A Mixed Review of the Golden Years

JACK L. LEVIN

February 09, 1993|By JACK L. LEVIN

A year and a half ago, my wife and I moved to a retirement home, seeking R and R -- rest and recreation. What we found are D and D, delight and some disappointment, due not to our splendid new home but to our frustrating old age.

I still work at my downtown office five days a week (transportation by a relative), but evenings and weekends are for discovering and developing new friendships and warming up old ones. After living privately in a detached suburban home for over 40 years, daily socializing at dinner and at many programmed events have become a gratifying experience. But the most attentive, tender and loving care cannot offset the deterioration of certain body parts, which makes it impossible to do the things we used to enjoy doing.

Playwright George S. Kaufman said that when a play gets ''mixed reviews,'' that means it is good and rotten.

Our new life in our luxurious retirement community has been good and -- not rotten -- but not so good, because of advancing infirmities.

Good: The easy living. Virtually every chore is handled for us by skilled, accommodating functionaries -- household repairs and replacements and all kinds of services, from housecleaning to laundering flatwork. For us, no more grass-cutting, leaf-raking, painting, snow-shoveling and running all over town to locate replacement parts for equipment long out of production.

Not so good: A pervasive feeling of uselessness and helplessness afflicts over-the-hill do-it-yourselfers with nothing to do. Never again will we pick up a hammer, saw, wrench or pliers and, after sweating and swearing, gaze on our handiwork with pride and satisfaction at having cut out costly professionals. Never again will we have the pleasure of grumbling over jobs we loved to hate.

Good: No cooking, no pots and pans and clean-up. Every night a different menu in the same posh venue. The food is wholesome and plentiful, the ambience that of a fine restaurant.

Not so good: Some residents complaining because the food is not prepared according to the recipes favored in their families for 50 years. Every dish is designed to please everyone, so it pleases most of us who are adaptable.

Good: By house rules, pets are not allowed. So we are liberated from indentured servitude in the care and feeding of troublesome creatures.

Not so good: We miss the cat rubbing against our leg and sneaking into our lap, and the dog, when we arrived home, wagging and wiggling in a frenzy of welcome for us and his dinner.

Good: Dining out every night with various members of our large extended family, to whom we feel closer than to some of our relatives.

Not so good: Losing them when we've just grown to love them. The average age is 83 -- so, despite cheerful efforts at denial, the losses are continuous and inevitable. Also, avoiding repetition of old jokes and tales told before.

Good: No more car worries since failing vision required me to give up driving and to sell the remaining car. By using the house bus and lifts from generous family members and friends, we reach required destinations without the hassle of traffic, parking and repairs that had occupied so much of our lives.

Not so good: We feel that we have lost one of our basic freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the right to jump in the car and go wherever and whenever we pleased. Dependence on cabs and the courtesy of others is a constant annoyance.

Good: No more unscheduled, unexpected visits, just before midnight, of friends returning from a night out, dropping in for snacks and chatter.

Not so good: Absence of the same in our well-regulated daily routine.

Good: Grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and being no burden on their parents.

Not so good: No outdoors play equipment to absorb their energies.

Good: Being expertly served and professionally cared for in a protected environment.

Not so good: In response to our complaints and differences of opinion with an occasional employee, being stroked as backward children by our young caretakers who are one-third our age, who flatter and patronize us into accepting their views, because they know what's best for us.

Good: A creative program of activities that can keep one constantly occupied.

Not so good: The shortage of meaning and purpose in some of them is why, with the support and full cooperation of our social director, we are promoting volunteerism among residents who are up to it -- devoting time and effort to helping various local causes and programs, to help both receivers and givers of the efforts. The latter find some good reasons to get up in the morning.

Balancing the pluses of our care and minuses of our condition, we are happy in our new life, but feel it could be better, despite the woes of aging.

In only one place, we've heard, is there no room for improvement -- and we're not ready for that place.

We are not going gentle into that quiet night, but raging against the fading light.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore business man.

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