Octo Observations: Guardian Angels

Fasten your seatbelts for a bona fide real-life story highlighting a cautionary tale. Those of you who read this and are still young and agile and feeling that old age is eons away might tuck this in a safe place for a dozen or more years. If it makes little sense to you now, be patient. Maybe someday it will.  For those who are newly retired, I hope this story is meaningful.

My primary message is how vital it is for older senior citizens over the age of 70 to consider planning ahead for the next few decades before health issues hit. Most of us believe we are Young Forever. It is a normal, common, mental delusion. As a bride, I was often the youngest wife among married friends. Sometimes that fact irritated me, especially when people said, “Oh my, how young you are!” Mysteriously, those years disappeared… 

No sooner did my husband retire than our widowed mothers began to experience health issues. They each lived in Ohio, and we were in Virginia. With much effort we managed to move John’s mom kicking and screaming to a nursing home in the same town as her first born, doctor son lived. My archly independent mother, however, adamantly refused to budge from her beloved home of 60 years. She managed fine until the wheels came off in her early nineties. Her stubbornness was immutable, and my Milwaukee sister and I were impacted, too. 

Home health care twenty years ago lacked the oversight and scrutiny that it has now. To make a long, painful story shorter, learning the hard way from both of our dear mothers taught John and me that we would never, ever knowingly subject our children to the same angst and worry as we endured. In the end, my beloved mother paid a huge price for her refusal to move, because in spite of bi-monthly trips to Cleveland by both my sister and me, our precious mother’s “nurses” not only embezzled money from her but occasionally treated her unkindly. They turned out to be the antithesis of Guardian Angels; a veritable nightmare for mother most of all.

The result is two plus years ago my then 82 year-old husband and I downsized from our favorite-ever house into a lovely Richmond, Virginia full service, long term care retirement facility. We now live in a charming, spacious one floor cottage, with the option to move when needed to an apartment, assisted living, and even health care/memory unit. We signed up for the total plan: complete maintenance of our cottage and lawn, housecleaning services once each week, plus one meal per day for each of us and 24 hour on-call nursing help and lifetime care. It is expensive, but these days there are a wide range of assisted living facilities popping up all over the country.

For example, across the road from us are two new Senior Living residences. Less than two miles away there is another accredited place with a nominal entrance fee, beautiful apartments (I have seen them), location, and opportunities to feel secure, including lovely dining room and 24 hour assistance available. Relief for seniors and families alike. According to the internet, our city of Richmond offers 40 approved assisted living facilities, although an incomplete list.

If you choose to know more, take time to search the net for “What Factors Make for the Best Assisted Living Facilities?” Check, also, “Top Rated Senior Care Providers in American.” Twenty 2019 award winning cities are listed…only the tip of the iceberg. Costs vary from very expensive to very affordable… proving that good senior care is available for all income levels. 

Although not unexpected news, the net also reveals the staggering number of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964, including our two daughters). “In March of 2018 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that by 2035 adults aged 65 and older will number more than 78 million. By comparison, kids aged 18 and younger are expected to number just 76.4 million, meaning that in short order, the number of seniors in the country will outnumber children for the first time in American history.” At the click of a computer, a plethora of information revealing help for senior living and even those choosing to live alone is instantly available. Accept a gift. Educate yourself now.

As an aside, it is not uncommon for older adults to believe that if their children live in the same community, there is no reason to sell and downsize. People rationalize that if something happens, “our kids are here to look after us.” All well and good. Infinitely understandable. For sure it is painful to sell long-time homes we love, part with treasured possessions, and face the reality that we are “young no more.” It is also a whale of a lot of work to downsize. I get it completely. But, to me, the only drawback is that no senior, however smart, has a crystal ball. We do not know what lies ahead. None of us can predict how long or how well our health will last. None of us can predict how much help we may need. Do we really want to ask so much of our children who indeed have their own lives to enjoy when assisted living options are plentiful?

Consider this experience, if you will. It contains an epiphany that jolted me this past week after living in our cottage for the last two years. We call it the Perfect Storm. In a nutshell: just as I was about to drive off to church, I discovered my husband sprawled on the front walk, lying in a pool of blood.  Conscious but obviously hurt, he needed help fast. I immediately pulled the panic cord in living room of our cottage (there is one in each room), signaling our distress to the main building.  Almost instantaneous medical attention arrived.  Ambulance ride to ER, cat scan and staples, followed by a huge sigh of relief. Concussion was the only aftereffect. However, the next morning was different. John’s confusion, lack of muscle coordination, etc, sounded another alarm bell for me. I called the nursing station, and was relieved to see two nurses in less than five minutes. Another ambulance ride to hospital, with overnight stay….complete testing, and grateful relief that John indeed dodged a bullet…this time. 

I learned that our nurses are experts in ministering, caring and soothing geriatric patients and caregivers. They are indeed the gifted Guardian Angels of all who live here, for they are blessed with a special calling. Little did we realize two years ago how timely or fortuitous it was to make the change. Just as John was recovering from his concussion in the hospital, a first acute bout of diverticulitis attacked me. Two of us hospitalized? No way! Not only were we comforted by living in a safe place, but our dear Virginia Beach daughter-in-law zoomed in to surprise us with her invaluable help and loving heart. Another Guardian Angel to calm the seas of our Perfect Storm. Stephanie’s presence as well as our living here eased the angst felt by our children in far-away cities. We count our blessings even more. No longer do we pretend we are not old! Instead we embrace each good day as it comes, knowing full well we are in a safe and secure environment. 

Life is a precious journey. Bumps in the road can slam us in a flash, just as joys may be around the corner to lift us up and fill us with delight. My husband and I will never forget this week with its Perfect Storm. We will never forget our Guardian Angels, their help and their subliminal messages that life is to be embraced, treasured and revered, as long as we draw breath. Always Live, Love and Learn…and remember:

“Never travel faster than your guardian angel can fly.” Mother Teresa

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  Benjamin Franklin

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock