesn't mean I was well aware of the concept and its implications to all of us as we get older.  My mother is 95 years old and she has been aging in the same place where she currently lives for over 30 years.  She and my father moved to the Western Slope of Colorado in the 70's.  They loved the place and decided it would be where they would stay even after my father retired.  This decision was certainly theirs to make, but the decision has meant that they have never lived near their children and grandchildren.  As my parents aged, and after my father passed away, the decision of aging in place has meant that it is a challenge to visit the place where my parents chose to live so many years ago.

My husband and I also live a distance from all our children.  While I'm not always happy with this fact, I am mostly happy with where we live.  I am not ready or willing to move for a number of reasons.

For the past few years, my daughters in particular have made comments to me such as, "Why do you need this big house?  Why do you need this big yard?  There are only two of you.  You don't need this house anymore.  Why don't you move closer to your kids?  Why do you have to live so far away?"  I find myself feeling a bit entrenched.  I feel that I must go on the defensive.  "Yes, we need this house.  We like to get away from each other.  Its big enough to allow this."  The rebuttal, "Really.  You each need your own office.  Why?  Neither of you are even working anymore.  It is silly that you each have a big office."  I dig in my heels.  "I'm not giving up my office, and I sure as @#)) am not sharing one with Jim."  I realize that I am starting my own argument for "aging in place."  I realize that I am having the same discussions with my children that I wanted to have with my parents.  I come from the generation where we didn't question our parents decisions quite so much as my children seem to do today.

As I said before, my mother is 95.  She doesn't seem that old.  She just still seems like my mom.  I see my own aging.  I see that she is getting shorter and shorter.  I see that she takes a cane when she leaves the house, but she is still just as sharp as she ever was.  She doesn't miss a thing.  She is up on everything.  She takes care of her house and cooks her meals.  She laughs at a good joke.  She even still wear shorts!  (And her legs and feet still look pretty darn good  She is proud to note that she doesn't have old lady feet.)  To me, she seems ageless.  

But on the other hand, she has aged.  She will age again this coming year.  Aging in place means that decisions still must be made so that one has the support need to accomplish this decision well.  

I'm still wrestling with what that means for my mother and her wish to stay where she lives, and what that means for my husband and myself as we choose to live where we do as we age.  I was deeply moved by a post that Jim Burke had on his blog today.  Jim Burke, my guru on how to teach English well, spoke of giving permission today in his blog where he is writing about "senior moments."  

We, my children, my mother, and my husband and I are all moving in a continuum of life.  We are all in different seasons.  We can't make decisions for each other.  We must give each other, and ourselves, permission to listen to each other.  This keeps us from becoming entrenched, alone, stuck in place.    

 "We must give ourselves permission to look for and listen to those who know the territory ahead, whose voices can assure us we will make it through to the other side of this season where the days fall like leaves too many to catch. We must give ourselves permission to still listen to ourselves and to live out all those stories we have told but not yet lived."  Jim Burke

On this, the last day of August, I am very aware of the seasons and passing from one season to the next.  

I recognize that I am moving, have been moving,  into the autumn of my life while I watch my mother in the winter of her life.  I hope we can learn from each other.