Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Admirable or Foolhardy: What Would You Do?

One of the advantages of living in a large continuous care senior residence is the chance to meet fellow seniors of all types. One of the most memorable people I've met here at The Clare is Anne (not her real name). When I first saw her, I assumed that she was near death: shaved head, halting gait, negative attitude. She continued to come to eat breakfast with the Independent Residents, of whom I am one, even though she lived on one of the Assisted Living floors.

When I first met Anne, she was complaining about the trouble of selling her downtown condo, where she had previously lived. This was or had been a problem for many of us during these uncertain economic times. The next thing I heard from her was that she was trying to cancel her contract with a real estate agent and keep the condo; in fact, she planned many improvements and changes to the place, which she obviously loved. I admired her for her forward-looking plans, since she had told me she had terminal bone cancer. She takes an array of serious medications, some of them experimental. She complained often of pain, sleeping problems, night sweats, and other alarming symptoms. One experimental treatment laid her low, so she was forced to discontinue it.

Anne is very intelligent, but like many of us, having trouble dealing with the problems of aging and illness. I started to think about what I would do in her situation (she is the same age as I am, 78). Would I have the courage to make such grandiose (and expensive) plans to move out of a care facility while facing an uncertain and likely brief future? My answer would be no, but I can't fault Anne for her decision. I have never met a cancer sufferer more optimistic and forward-looking, not to mention one having so much energy despite her fragile appearance.

On one hand, I admire Anne for her tenacity. She is very determined (and overly critical of everything, from the food to the service to the staff to other aspects of this relatively comfortable place). Few approve her attituude or understand her desire to move out of this beautiful place. Is she being admiraable or foolhardy? She seemed to enjoy telling me about her struggles with her remodeling contractor to get everything in her condo just right. Yesterday, she finally moved out. However, she confided in me that she knew things would not be the same as they were before.

Even so, all the planning and fretting seemed to keep Anne alive. One of the drawbacks of senior living, especially for those of us with no local family, is the feeling that this is the end, the final move. Of course many healthy seniors here are on the go every moment, but some of us are contented to just relax and enjoy easy living. I do that too much. So I guess I admire Anne more than I condemn her. I wish her the very best, which would include a cure for her cancer. Will it happen? Somehow I doubt it, but Anne is certainly a profile of courage and an example of having plans for the future, even a very uncertain one.

Photo: The Clare, from the Chicago Tribune.

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