Yesterday, Steve Gurney, age 43, took up temporary residence at Paul Spring Retirement Community in Alexandria, Virginia.
Gurney is the founder of the Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook, "a comprehensive resource that provides details on all of the senior living options in the mid-Atlantic region." He realized that after spending his career helping families and elders make these choices, he had "never experienced the transition first-hand as a resident. I will be using this experience to help families better understand this important transition."
As a new resident of a retirement community in Chicago, I find Steve Gurney's idea interesting in the tradition of first-hand investigative journalism. It reminds me of various reporters' "Homeless for a Week" stories, etc. These are stories I always read with a few reservations: how can a reporter know the hopelessness and despair of the truly homeless when he/she has a warm, comfortable home to return to in seven days? Gurney is not really old (yet), and he will surely return to his home and his career. This move is a temporary disruption for him.
Still, those reservations aside, I welcome Gurney's seemingly sincere interest in discovering various truths about retirement living. Ideally, more of us genuine elders who make such transitions should write about the experience, but without any economic incentive, it's sometimes hard to work up the energy and enthusiasm necessary for such an effort. So far, I've found my fellow Clare residents reluctant to blog, and I haven't devoted much time to analyzing my own experience. Perhaps I can rectify that by commenting occasionally on Steve Gurney's experiment.
I hope that Mr. Gurney will meet all kinds of seniors, including those like me who aren't especially interested in typical organized activities for seniors, as well as those who are eager participants.
In a blog post, Gurney compares himself to journalist George Plimpton, who told his story of suiting up as a Detroit Lion football player in his book Paper Lion. "He [Plimpton] gave sports fans a perspective on what it feels like to be a professional athlete that couldn't be communicated through traditional reporting or locker room interviews." Gurney says that he is "doing my best to respect the position of elders, keep my eyes wide open, and experience feelings and emotions first hand."
I wonder if the Paul Spring residents will accept a 43-year-old as one of them, or if they'll treat him like the visiting journalist he is. Will he attract the complaints of "soreheads" with issues about the place or merely fawning expressions of appreciation? I hope he gets a cross-section of opinions, honestly expressed.
Perhaps Steve Gurney will inspire us elders to write about our own experiences, and will succeed in his efforts to find out what retirement living is really like. One thing he can't experience--yet--is that feeling of being in the last stage of life. Perhaps that is one thing that permeates the whole retirement living expeience for most of us. For now, I'll wish Steve well. Check out his blog at http://www.retirement-living.com/publisher/.
Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne