One of the issues that people have to think about as they age is: “What happens if I reach the point where I need help doing everyday things? Or if I have a fall and have to go to the hospital? Will they let me come home again?”
If you are living alone things like this can be a turning point where you begin to lose control over your own life. If, on the other hand, you are living with two or three other people — whether they are family members or good friends — you have a much better chance of being able to continue living at home, even if you need to have some outside help. Here’s a story that shows how this can work.
Barbara and Cindy had been living with three of their friends (all in their late forties or early fifties) in a century home in the middle of a conservation area for several years, when Cindy got a call from her mother, Beth, saying that Mom had decided to buy another house, having moved from the family home 10 years earlier. She was tired of apartment living and seeing her investments dwindle by paying rent that was more than her pension income could afford. She asked Cindy if she would like to share in the purchase, as this would give her daughter an investment while helping to carry the costs of home ownership.
Cindy agreed to help her Mom, although she was reluctant to leave the friends and home she had come to love. But she had an idea: would Mom consider including some of Cindy’s friends in the venture? Mom agreed, since she knew the women well and considered them her friends, too. So Cindy asked her home-mates and Barbara agreed to join them.
So the house was found and the three women began their life together. Both Barbara and Cindy were working full time, while Beth established a studio in the home where she could continue with her life-long love of painting. She had helped to found a painting collaborative in her younger years and was still exhibiting in juried group shows and an occasional solo exhibit. Never-the-less she always took charge of having dinner on the table when her two home-mates returned from their day’s work.
As it happened, Beth had developed a health condition that slowly progressed, and over the next few years she found herself confined to a wheelchair. With an indomitable spirit she continued to paint and participate in activities at the local seniors centre, as well as entertaining guests at home, with the help of her home-mates. Barbara had by this time retired from her fulltime job and had obtained a license as a professional Realtor. Her more flexible schedule allowed her to be available during the day if needed, while Cindy continued to work full time. Barbara’s evenings were free for her new business, since Cindy was usually home by then.
This worked well for a few more years, but as Beth’s condition continued to progress, additional assistance was needed, and Cindy helped her mother arrange for personal support workers to come in for an hour or two every day.
When Beth received an invitation to attend the 60th re-union of her Nursing School class, she dearly wanted to attend, to see old friends she hadn’t seen in years! Cindy was unable to get time off from her job to accompany her mother, so Barbara offered to go with Beth.
By this time Barbara was pretty adept at helping Beth get in and out of a car, and maneuvering the wheelchair in and out of the trunk. She’d often been available to take Beth to the hairdresser or the dentist and so forth. They actually had grown pretty close and enjoyed doing things together. So Barbara thought nothing of making an outing of this special event. She was a bit surprised when Beth’s classmates made the assumption that she was a paid Personal Support Worker. When she explained that she wasn’t a PSW, they warmly complimented her for volunteering to accompany Beth, to which Barbara replied, “Actually, we’re friends!” It surprised her to realize that this was an unusual situation.
As time passed, Beth needed more and more help with the activities of daily living; eventually the point was reached where as many as twenty hours of professional help was provided each week to assist with these activities. She began to experience cognitive decline in conjunction with her physical deterioration. But because there were two other loving and able-bodied adults in the home, Beth was able to continue to live at home until two weeks before she passed away, at age 85, in a local residential hospice facility.
One often hears about the hardship of caregivers, often a spouse, daughter, or daughter-in-law who are faced with shouldering the burden of caring for a loved one almost single-handedly. Even if other family members can help on occasion they may not live close by, or have the time or maturity to be of significant assistance. When three or four well-matched mature adults share a home together, particularly if they begin doing so when they are all sound in body and mind, they will ideally grow to be a virtual family over time. Helping each other becomes second nature.
Everyone ages differently and there’s really no way of knowing when any one home-mate may need an advocate to help them manage the health issues that can appear. Home-sharing is a great example of “safety in numbers”! It’s unlikely that all home-mates will experience decline at the same pace – and if they do, at least they can share the cost of paid support.
Consider this: four women who have created a shared home in the Greater Toronto Area have included two additional bed-sitting rooms in their house that can be used either for guests, or for a live-in caregiver should the need arise. They have committed to each other that no one will have to leave the home unless it becomes medically necessary for their own safety. In the meantime, these four women are enjoying life in a big, beautiful house, sharing meals and good times, far more economically than any of them could living on their own.
This is certainly the way I’d like to live out my “golden years”! How about you?