Who Will Be Our Interpreters?

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

It’s a season for retirements, and maybe new abodes, and rotations of habitat from city to waterfront and back again: life is on the move in summer.

That’s maybe why Family came up on the blog, last week and this.  Has family remained the emotional and value core of this mobile Canadian society?   Immediate – spouse and children – yes.  But wider?  Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins?  I don’t know.  (And will Stats Can ever again be able to tell us?).

I was also been stirred by the words of Julian Barnes in Staring at the Sun:

Gregory wondered if this was what being old meant: everything you wanted to say required a context.  If you gave the full context, people thought you a rambling old fool.  If you didn’t give the context, people thought you a laconic old fool.  The very old needed interpreters just as the very young did.  When the old lost their companions, their friends, they also lost their interpreters: they lost love, but they also lost the full power of speech.

Is it not to be devoutly wished that we would all have interpreters when we grow old, to allow ongoing contact between our aging selves and those in the wider world?  Who might they be?  Who is lining up for the job?

Looking Back to Last Week

Last week I spoke of the Open Family and the Fortress Family, suggesting that the former would be a better recruiting ground for helpers of the aging.  But who, besides family, contributes to the well-being of older adults who lack the comfort and support of family, extended or living nearby? 

We may build, in our 20’s and 30’s, alternatives to blood ties: “friend families” formed among people who live apart from families of origin, with common perspectives, humour, music, aspirations and geographic proximity.  Hard to tell the staying power of these affectionate groupings but they enrich the lives of everybody in the circle while intact. 

Ah, Friends – Bless Them

The pull of pairing off and starting new families erodes the attachment to friends, but I’ve seen people gifted at sharing the love of their children with childless friends, intentionally and thoughtfully.  And  individual friendship, lasting through the decades, brighten emotional landscapes to the end of our lives, sometimes with as much wattage as a related brother or sister.  

It’s unbearable to think of the point ahead when we outlive some of our relatives and friends.  It’s already happening.  Time won’t stand still.  So there’s grief ahead, if we have people to care about.  The pain will be the same whether family or friend, and that’s a whole realm of thought onto itself – for another time.

So what will sustain us, and others, as we grow older?

Family, friendship circles, one-on-one best friends; that leaves community as the other big pillar of adult emotional life.

Neighbours can be an amazing happenstance support (we won’t speak of terrible neighbours,  which I’ve heard do exist).  There are, in this big tough city, remarkable streets and apartment buildings of neighbours , where the ethos is to look out for each other.  What a wonderful way to live, for older people, where helping each other out is the self-appointed task of the retired.  If you’ve also got family and friends – from what I see, this can be the best.

Church community can be rich and deep.  Sharing a faith practice ties us with unspoken bonds that can manifest in very practical help.  And the fundamental focus on the needs of others releases all kinds of creativity.  One is blessed if part of a long-surviving church family.

Clubs, groups, dance and exercise classes –so much available.  Yes, for general amusement.  And ties grow if enough time is spent together. 

But for real life, sustaining and enriching, I’m not convinced that remaining busy and sharing fun can be enough by itself.  A person to sit with you and bring a cup of tea when your dog dies emerges more often from your family, long-term friends, neighbours,  members of a firm community.

So What Can We Do to Prepare?

Can we devise ways to structure a future where we are able to help each other?  Do we have any control over whether the positive supports will be in play?

A good friend, appealingly pro-active, has been inquiring into the possibilities of a shared-housing model: five couples buying into a custom-designed condo floor, with five modest but complete apartments surrounding a Common Room with washroom and kitchen attached (for lots of communal events).  Privacy with friendship, neighbourliness, and community at hand.  Provision for future attendant or nursing care needs.  Does  such a model make sense?  It could provide for the period where we encounter losing a partner (let alone the dog).

I love the idea.  What do you think?  Are there other visions?



Filed under Rosemary's entries

3 responses to “Who Will Be Our Interpreters?

  1. The housing model that you describe has been in my mind for many years. Not ever fully thought out, but there none the less.
    As my last close friends leave the city and move to the west I have to wonder what I will do when the only people I now know are of such short duration. Lovely though they are we don’t have a history.
    How do you develop close personal friendships quickly? Is it possible? I don’t know but I do know that it must happen. Otherwise I will be one of those people who populate the streets and libraries muttering to myself. OOOPS! too late.
    I have been recently blessed by joining a group of women who are really quite wonderful. They do things.They are always busy. Even the much older amongst them keep going like the Ever Ready bunny. We started with something in common and are working (I at least as swiftly as possible) to expand these relationships into something closer. But will it be enough for my senior years?
    I had never thought about what it was like to have no family or close friends near when you are aging. Now I think of little else. I find I must rethink the word family. And allow acquaintance to become friend much sooner than when I was younger. And oh the embarrassment of hearing yourself talk about your health and listening closely to others when they talk of theirs. Never thought that would happen. I had to laugh.
    I think that we the BOOMERS are here to re-define what it means to age. And to age in place. The Boomer magazine is very helpful, although I am still suspicious of the ages of the models. Not to mention the air-brushing. Nonetheless it has directed me to age related help and ideas and I am glad for it.
    I believe that WE have the onerous job of leading blindly the same as we did when we (for women at least) burned or threw out our bras. (I only put it back on when time and gravity forced me.) and made new decisions about what women and men are allowed to do. Now its how to age as gracefully as possible.
    I am a work in progress.

  2. Arel Agnew

    Certainly the co-housing model has been around for many years. But why don’t we move into them? Maybe the risk is too big. We don’t want to part with what we have until we can’t manage it. Even as people move on they seem to keep in the non-shared housing format. It may be the memories or even the neighbours who keep us in our unwieldy homes long after we enjoy taking care of them.

    I am not sure but often we don’t like too much change. As for me I have three children and I hope they will help guide me if I am left alone and old. I will let them advise me in my decision to move out of my home. But my sister has no children -so who will help her.

    I guess I will have to live longer than her so I can 🙂

    Arel Agnew

  3. Karen Thorpe

    Not being part of a couple or having money to purchase anything – the optionof living in a condo like that is not there for me.

    However, I have a friend who lives in a coop of singles and is having a wonderful communal experience just by having to be a part of the coop board. Mind you the coop has a beautiful garden that everyone can sit in and garden in together – so that looks good to me.
    Community is definitely the answer, however you find it and however fast or slow that finding takes.Trusting in God will help of course.

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