Illustration: Denis Shifrin
Recently, I experienced a dramatic change in my lifestyle that would have a permanent impact on my world. Especially since I was totally unprepared for the subsequent emotional upheaval.
It all began because I had just returned from a stay in the hospital for a minor procedure, and my daughter had flown in from Australia to be with me.
It was then that she dropped the bombshell and presented me with two alternatives: move to Australia to be close to the family or relocate to a retirement home.
She could not continue to deal with the thought that “who knows what would happen in an emergency.” My self image took a nose dive and I went into panic mode.
I lived alone and have no family in Israel; all my children and grandchildren live in Sydney and became unglued whenever I experienced a medical or other crisis, or what they perceived as a crisis, especially because the distances between us were so great.
Though I insisted I was neither feeble-minded nor decrepit in body or spirit, and could very well continue to live alone and like it, their concern took precedence over my obstinacy.
The idea of being close to the family was very tempting, however, I could not consider living abroad as an option. Israel has been my home for 40 years and I had a busy life here. A new country where I had to start all over again, try to make new friends, and maybe spend my days feeling lonely while waiting for my children to visit me was scary. But what to do when the alternative was a retirement home?
Me? No way! Okay, so I’m not going to run the 500 meter dash, but hey, I’m not quite ready to spend the rest of my life rocking into the sunset. There are still a couple of kilometers left here in body and spirit.
I led an active life, enjoyed tutoring bagrut students in the ESRA-sponsored oral English program and did all the healthful things like watching my diet and following an exercise regime. Being relegated to a facility for the elderly was not on my “to do” list. I simply could not visualize myself as an “elderly person”.
Use any euphemism you want: senior citizens, golden age, protected community, or whatever; by any other name it’s an old folks’ home. Of course, nowadays these are a far cry from those of days of yore; some of them are luxurious and wonderful, some merely adequate. It’s the locale, the luck of the draw or the size of your bank account that also factors into the equation when making a choice.
The reasons for choosing to move to such a facility are based on a number of considerations: for some it’s because of health problems, while others opt for the security of a protected environment or from the fear of loneliness.
Speaking from my own experience, the most traumatic aspect of the decision was making it. Fortunately, I was the one making it. “If you wait too long, somebody will do it for you,” I was warned and “you might not be in a position to approve the choice!”
But, I argued, I still had a lot of living to do and I can’t see myself in such an environment, not now, maybe never.
However, like any good fighter you gotta know when to quit and, accompanied by a friend, I reluctantly began to investigate the various retirement homes and finally selected the one where I thought I would be most comfortable, amongst people of similar culture and language.
The people I met there while visiting seemed genuinely content and greeted me warmly, inquiring when I expected to join them.
Now, began the traumatic experience of selling the apartment where I had lived for 40 years and the ordeal of actually having to leave my beloved Tel Aviv for a suburb that was terra incognita for me. Alongside that came the aggravation, frustration and exhaustion of trying to dispose of a lifetime of possessions contained in a fairly large apartment, while desperately thinking how I would attempt to cram the remainder of the must-haves into a very small space.
I was under a great deal of emotional stress and I carried on only because of the knowledge that my daughter and her husband would arrive from Australia in time to do the momentous job of actually packing up the stuff that remained and could conceivably fit into the new small space.
I was fortunate in having as my agent, a super person who was extremely patient and helped me in every way possible. The array of would-be buyers totaled 60, yep, count ‘em, 60! And what an incredible parade that was. They came in all shapes and sizes, lone or in twos and threes with one thing in common: every one of them wanted to buy the apartment at a rock bottom price, far below its value. One couple looked like a bag lady and her partner and smelled up the place so that I thought I would have to fumigate it, all the while she kept edging closer to me, offering a lot of money on the spot, as I kept trying to back away. The agent told me the only smell I should respond to was money, but I couldn’t bear it if they proved to be the eventual buyers. Another couple, newly arrived from Eastern Europe, pointed at the radiator and asked me what it was. When I replied that it was to heat the apartment in winter, she didn’t believe me and insisted that I tell her what the radiator was for.
