Quad Cities, IL/IA

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It’s Time


Written by Jan Rittmer, Happy Resident at Ridgecrest Village

Four years ago, being in our mid-seventies, able bodied, active, and able to make our own decisions, my husband, Roger, and I moved from our long-time home into senior living. We left some things behind reluctantly, but we gladly abandoned the large metaphorical elephant that for years had been lurking in the dark recesses of our minds — and in our flowerbeds that needed weeding and gutters that needed cleaning. The elephant’s name was, “how long can we live independently in this house” (a long name — for a big elephant).
 If you are Social Security age and realistic, this elephant intrudes on your consciousness, too. Circumstances differ between seniors, but big problems of aging are common to us all and inevitable. I hope our experience of moving to a senior housing facility will help you think about your own “elephant.” We did some things right, and some not so right.

Roger wanted to retire from his business, and I was sick of cooking and housekeeping. Our story-and-a-half house and large, rural yard with many flowerbeds were still manageable for us, but had become a chore instead of a joy. Our house needed a new roof and windows. We had steps to climb everywhere, and our bad backs and arthritic knees were increasingly cranky. We wondered: how we would manage as time moved on? What would we do if something really serious happened to either of us? We certainly hoped to live a long time; then what? 

If we stayed in our home, we could not remain “independent” forever. We considered stair lifts and a basement apartment. Neither of us could imagine burdening our children by having one of them live with us — or us with them. Hiring strangers didn’t appeal, was expensive, and was not real independence. We knew a caretaker child was definitely in our future if we tried to stay where we were. Which child would we burden? Someone would offer, but that did not seem fair. In short, we wrapped our heads around the tough reality that we should change our living situation before too long.

Even with this insight, we did not spring into action; big, emotion-loaded decisions shot-through with denial got more difficult as we aged. We had always been flexible, even impulsive, but we underestimated our resistance to this change. We procrastinated. Not until an older sister needed intensive help to stay in her home, and my younger, very active, able-bodied sister defeated her own elephant by choosing to move into a senior facility, did we admit that leaving our home was a good idea. It was time. We asserted our independence by voluntarily giving up some of it — on our own terms. 

Foolishly, we told none of the nine children in our blended family what we were planning. Our children and grandchildren did not get the opportunity to digest the changes we were embracing and understand why. Roger no longer wanted to be the man who tried to do it all; I had never enjoyed cooking and cleaning, and my motorcycle riding days were long over. When we finally did tell our family, they were shocked. There were some tears, and we heard “you’re not old enough” from all sides. We quashed fears that one of us was terminally ill. We remained steadfast. It was right to decide our own future and right not to burden our children with deciding for us. Four years later, all nine kids thank us for taking charge.

Our second mistake — the biggest one — was not moving sooner. The process was far more rigorous than we imagined. Psychologically, we underestimated how many decisions would be required, like where and when to move, and what to do with our stuff. What should we keep? Pass down?  Throw away? Donate? Sell? These decisions were ours to make alone, and they were loaded with emotion. We knew we were less attached to things than many of our friends, but we had become less decisive as we aged. Physically, we badly underestimated how taxing the move would be. If we had moved even two years sooner, we would have had more strength, and stamina. Although family and friends helped pack and carry, and Two Men and a Truck moved the big things, the young-for-their-age Rittmers’ were just plain pooped.

One very important reason we wish we had made our move sooner is that our new life style is so satisfying. We have finally found time to relax and fully enjoy our lives. We also found real community and new-but-true friends, an extension of family.

Should you decide to quit procrastinating, here is a list that might help you get started: 

  1. Admit change is inevitable. Look your “elephant” in the eye and realistically evaluate aging in place. Honestly face your doubts and fears.
  2. If you choose to move, tell your family and friends. If you decide to age in place, you especially must prepare your family.
  3. Begin to downsize immediately. The process will be ongoing.
  4. List your requirements for a new home. Ours needed to be close to family, financially doable, accept our cat, require no yard work or housekeeping, and furnish some meals. Leave time for writing and woodworking. Provide a relaxed culture with activities and stimulating friends. Most importantly, we wanted services all the way to our life’s end so that we would never have to move again. 
  5. Evaluate your finances and the true cost of your present circumstances; some people can actually save money by moving. If you own your home, you will have more options.
  6. Question your attitudes about leaving money for your family, remembering their peace of mind is a gift, also.
  7. Assess your present health and anticipate future health problems. Different facilities provide different services: condos offer somewhat reduced maintenance for a large buy-in and a monthly fee, but no health services. Continuing care offers independent housing, assisted living, nursing care, and sometimes memory care. It also requires a hefty buy-in and a monthly fee. There are many other options in between with no buy-in, but limited services.
  8. Investigate the senior living options in your area, making notes. Ask around for anecdotal information about those that seem to meet your criteria. Pick up promotional literature. List questions for the marketing representatives at each facility, including services, cost, and culture. Then begin making full tours of those that still sound interesting. Do not be too quick to pass judgment on a facility with this first contact. Look at apartments and talk to residents. Go back to favorites more than once. Ask your family’s advice, but do not ask them to choose for you. It’s your life, after all.
  9. Choose. Commit. Sign on the dotted line. Do not waver. The indecision elephant is just waiting to move back in with you.
    We rejected a condo which we saw as further procrastination, putting off the inevitable. We chose an older, not-for-profit continuing care facility mostly because we would never have to move again and it’s relaxed, unstuffy culture where we can laugh loudly and just be ourselves. Our choice met all of our requirements. Pricey? Yes, but about the same as living in our home. Our choice included lifecare, which includes our future cares at the same cost we are paying in our independent home. We are spending our children’s inheritance, but we will never be a burden to them. Our life is not perfect, but neither was living in our own home. We now live as independently and fully as our aging bodies allow, among good friends. The food is great, and I don’t have to cook. I write, and Roger haunts the wood shop. Instead of cleaning gutters, he started shooting pool.

It was time. When it’s your time; jump off your elephant and don’t look back!

Do you have questions about Ridgecrest? Have you heard different stories? Do you want to explore how to plan for a full and enjoyable retirement? Call Mary or Karen at 563-391-3430 today. We would love to invite you to lunch and show you what our community has to offer.