“Old age is no place for sissies.”  Bette Davis

I am just getting adjusted to the latest adjustments.  When I was in medical school, I heard that word “adjustment” used as medical terminology for the first time, as in “He’s just having an adolescent adjustment reaction.”  Before that, I had experienced the word more frequently applied to inanimate objects—cars in particular, such as “the driver’s seat needs adjusting,” or “please adjust the timing belt.”  As my education progressed, I learned about chiropractors and how they “adjust” the spinal column to relieve back and neck pain, or even foot and ankle misalignment in my friends who were dancers.   But somehow I must have missed the lectures on adjusting to the natural process of aging, since I never gave it much thought until recently when I began to make the rounds of retirement communities here in San Diego.

After my mother passed away in early January, my eighty seven year old father received the news that his heart and lungs were no longer able to tolerate the 8,500 foot elevation of their Snowmass, Colorado home.  Previous bypass surgery and a stenotic aortic valve had taken their toll, and the prospect of wearing oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week was not appealing to this man who had been performing cleft lip and cleft palate surgery in Africa and Viet Nam as recently as last fall.  And so a month ago, down from the mountains  he came.  The improvement in his breathing was immediate—so much so, in fact, that he has agreed to come to live here in San Diego.  Although he has been staying with us, and is welcome to do so indefinitely, he longs to reestablish a social life amongst his peers—to play bridge, to discuss great books and current events, and hopefully, to resume his golf and tennis games.  He had been half-heartedly looking at facilities for the past two years of my mother’s dementia—full service facilities that take the elderly from independent living through skilled nursing, and ultimately, if needed, to dementia care.  This time around, he is free from the constraints of her limited options, and we’ve broadened the search a bit.

For the last few weekends, we have dutifully and diligently set off to see the best that Southern California has to offer. We’ve toured low rises and high rises, condominiums and apartments, mansions and villas.  We’ve seen covered heated swimming pools, exercise rooms and movie theaters, casual coffee shops and formal sports coat requiring dining rooms.  We even saw an apartment at Casa Manana, a retirement community in La Jolla, where the floor to ceiling picture window in the all-purpose one room living/bedroom gave up a spectacular ocean view and the sound of waves so close we could almost feel them crashing against the shoreline.  But each time, my father turned away.  Neither of us spoke of the sights that gave a small nagging voice to our fears—the squeak of a walker being lifted and set down again, a palsied hand reaching for a glass of water, the faint smell of mildew in a recently vacated apartment with a silent cane propped in a corner, long ago abandoned for a wheelchair.  My father was pleasant and polite to our tour guides.  I, who will turn sixty years old this year, looked out over the gray heads and stooped shoulders in the dining rooms, and saw my future.

A week ago, after spending most of Saturday and all of Sunday morning looking at potential places for Dad to live, I had had enough.  There was one more visit to be made, to a retirement community very near my workplace.  My husband graciously volunteered while I stayed home to do laundry.  Much to my surprise, when they returned from the excursion, my father was very excited.  The community was new, beautiful, and laid out like a country club, with low slung buildings connected by gardens, grassy areas and well-tended walkways.  There were two dog parks, and folks were out and about on a sunny day.  When I asked my father what he liked so much about the place he exclaimed, “Everybody looked so YOUNG!”

I suspect that my father will adjust to his new life just fine, once his medical conditions are straightened out and the path to that future is clear.  As for me, I am adjusting  to the fact that my pantry and freezer are now stocked full of his favorite foods—oatmeal raisin cookies, bagels with strawberry cream cheese, salty potato chips and Klondike bars.  It looks like my wardrobe is going to need an adjustment soon!


  1. Ed has a golfing buddy, who at 85, constantly tells him that ‘growing old ain’t for wimps’ (we’re pretty sure he hasn’t heard of the Bette quote but the spirit is the same). It is a crappy one way trip to most senior places where your future is often displayed in the most debilitating of ways…your Dad is so vigorous sounding, in spite of his age, experiences and health issues I say hurrah for him to have found a place that exudes a sense of life and living, not just waiting for the inevitable.

    1. My father, in his last fews years, used to say “Don’t get old!” He railed against his frailty. Unfortunately he would say this in front of my sister, as he was oblivious to the idea that her cancer might be terminal.

      All my sister hoped and prayed to do was to grow old. She didn’t get to do that.

  2. I remember touring all those places with my parents every time they came out to Michigan. My mother summed it up so well. When yet one more unctuous tour guide pointed out that they had “continuing care”, from independent living up through nursing home, my mother replied, “Oh really? You have an undertaker on the staff?”

  3. I also remember (with a shudder of horror) all the hours and days and weeks that I spent searching for a place to move my mother after my father died and her dementia was too much for the place where she was living.

    Thank God for the internet and Google. When I asked for help in finding a place I was handed the Yellow Pages. At least now you can learn more.

    But it is still immensely time-consuming to tour all these facilities and to try to determine which will be suitable and enjoyable.

  4. This is FRESH for me…I just got my mom out of a “rehab” facility AKA Nursing home..It was the most depressing, poorly run environment. I had daily calls with the DON to empower her staff, my mom had a voice…sadly most patients are unable to speak. Glad to hear your dad is with you, may he find fun amoung his new friends! Growing old is a mind set…and “birds of a feather flock together”…so glad he is soaring with his flock!

  5. I am so happy you are getting your father settled near you. I am hoping my parents will at least begin by spending their summers with me. It certainly has been a dramatic few months for you. All the best!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *