Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Older You Get....

My mother was down this weekend to celebrate my son's 11th birthday, and also to get the ball rolling on her retirement plans. She's kicking around the idea of selling her DC-area large family house, in which she lives alone, and moving down here into a retirement community. She has had a very ambivalent take on what that means, though; she's not keen on living with a bunch of old people. It puts this daughter and former geriatric social worker in a bit of a tough spot. So I got to play real-estate agent for a day, and learned that I would quickly lose my patience taking fussy people around to look at perfectly nice places. Anyway, after a few "no way in hells," we landed at the most expensive continuing care community in a very expensive corner of our area, and as is rather typical for her these days, she impulsively decided that this was The One.

 Even though she'd been grousing about exorbitant CCRC fees not three hours earlier, she now plans to sit down with her financial person to map out how to get into this place. It's very nice; even has a billiard room and a sauna off the pool. But what got to me is what happened while we were there in the lobby. A group of ladies finished their game in the billiards room and came out to see us, chatted briefly, and one offered to take us to her apartment to have a look around. We walked across the gorgeous campus, took the elevator up, and got the tour of a very spacious apartment. There was a 1944 Lucien Freud drawing of this lady on the wall-- I gasped and commented on it; he was a friend of the family. She was pleased that I knew who he was, but her generation is the one I know best of all.

 My mother asked her about driving, and this lady very charmingly explained that she'd given up her driver's license a few years back as a precaution. Then my mother said perhaps there was something to being safe, and the lady explained that at age 102, it's probably not a good idea to drive. My mother nearly fell over. This lady did not "read" as someone much past 70-- she moved easily, spoke fluidly, and was in every way functional and delightful.

 I guessed when I saw the Freud on the wall, and quick math after her revelation has her as one of 1911's children, who were my very favorite people to work with nearly 20 years ago when I was a nursing home social worker. Of our 65 residents, almost a third were born in 1911. They grew up between the wars, served in the second, and thrived after. This is my favorite generation, and in mourning their passing, I've dragged my heels at returning to my profession because I know that I'd miss them. And then this remarkable person turns up. I thought she'd gone years ago with the rest. I'd been to so many funerals that I was more than a little burned out.

 My mother may have found the place she'd like to settle, but very unexpectedly, I felt social work tapping me on the shoulder again. I felt very much at home among the older set; I always did. I had thought I was done with geriatric social work, but I got a very different message on Saturday from my own insides... the pull back to what I spent years becoming good at doing.

 Do I have it in me to have more grueling family conversations, to explain the truth to doctors, to hold hands with dying people and pass tissues to the living? That's not fair-- that's only the harrowing part. This is all sacred work, being in people's most difficult moments with them and helping them make sad and terrible decisions under pressure. There are so many happy moments, too.  Because of my profession, I got to see a cross-section of older people who weren't healthy and thriving; so many of them are everyday inspirations.

Maybe I need to work among happy, healthy older people.  Even when I worked in the nursing home, I didn't have a day when I wasn't glad to go to work, since I felt that I was working among friends.  This sort of work is so much more than just a job.  I have a lot to think about.