Saturday, September 02, 2006


I got this letter from my cousin Donna who lives in California. You really have to admire the pluck and spirit and good sense of the lady who wrote this letter, and her brother who gave her good advice. Donna writes:

"Dear Family and older friends living independently or friends with older relatives who depend on you so they can live independently, the message is keep on keeping on in your own home as long as possible.

My family friend (actually one of my mother's long time close friends) F. , writes the following email. She is blunt and to the point, as is her usual, and there is much truth to what she has experienced. She and long retired husband A. moved from San Diego to Israel to be near their eldest daughter, L. and her large family. With the missiles reigning down from Lebanon, her husband long buried, no longer able to drive and L. under a Doctor's care with medical conditions that F. is unable to tend to, she flew back to CA last month to be in a retirement community her cousin and a close San Diego friend live in. Thought you might like to read over my shoulder, to experience this without having to try it out.

'Letters ask how I'm getting along in the New World.

Better you don't ask. I'm not proud of how I reacted. I came completely demoralized, utterly unglued. I had suffered severe gas cramps on the plane, and by the time we got to LA, I couldn't stand up and my nose bled and I couldn't stop it, and El Al had to put me in a wheel chair to get me up to where they were waiting for me.

That put me in the wrong mood to start with, and even seeing the beautifully designed little studio apartment and the rose garden and fountain outside, didn't pacify me when we got here.

I was not inclined to admire anything, or to appreciate what everyone had done to get me to this place. A few days later my leg went out of joint and I was in bed. Then I developed an allergy to the soap they used on the bed linens, and I scratched myself into ribbons. I could only think of how foolish I had been to leave home. I wished I had never left.

When I was coming out of all that, I went into Culture Crash. I couldn't figure out how to take a shower with this elder-safe plumbing. I couldn't figure out how to use my debit-card at Wal-Mart. I couldn't figure out when to raise my hand to call a waiter in the dining room, and when to get up and fetch something myself. I couldn't figure out how to open safety doors.

Then I became aware of how regimented my life had become. At this hour the halls are cleaned, stay in my room. At this hour the dining hall opens, salivate. At this hour the shopping bus leaves, be on it or do without for a week. Where had my independence gone? I was nobody. I had become nothing. I was angry. I had bought a pig in a poke, a cat in a sack, a gold brick.

I went on feeling angry for about 3 weeks. Nothing was right, everything was wrong. Everything was designed for the ease of the Management, nothing was designed with ME in mind. I wasn't consulted on anything. My cousin and my old friend from San Diego spoke of it as a 5 Star Hotel, with maid service and gourmet dining. They said I was seeing the glass half full, while I saw so clearly that it was half empty. My daughters were upset because I insisted it wasn't my idea to leave home, it was theirs, and I should never have listened.

It was my 91 year old brother who pulled me back from open rebellion. He himself had chosen NOT to go to an Assisted Living Residence--- in fact, his will says that if any heir tries to take him out of his own home, that heritage is forfeited. But he still thinks straight. He pointed out to me that I had traded independence for help and security, because I had no other choice. That now I could be sure of help if I needed it in the middle of the night, but I had to accept living inside group routines if I wanted to be sure of that help. That I could be sure of not being left alone and isolated, but I traded solitude for togetherness. No group, he said, could be managed efficiently as individuals. Help and security would break without the herd format. Independence and safety don't go together. It's one or the other. Like privacy or security.

He was right, of course. Now that I've been here a month, I realize that I'm here because I was afraid to be alone anymore. Like my Uncle H. said when he married for the 4th time, "I didn't want to wake up and find that I was dead and nobody knew it---" Here, I don't have to marry, I can just push a button if I wake up and find myself dead. The hired help will come down the hall and call my doctor in to verify it.

So I'm looking to find ways to feel free even though I'm not. I don't have to sit inside my room all the time, I can walk up the street to look across at the distant mountains, and feel free. I don't have to move mandibles along with 200 other fattening animals in the dining room every meal. I can take dinner back to my porch, and eat to quiet music and feel free. I have my own computer again, and there is lots of freedom in the mind. I can look for freedom and independence in little ways, and maybe I'll get used to communal living by and by.

I think my revolt is over.

I think maybe I can get used to being just another Senior in a California Senior Community, instead of the weird old American lady chasing stray cats off her mirpesset in Rehovot, or listening to trees talk in the empty little corner park on Sabbath mornings.

It won't be easy. But I'll have to try. It's either that, or wake up dead some morning and nobody know it---

regards, F.'”


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