May 8, 2000 -- To join or not to join? To stay in my own home or move to a
retirement community? That is the question I faced, when, like so many of us
oldies, I found myself alone and ailing after my husband died.
Mine was a familiar story. We had retired in Santa Fe to spend our waning
years in a spacious adobe house overlooking the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He
was healthy, I was frail from a radical mastectomy and bad osteoporosis. It
seemed likely I would be the first to go, but fate intervened. He died of a
sudden heart attack, and I was left to cope with the remainder of my life.
Madonna and Michelle Obama seem to have little in common. But together, they have awakened American women of a certain age to the allure of tight, toned arms. They've sent the message that those arms and toned, taut bodies may be within reach for other 40-somethings and older.
That message has been helped along by a legion of other celebrities who have passed their 40th birthday, yet remain virtually flab-free. The list includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Barkin, and Mary Tyler Moore.
I had a friend who bought a one-room studio in the city's El Castillo
Retirement Residences, a "campus for seniors," the brochures said. I
visited her, liked her compatible companions and the fact that she lived in a
bower of green by the Santa Fe River, near the cathedral and the downtown
plaza. The buildings had a pleasant hacienda flavor.
I decided to follow my friend's lead to avoid becoming a burden on my
family. A $1,000 refundable deposit put me on a waiting list for an apartment
while my health and bank accounts were examined. Would the house doctor agree
that in spite of my problems I was well enough to live independently? Would my
pensions and other investments be deemed sufficient to afford the price of
admission and the monthly maintenance and dining-room fees? Satisfied that I
met the requirements, I was allowed to buy a two-bedroom apartment, which I
remodeled a bit before moving in.
Thus settled, I am now entitled to total care for the mind, body, and soul,
from "independence" to "assisted living" to "MedCenter
care" until I die, freed from the hassles of home ownership. Maids, nurses,
helpers, and maintenance men see to my daily garbage collection, weekly laundry
service, and transportation to doctors' appointments, grocery stores, church,
movies, plays, and concerts. The community also offers an array of in-house
drama, art, music, and exercise programs. I go to yoga and chi gung classes to
improve my breath and balance.
With all these options, we residents defy actuarial tables with daunting
longevity. For example, one of my new neighbors is the 107-year-old former
assistant secretary of labor during the Roosevelt administration. I eat my
Heart Association-approved meals with 90-year-olds who visit Cuba and Iran, or
with a computer-savvy octogenarian who exchanges photos via the Internet with
her great-grandchildren in Zimbabwe.
In a memoir-writing group, I learn that K., a social worker/anthropologist
now past 80, ventured alone at 22 to do wartime field work in the then-wild
Territory of Alaska; that J., with "straight hair and crooked teeth"
was left with three young ones to run a Vermont poultry farm while her husband
went to war.