A friend suggested that I write a sit-com based on my adventures with the seniors who live here with me. There is certainly a perfect set up for an ever evolving series. I live in the Care Center section of our continuing care retirement facility, meaning there are many nurses and ‘care partners’ around who attend to feeding people, making beds and assisting nurses, and interns who set up daily activities, or make sure people get their walkers and head in the right direction for their rooms. They are some terrific characters all by themselves. Dealing with a panorama of elderly humans that are perfectly rational one day, and shouting, “I don’t live here, take me home!” the next, invariably brings out their own issues, no matter how much training they have.
Watching people around me includes observing the sobering decline of dementia in action. The aggressive demise of their minds is painful and poignant to watch. A sit-com episode might include the following exchange when I first arrived here three months ago. This white haired shaky woman half-falling sideways out of her wheelchair, greeted me at the lunch table. We did the “Hello, where are you from?” exchange and then I timidly inquired, “ I am here because I have MS. May I ask why you are here?” Thoughtfully chewing the same mouthful for many minutes, she replied, “Well, I am here because I get much better radio reception in my room than I did when I lived in a cottage.”
“Ah, of course.” Now that I know her better, I found out that she was in charge of a huge public library music research department and that she listens to non-stop opera and other music on said radio. Obviously she has a lot of compromising physical issues, but that was not what had significance for her. Sadly, she has now been put under Hospice care though she can still be rather sharp. She has subsequently shared childhood stories with me which were far from peaches and cream. Her life gives a glimpse into why she retreated early on inside of her once masterful musical mind.
Then there are the folks who live independently in cottages surrounding this large campus, and those who live in apartments attached at the opposite end of the facility from the Care Center. When people are recovering from back, knee, or other surgeries or a bad fall, or more seriously, a stroke, then they live among us in the CC briefly, waiting to be released back to their home. For the most part they have a hard time accepting their current fate and see their time here as an unfortunate episode which will quickly pass.Then they can get on with their real lives. Their emphatic denial of the aging process is also fodder for that tragic/comic edge. This one was a well-known chemistry professor, another one an Ob-Gyn, or an editor or an economist.
Others are more philosophical and freely embrace this temporary compromise as an inevitable chapter in their journey. Husbands or wives come to join them in our Care Center dining area. I see everything from pushy unaccepting spouses, “Eat this, not like that, pick up your hand, no, your other hand, use your napkin, etc.” which is silly and also hard to watch. Others are openly shaken and sad to be living alone in their homes without their partners. Wives say, “It is hard to watch the weeds grow, walk the dog, or face financial conundrums without my husband to take care of it.” Many husbands generally look lost and uncomfortable, and seem relieved when the meal is over and they can finally take charge of getting the rollator or pushing their wives back to the room in their wheelchair.
As I become more active in the community, my life is interlacing with more of the Independent Living folks. I signed up to participate in a variety show, another event to celebrate Kendal’s 25th year founding anniversary. It has since been labeled the Kendal Kabaret because a well-known former set designer resident created a splashy Cabaret style flat with a sparkly gold curtain for our entry onto the stage. To bring our disparate offerings (barbershop septet, recorder ensemble, a number of songs including a gospel written by yours truly, a Can-Can line?!, piano/violin duets, etc.) into some semblance of cohesion, a very capable women in charge bought styrofoam top hats, feather boas, feather hair clips and ribbons to create a semi-costumed Kabaret look.
To watch us all, like any gathering of performers, claim this or that boa/hat/feather combination, worry about mics, music stands, lighting, how we would physically manage to get on and off the stage at the right times (also me, again), was a delight. We do and do not take ourselves seriously to entertain our fellow residents. We seniors sure know how to have fun. This will make a great finale for the end of season one. Due to the numbers of aging Baby Boomers, it might well make it past the pilot season.*
- I am also dedicating my song to my dear friend David Moskowitz whose birthday falls on the day of the show. He very likely will not live to see that day, but I am singing “Love What a Short Word” to him, wherever he will be.