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Downsizing for the future


August 9, 2012

“I don’t want to end up like my father,” my Narrowsburg neighbor tells me. His 98-year-old father lives alone in his own home, reliant on family to bring him meals and keep him company. His life savings went to pay for nursing home care for his ailing wife and he retired from yard work last year at age 97.

My aunt sits in her gracious home in Manhattan, waited on by a private staff, alone except for them and visits from friends and family members. A stroke victim, she cannot work or read. Her care will decimate her assets before long, and she will have to sell her home at a time she is least able to manage.

My mother died in a semi-private room in a Bronx nursing home. She had squandered or been swindled out of the proceeds of the SoHo loft she shared with her husband before his early death. Ultimately destitute and infirm, she was cared for by the state at the end.

My uncle points an imaginary gun to his head when the question of his plans for the end of life arise. We choose not to believe him and, as far as I know, he owns no weapon. His own father managed to wrangle a calm and orderly exit to a long life, attended by a younger wife who ran the household like a drill sergeant but kept him out of nursing homes. His excellent health care was covered by the U.S. Army, to which he had dedicated a large part of his life.

A friend’s father recently made the transition from the family home to an assisted living facility—“facility” is such a cold word—at age 92. His care is guaranteed for life and he is near the community he knows and loves.

We all carry these stories, examples of the way to live or not to live to the end of our natural lives. They inform the choices we make, if we are fortunate enough to have choices.