She sniffed and sneered at the many closets and asked me why I needed them and declared that if she bought the apartment, first thing she would do was to rip them out. I was ready to rip her out! And so it went on and on and on.
Meanwhile, I also had the furnishings to sell and I was totally stressed out; like a one-armed paper-hanger, I had to get rid of a lot of stuff and do it alone. The would-be buyers ranged from a private detective who was looking for a bookcase for his daughter and, when offered his choice of the many bric-a-brac items I had, agreed to move books into boxes, to a computer analyst who was interested only in antiques (I had none) and he, too, in exchange for his choice of goodies, offered to help me remove the many cartons that blocked the way to my computer. There was a couple with a new baby whom I fed while they carried their newly-purchased rug to the car and of course, a couple of odd characters from the shuk looking to pick up rare objects at bargain prices. One evening I opened the door to find eight burly men standing there. When I asked what they wanted, they replied that they came to buy and remove the furniture. Apparently, I have since discovered, this was not an unusual occurrence, since if one advertised furnishings for sale, it was assumed that the advertiser was anxious to get rid of stuff and ready to give it away! They were actually doing me a favor by helping me do so.
I had to dispose of about five thousand books, a nightmarish task. I offered them to anyone who could stand on a ladder and remove them from the uppermost shelves that I could not reach. There were many volunteers. The English books went to ESRA bookshops, courtesy of a friend who loaded up her car many times and delivered them to ESRA; the others, mostly Hebrew books, were given to the guys who helped remove them from the shelves.
The shredding of personal papers took weeks, and evoked some very painful memories. Discarding items, some of great sentimental value, was extremely difficult. Most were donated to ESRA, some to friends.
A good friend helped to remove many items of clothing that I thought I couldn’t live without and decided I didn’t need since I knew there was insufficient closet space in the new apartment to accommodate even a quarter of them. This angel made many trips to the apartment, stuffing her trolley with clothes, schlepping them to her car and making endless trips to ESRA shops to stock them with these new-found treasures.
And all the while I wondered why I was putting myself through this emotional upset. To add to my stress I kept thinking of the small apartment I was going to live in and worrying where I was going to put the items I could not bear to part with.
Finally, the apartment was sold to some really nice people and the movers were ready to roll. Even if I wasn’t.
According to plan, my daughter and son-in-law arrived from Australia, and to my eternal gratitude and amazement, they bravely tackled the momentous job of packing up the stuff, unpacked them at the new apartment and magically redecorated, and refurbished the place so that it looked quite charming. My son-in-law, he of the golden hands, managed to find space where none existed, creating cupboards and bookshelves seemingly out of thin air. My daughter, wizard that she is, put everything in its place. I was literally in awe of what they accomplished and promised to erect a statue in their honor on the front lawn of the facility and bow to it twice a day to pay homage for their heroic efforts.
And so, with great trepidation, I moved into my new home. But, there’s a price to be paid for everything. And the price to be paid for security, in my own experience, is understanding how to cope with my new compressed living space along with learning to live in an environment constantly surrounded with people , no matter how congenial the atmosphere or how hospitable the residents.
On the “plus” side are the outstanding personnel who were superb, not only extremely helpful, but ready to offer emotional support to assist me in overcoming the trauma of trying to become accustomed to the new reality.
For the reality is that I am now a part of a new community: a community where the hum and vitality of everyday life are absent: no children around laughing at play, no teenagers hollering as they skateboard outside my apartment, no sirens or ambulances wailing, no music coming from the next apartment where the kids are partying, no babies gurgling in their strollers.
I, and others like me in similar situations, are wrapped in a cocoon, many of our essential needs are attended to, some of the usual aggravations of daily life are taken care of.
It’s a new stage in my life, one that most of us will be faced with as we grow older (think of the alternative). And so, we come to terms with this new development and learn to cope with it.
The many amenities in my new home are available to be enjoyed and a wide range of activities for those who wish to participate. One can learn to use a computer, take up bridge, engage in any of the many art classes, and keep fit with exercises done on a chair, on the floor or in the water, listen to lectures and concerts, or take in the Saturday night movie.
And even make new friends.
It’s actually quite busy around here. I hardly have time to do the things I used to do.
Welcome to my new world.