Archive for category: Assisted Living

“The Ideal and the Actual, Like a Box All With Its Lid”

02 Jun
June 2, 2013


I received the following letter yesterday:


I came across your article in the Washington Post describing what it’s like to live in assisted living when you’re much younger than the average resident. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over a year ago, and she has terrible fatigue and weakness. She is 68. Just a few years ago, she was my #1 helper for my newborn daughter, active, driving, taking the bus and train from the suburbs to my home in Chicago. She has recently decided that she probably cannot continue to live on her own. She feels too weak or afraid to venture out of her apartment, and she has some in-home help and meals-on-wheels during the week.

We don’t have the means to afford assisted living over the long term, but I want to commit to paying for a year at a facility to see whether eating good food and working with others toward the goal of being in the best shape possible will enable her to live independently again. Are you aware of any assisted living arrangement for folks with Parkinson’s’ where they actually try to improve your mobility, health, and independence, and not merely try to manage your decline safely? We experienced the ugly side of skilled nursing after a fall last summer, and I am determined to do my best to keep her away from that for as long as possible.

 Thanks so much for reading. And kudos to you for being out there and speaking the truth.

I was particularly struck by the author’s desire “to commit to paying for a year at a facility to see whether eating good food and working with others toward the goal of being in the best shape possible will enable her to live independently again.”

I replied, “Save your money. We’ve not yet evolved to the standards you desire and your mother desperately needs.”

It was then I remembered a line from a Zen Buddhist scripture I would chant each morning when I was in monastic training. “The ideal and the actual, like a box all with its lid.” Loosely translated it states that our innate desire to seek perfection – whether in a monastery or the secular world – is tempered with the reality of our own humanity. But that doesn’t mean we abandon our commitment to excellence.

Eldercare, in its current iteration, is fraught with traumatic challenges. And yet the Japanese Kanji character for “tragedy” also means “opportunity.”

Ball’s in our court.


24 Apr
April 24, 2013


I’m sure most of us have heard at least one grueling story recounting the horrors of an innocent farm hand who accidentally caught a loose piece of clothing in a hay baler or perhaps it was a seed planter built completely of Ginzu knives. The story invariably turns ugly in the second paragraph, and by the end — after thrashing, yanking and terrifying screams — we’re left with a shirt collar and a prequel for a recurring nightmare.

Thank God this is not one of those stories.

In fact, to be completely honest, my great-grandmother was not actually eaten by a machine. She died of complications of pneumonia and heart failure. But that makes for a slow-witted title and a bored reader.(Or a prospective reader who skips over my story entirely! I can assure you, this does not sit well with the Pulitzer Selection Committee.)

Fortunately, I’m a savvy, sophisticated writer, and, thus, am allowed to use bait-and-switch headlines. We call the pick-and-lock sets that give us that extra “literary license”: metaphor, simile, euphemism, and allegory.

Back to G-G. The last time I saw her — the woman who introduced me to incense, Pecan Sandies and comic books — she was in a skilled nursing facility — restrained in a crib-bed, with sunken eyes that reflected her pain and terror.

That experience haunted me for the next half-century. And then there was the diagnosis of Parkisons 19 years ago. This is my eleventh year as a resident in an assisted living community. I live every day surrounded by more death, despair, disability and depression that most see in a lifetime.

But the days of the patient restraints are all but over, and I honestly believe the quality of life in Institutional Aging Communities is improving every day.

Incremental victories. A future with hope.


A Room With A Grim View: The ‘Ambient Despair’ That Marks Life In Assisted Living – by Martin Bayne

12 Jul
July 12, 2012


People my age—I’m now sixty-two—might go to an assisted living facility every now and then to visit an older family member. Facilitated aging is a way of life for a growing number of Americans, more than one million of whom now live in roughly 40,000 such facilities across the country.  - Martin Bayne

link to full article


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