Monday, January 16, 2017

Is The Golden Girls a Myth? (LOL's are Evil!)

The idea of shared housing for the elderly is a sound one.  Why do so many old people live alone?

The television show The Golden Girls was a sitcom based on the premise that a group of elderly widows would live together in one house, in order to cut down on their retirement living expenses.   It is a sound idea on a number of other levels as well.   When you are retired and on a fixed income, the cost of living can ratchet up over time, and you may find yourself priced out of your house or apartment.   Moreover, today, many are finding they failed to save enough for retirement, and the cost of a place to live is usually the largest single item in their budget.

There are ancillary benefits as well.  Having someone else around when you are elderly is a good thing, as if you fall and break your hip or have other medical emergencies, someone is around to call 911 and make sure you are OK - and they are there to watch the house while you are in the hospital.   It also means the daily chores of housekeeping can be shared, which lessens this burden as well.  It also can be handy if you can no longer drive a car - but your roommate can.

And most importantly, it provides that daily companionship and friendship that is essential to human living - which keeps the mind active and staves off depression.

It is such a good idea on so many levels - why don't more people do it?

The short answer is, Little Old Ladies (LOL's) can be evil.   Oh, sure, your sainted grandmother is so friendly and warm when you come to visit.   She bakes you cookies and fawns over her grandson and granddaughter.   She is nice to you.

But if you were one of her fellow LOL's in the Parcheesi club, watch out.  Because your sainted grandmother will talk utter trash about you behind your back - if in fact she doesn't black-ball you from joining in the first place.   Little old ladies can be downright evil, especially to each other.

(And it is mostly women in the retirement communities, as the men die early and marry younger).

In a way, they are like old cats.   We had three cats that lived to be over 20 years old.   The male cat mellowed out with age and just wanted to sit on your lap and purr all day.  He got along with the two females just fine.   The two elderly female cats, however, hated each others guts and would hiss and claw at each other whenever they happened to come into contact with one another.   Sharing the litter box or the food dish could cause a major meltdown. 

The LOL's are the same way.   They arch their backs, they spit and hiss and growl.   And they will claw your eyes out, if you are not careful!

For this reason, we see a lot of widows here on the island, rattling around in four-bedroom houses that are slowly deteriorating around them.  Oh, sure, the lawn guy comes once every other week and keeps the grass down.  But the plantings are all gone to weeds and the shrubs are growing up over the windows - the classic "haunted house" look.   And of course, the gutters are filling with leaves and the paint is peeling on the eaves.

And since they are so stressed and house-poor, they can't afford to go out, travel, or do other things they would like to do at this point in their lives.   I know more than one LOL who has confided to me that they envisioned growing old as something different that what they have.   One is basically doing nothing with their time, as they have to pay off a loan their husband stuck them with!   At the same time, they have to clean three bathrooms and dust four bedrooms every week in an empty house that they rattle around in.

In short, it is the same way young people make themselves miserable - valuing possessions over living.   And in this case, the possession is the home.   But it could also encompass other things - I've seen widows cling to their dead husband's car ("It was a collector's item - he wouldn't want me to sell it!") or boat or even RV, for years at a time.   One widow hires a man to come out every year and wash, wax, and change the oil on her husband's old motorhome (and usually replace the battery as well) even though she hasn't used it since he died almost a decade ago.  

Whoever said, "With age comes wisdom" never lived on retirement island!

So why this urge to keep the huge house and other possessions to the point where they interfere with life?

Well, it is the same old thing: Status.   In this case, on retirement island, selling the four-bedroom home (you need those extra bedrooms for when the grandchildren visit!  They never come, though) is seen as "giving up" for some reason.   The ladies in the Parcheesi club will cluck their tongues and say, "Well, old Edna is losing it - she put the house up for sale!" and they will all shake their heads and think of Edna as some sort of "loser" unlike them - because in their minds, they will live forever and never sell their homes.

And the LOL's know the ladies in the Parcheesi club will say this about them, because they said the same trash talk about others, themselves, when somene else sold their house.   When people move off the island, it is not usually to a grand send-off from their friends, but rather quietly, with their tail between their legs, as if they did something wrong.

