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Caregivers Ponder the Future

Aging in Place in Rural AmericaWe look to our elderly parents to provide us with models of positive aging.  As caregivers, sometimes we feel that they have shown us as much about what to avoid as what to do as we grow older.

Both my mother’s and my father’s last years were difficult for them and for those of us who were close to them.  Mother and Bernie started retirement on a beautiful forested site in the North Carolina piedmont near a quaint historic artist colony.  I think it was an ideal environment for them at the beginning of their retirement years.  They had a lot of plans, but many of them did not work out.  Bernie once told me something like:  You imagine what you’ll do when you retire—maybe can your own fruits and vegetables and heat your home with wood you have cut yourself or hand-rolled newspaper logs.  But by the time you do retire, these things are not so interesting anymore.  I should have done them years ago when I first thought about it and not waited for retirement.  I’m a different person now.

Retirement changed their goals and changed their vision of themselves.  They courageously took on the challenges of making friends in a new community and of fashioning a life that fit their new circumstances, needs and interests.  As their abilities and competencies evolved, they adjusted their activities, but would not consider adjusting their living situation.  Ultimately life overtook them both, and the new millennium found them in skilled nursing care.  Mom lived out her last days bedridden and a widow who did not quite understand what had happened to the man she had taken care of and relied upon.

The culprit in Mom and Bernie’s situation was not so much old age itself as it was dementia and osteoporosis. I think they had expected to be vital and active until they died suddenly of something like a heart attack or stroke.  Instead they lived on in a frail and diminished condition.

Some people, like those in the Columbia School of Journalism Brave Old World project video below, produced by Connor Boals and Josh Tapper, do have the health and the strength to live simply on the land and even heat their homes with hand-cut wood.  Sue and Bob Cushman lead what seems to be an enviably active and self sufficient life—one many of us, like Bernie, may have dreamed of at odd times in our adult lives.

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