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Mel Walsh: Letting freedom reign

Some day you and I will be over the hill. And I say, better over the hill than under it.

Still, the fact is that sometime, when we are a bit more frail and doddery, we may need help to remain independent in our own homes. And if the body and energy falter, it’s helpful – and sometimes necessary – to have someone do the driving, shopping, cooking, home repairs and all the other chores of life. It’s also nice when you are sick to have someone bring chicken soup and the pain pills du jour and, of course, the ice packs after your annual bad fall in the garden. And then there is the basic need for human contact, for pleasant company, for someone to nag and be nagged by – one way to know you are loved.

I know, all that is what you have a mate for, but couples do not dive into eternity in sync. It’s not a synchronized event – one always leaves earth before the other, which is a sobering thought, though it can be used to help appreciate your mate more now – absence making the heart grow fonder before the actual absence.



What’s more, when it comes to counting on mates for help, many older people are not only widowed, but single through choice or divorce. Some are also childless or alienated from their children, so no caring kids are coming to the rescue if one does begin to falter in the life chores department.

In yesteryear, the old folks and the young folks lived together . My widowed grammy shared my bed when she was old. But today, the middle manager son is transferred to the other coast, the daughter married and moved to Maui and the black sheep kid= 2 0lives in Thailand, and not for the weather.




And even if the adult kids were still around within helping distance, most older people I know don’t want to be a burden.

Like two-year-olds, we want to do it ourselves. Or maybe with a bit of help from other sources.

One new source to the rescue

So, assuming your family may not be the solution or even the one you want … and assuming you and I do not have a butler, driver, maid and handyperson on our household staff, we will need help, and so will millions of other people in the US. And, mirable dictu – which means “no kidding” in Latin – there is actually a solution to our needs, something that is happening quietly all over the country.

Making your own extended family

The solution, already a reality in some places, is to invent an area support group, a “village” in your town. It means getting together a membership organization of older people that offers the following services: driving to appointments or shopping, getting the house repairs done, cleaning, help with housework, care when you’re down and out physically plus nutrition services – which often means meals delivered to the door.

The model for this solution comes from Beacon Hill Village in Boston. The neighbors there got together and organized to help each other survive as older adults in their own homes. The Village offers household and home maintenance services, health and wellness help, including exercise opportunities. And since isolation can be a problem for older people, they also arrange small get-togethers, parties and trips as well as cultural opportunities for expanding minds and life experience. All in all, they say they want to make “remaining at home a safe, comfortable and cost-effective solution.”

Through media exposure, people all over the US heard about Beacon Hill Village. They had so many requests for information about organizing this service for older adults that they now have a detailed handbook that covers all the how’s of starting a membership organization.

The manual, which can be ordered by mail, phone or online offers help from the founders, the original business plan, marketing materials, fundraising letters, board and committee structures, budgets and ways to help you develop your own Beacon Village. The price for this package is $350 for non-profits and neighborhood groups or $500 for profits and municipalities.

The web site is http://www.beaconhillvillage.org and the email is bhvillage@aol.com. Phone: (617) 723-4117. Address: 74 Joy Street, Boston MA 02114.

Doesn’t all this sound better than counting on Black Baa to come back from Thailand to pick up your meds at the drug store? Besides, he might make off with your pain pills.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezerina. Her book of advice for older women, Hot Granny, is available at The Book Seller in Gras Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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