As I noted before, there are two things you don't want to do in a retirement community - run out of money or get sick.   You will be treated as a pariah in short order - shunned like an ex-Amish.   Your name is stricken from the rolls of the Parcheesi club and never spoken of again.

To be sure, some of this tomfoolery and nonsense has to do with a fear of death.   No one likes to think about their impending demise, particularly when you are looking at less than a decade on the clock.   As I noted in earlier postings, my Grandmothers went into an assisted living Senior center near the end of their lives.  Both had sections for the ambulatory and the non-ambulatory.   For one, the non-ambulatory section was called "The Seventh Floor" (a good name for a Stephen King novel!).  For the other, it was the eerily-named "The Other Side" (as the building was divided into two sides).

Once you went to the seventh floor or "the other side" you were never spoken of again.   And few people from the ambulatory section would come visit you, either.  If you came back from the other side, you were literally treated like a ghost, which I suppose was a preview of things to come, eventually.

Mark's grandmother went through this at Shell Point.   Once you went to "The Pavilion" you were not talked about - as if you had been sent to the Gulag, and loose talk about you might get them sent there as well.   Even when her friends ended up in the Pavilion, they pretended not to know each other (and no, it was not dementia causing this).

Getting older doesn't mean you deal with death, life, or anything else better than youth.  It just becomes scarier, and people engage in denial mechanisms even moreso, in order to avoid dealing with it.

Of course, in years gone by, people did share housing when they got older.  And usually, this was when grandma or grandpa moved in with their kids and grandkids as part of an extended family.   When we were a more agrarian society, this was more practical to do, as the family homestead didn't move every five years, and moreover, there was really no place else for grandma or grandpa to go.

In a way, it might have been a healthier practice, in that the children grow up realizing that aging is all about on a first-named basis.   The practice of "retirement communities" and parents going off to live separately from their children - often in another State on the other side of the country - is a relatively recent post-war invention.  In reality, only one or two generations have lived this lifestyle from start to finish.

So maybe that is part of the problem right there - a lack of normative cues on how to live.   Widows get stuck rattling around an old house because they don't know what to do otherwise.  Their friends are all here and they are used to a certain lifestyle and pattern of life, which is comforting.   Making any changes threatens this hierarchy and pattern.  Changing your life is somehow admitting defeat.

Granted, there are other factors as well.  It can be hard to change when you are elderly - you are in a rut, so to speak - a comfortable rut.   One widow, when her husband died, put her house up for sale and moved into a senior apartment community.   She moved back within a few months.   When we asked her why, she said, "It's just a bunch of old Republican ladies over there!" which gave everyone a chuckle.   But I think the problem was not the politics of the ladies, but that she was a stranger in their society, and like a new cat being brought into a home, was clawed and hissed at by the other cats.

(You see, that is the other half of LOL evil - they want to haze newcomers.   You've read, no doubt, the accounts of hazing atrocities at fraternities and sororities on college campuses.   Frat houses will make young pledges drink (alcohol or even water!) until they literally die from it.   Sorority sisters just mock and belittle the pledges until they develop eating disorders.   But in both cases, they are rank amateurs compared to Little Old Ladies.   They will harass and annoy newcomers - if they don't flat-out prevent them from joining the Parcheesi club.   Like I said, LOL's can be evil - very, very evil!).

The sad part is, eventually we all get older and more tired.  We can't keep up the house, we can hardly even drive, and things get ugly in a real hurry.   And we see this firsthand, often up-close.   Those who can afford it can hire a day nurse to come visit and "help out around the house".   Those who cannot, struggle to get by, and often it ends in a very messy manner.

For us, the plan is pretty simple.   We don't intend to stay in a three-bedroom house for the rest of our lives.  Already the chore of keeping up a 1/4-acre of lawn and garden seems like a real hassle.   We look forward to downsizing to an apartment with a small balcony and a couple of potted plants.   But then again, not being members of the Parcheesi club, we really don't care what the LOL's think or their trash-talk.

I can see living here another decade or so, God willing.  But if I should live longer than that - I would prefer to be able to do things rather than merely own things - particularly when I would be owning things that would be falling apart around me.

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