The View From the Mountains: Self worth revisited

By Jean Brody

Statistics show in the U.S., about half of us, at around age 80, eventually move into an assisted living facility.

Why? Because for one health reason or another, we can’t safely live alone any longer. It will be our most likely final address.

Few of us like to talk about this fact. In this final move, we gain more control over our safety but less control over our lives.

Often we give up on the very idea we can continue to live, love, grow and learn, and still be the person we always have been.

In other words, the big problem for us is somehow we lose our sense of independence.

Why is that? It was a huge problem at first because I still wanted, needed and expected my independence and did not want to trade it for improved safety. I wanted both.

I didn’t want to come here. I thought my rich and exciting life would come to a halt. It didn’t, but at first I felt lost.

I had to realize this facility had to have rules and regulations to make it work. They were adjustments for me.

I, like almost every resident here, and at all such establishments, had already endured hurtful loss. Most of us had sold or given away our homes, all our material possessions, even our car. Sadly, we often have lost our life partner as well.

The list goes on and it hits us these are the very things that give us our self worth and the feeling of independence.

So how do we reclaim it? Unless we are here to wait to die, it is vital to get to know who we were and still are. Otherwise, we sink into loneliness and boredom. That’s what happened to me.

In fact, I felt pretty sorry for myself. Nobody knew me here and I made little effort to get out and meet other residents.

Eventually, though, I ventured out. Right away I saw two different approaches to living a new kind of life. One resident said to me, “I came here to die, and the sooner the better.” Another lady answered, “I’m thrilled to finally to have the time to do things I love to do.”

The difference, and with no judgment here, seems to be one attitude comes from being unable or unwilling to open their mind and heart to new ways to find joy in life. The other attitude seems to be a willingness to walk the halls, to sit on the front porch, join the activities and open up to who we are and what we want our future to be like.

You would be surprised how quickly people respond to someone who is enjoying a new life and new ideas.

Several years ago, I spoke to a national convention of Brookedale employees. I told them, “When we residents come to you, it’s like lost and found. We all come pretty lost and your job is the found part. You are to find each of us as we are and love us enough to give us the courage to step over into this final stage and reclaim ourselves. Not an easy task.”

Doors opened for me after I realized all I had to do was reclaim my life’s work of writing and share it here.

I started a Read Aloud group. I simply read aloud well-chosen past columns and then started conversations among the listeners about their stories. It proves every one of us have things — ideas, experiences, stories — to talk about. In the right atmosphere of love and nonjudgmental listeners, people will open up. This atmosphere has to be given by the people who work at assisted living facilities.

Here at Brookedale, we have many groups for all kinds of interests. Music performances do wonders for us because we feel free to move our bodies to the beat, sing along with the melodies, even get up and dance if possible.

We have mind-enhancing games. One is “Flex Your Brain,” and it works, again, because if you don’t know the answers, there is no shame or judgment, just laughter and fun.

To me, one of the most important activities we do five days a week is our exercise class. I’ve been here more than four years and never have I seen such enthusiasm and real devotion to working as a friendly group for one hour to strengthen every part of our body. Our leader does this with love, knowledge and respect for each person’s ability and is part of the reason the class is overflowing with residents.

In fact, we are told other Brookedale facilities would like to observe us to understand our secret of success. We say, “Come right ahead!”

But can you observe a group and know its secret to success? It’s an attitude that prevails here of family, caring, openness, loving each other, and I’m not sure you can observe an attitude.

So sure, when we move to an assisted living facility we do enter a new phase of our life. With that comes a loss of independent living we were used to. But we should admit even with that, we still want our self worth to stay intact.

By reclaiming our passions and what we want to do with our life, we can once again feel a sense of independence. I know because I’ve done it.

I see life as stages we go through. Making the decision to cross over into our last stage is the hard part. We have already endured all the losses and changes. I have chosen to look at this phase, not as an ending, but rather it can be a new beginning.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.