By Joy Loverde
Almost every day — barring overextended itineraries (mine) and medical emergencies (his) — I log into my computer to video chat with Martin K. Bayne, my dear and longtime friend. He is an MIT graduate, journalist, and former Buddhist monk. He is also unmarried and childless.
At the peak of his career, Marty was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He was fifty-three. With no other choice but to move into an assisted living community, he knew that this housing decision would challenge him every waking moment to stay alive, let alone remain vital.
For the past sixteen years, he has been at the mercy of a call button that is answered by complete strangers. His fellow residents are on average aged eighty-five years and older, the majority of whom are living with the symptoms of dementia. As his chronic conditions worsen, so goes the freedom to come and go where he wants when he wants.
As a resident of assisted living, what he hadn’t calculated is the depth of the daily, relentless exposure to despair, disease, dementia, dying, and death. That’s where I come in. Marty tells me that he would have given up long ago if it were not for our friendship. When we are not talking about what is happening in his world, I do my best to balance the relationship by bringing what is happening on the “outside” to him. By way of my smartphone, Marty and I often take virtual walking excursions to my favorite local attractions like Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. When I see people walking in the park, I stop and ask them to say hi to Marty. They love it, and of course, their enthusiastic, “Hi, Marty!” greetings make his day.
I depend on Marty every bit as much as he depends on me. While I offer him companionship and insights into my world, he is my teacher and voice of reality when it comes to aging alone. “You can’t possibly understand, Joy, what my life is like.” He says these words to me frequently. He’s right: I can’t possibly understand. I have never been that sick and that alone.
“I have no voice,” Marty said to me one morning. I asked him to explain. The night before, he and the administrator of the assisted-living community had an argument about a resident policy. Marty challenged him, saying, “That’s not fair. You get to go home every day at five o’clock, but this is my home.” The administrator stood up, pointed his finger at him, and roared, “This is not your home. You lease an apartment here like everybody else.” At that moment, Marty realized he was alone, ill, and without the comfort of an on-site advocate. His spirit was broken.
Marty never fails to keep me grounded in the realities of aging alone. The essence of each conversation is not the subject matter, but rather the sharing of experiences with someone who genuinely cares about the big and little things in life that you wouldn’t share with just anyone. I know now that if I have a friend like Marty in my life when I am old and alone, I will be able to get through anything that life dishes out.
Why This Message?
Perhaps, like Marty, you don’t have children to call upon for help; perhaps you’re like me, married now, and also wondering who will be available, able, or even willing to step in when necessary. Are you ready for what the upcoming years have in store?
If you are living solo, you are not alone. One in three baby boomers falls into the category of separated, divorced, widowed, or never married. As the numbers continue to escalate, millions of people over the age of sixty-five will require greater assistance because they are aging alone with no known family member or surrogate to act on their behalf. Also, being a parent is no guarantee that adult children will care for you as you age.
Let me be clear from the get-go—marriage is not the goal of this book by any means. Aging solo is the conscious choice of many and deserves its rightful status in society. If marriage or partnering is not, and has never been, a desire of yours, this is a good time to update your language when referring to your preferred living situation. The use of the word single implies the state of not being married. To proclaim you live solo is more straightforward and powerful.
Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? will change the course of your life. You need not be alone in old age unless you want to be. I learned the ropes of planning for old age by spending almost every waking moment of my life surrounded by old people. Witnessing the aging of thousands of older adults, I have heard their incredible stories—the good, bad, and sad. I have spent many hours with the dying. The memory of these encounters is what led me to write this book and fill it with the old people’s advice.
I have been a family caregiver most of my adult life, and in 1993 published my first book, The Complete Eldercare Planner, now in its sixth edition. Thousands of readers have told me that my practical tips on looking ahead while managing complex relationships changed the course of their caregiving experience for the better. Since publishing that book, my writing has evolved beyond caregiving to focus on how people can prepare to care for themselves as they age. I participate in as many webinars, workshops, studies, and conferences as time allows. I am embedded in a social web that connects me with an expansive and diverse network of industry thought-leaders and mature-market business owners. Extensive travel allows me to compare experiences as I observe the cultures of old people worldwide. Above all, I am curious and inquisitive, and have a reputation for seeking ways of pushing the envelope.
People of all ages express to me how worried and afraid they are about aging alone in old age. I am in the same boat; but when I think about the old people in my life who are aging alone, and how they know themselves inside and out, and how they flaunt their unshakable confidence when making important decisions, I believe that in my old age, I will have what they have—but it is up to me to put in the effort now. And I believe the same is true for you. You may not have chosen to age solo, but you must own it to succeed at planning for a quality old age.
You must promise that from this moment on you will be completely honest with yourself about the fact that you are getting older. Sixty is not the new thirty. Sixty is sixty. Every time you make light of or even deny aging, you create an alternate reality; and subsequently, you are forced to live a life in two different worlds: the one you are fantasizing about and the actual one in which you are living.
Acceptance of your own aging paves the way for breakthroughs of all kinds—lying and deceiving yourself about growing old leads to the exact opposite. Instead of feeling powerless and a victim of circumstance, choose to face old age with self-respect and dignity. Plan ahead. Doing so will serve you in gaining better control of the situation at hand. You are the one and only person you can forever count on.
The old people in my life often tell me how peaceful they feel in the moment. They tell me their work is done. They have accomplished what hopefully you are about to do: remain true to the realities of old age. They ask for and accept help. They know what is important and what is a waste of time. Everything I have learned from my wise elder friends is what I wish for you today—that ailments do not depress you, that you are quick to laugh and even quicker to forgive, and that you are happiest of all when you are on the receiving end of tokens of love and kindness from others who genuinely care about you.
Excerpt from Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? (Da Capo 2017) by Joy Loverde. Reprinted with permission.
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Joy Loverde has a reputation for being a path carver and visionary. Joy is the author of Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? and the best-seller, The Complete Eldercare Planner. The American Medical Association says, “It’s the best book we’ve seen.” Joy is frequently in the news. You may have seen her on the TODAY Show and Good Morning America or heard her interviews on National Public Radio. During her career, she has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, TIME, Money, New York Times, USA Today, and Good Housekeeping, among many others. Joy’s work has taken her to every corner of the world where she has personally interacted with thousands of family members and professionals in the field of aging. Connect with Joy on social media. Her books are available wherever books are sold or visit Joy’s website at www.elderindustry.com.