wrote Robin Jennings on ElderChicks recently. A former teacher, she has no time to sit in the rocking chair given to her when she retired. Rather than face a classroom each day, she now sees herself as her own classroom.
As a retired teacher myself, I loved the way she phrased this stage of her life. I identified immediately and wondered why I’d never thought to characterize my retired life that way. Instead, I’ve talked about my incessant yearning for learning that pushes me forward into each day.
When I wake up, always to NPR, I listen for a news cycle, all the while rehearsing my plans for the day. Always, it seems there is more that I want to do than there is time. I have this stack of Chicago Tribune articles on my desk, for example, that were supposed to be made into blog posts. One titled “Caregiving comes to the backyard” tells about the one room “med cottage” that you can install in your backyard to have your aging loved one close by. An alternative to taking an elderly person into your home or placing her in a nursing home or assisted living facility, these cottages contain the necessary medical equipment for any care needed. They also make it convenient for “family-managed” care and for the person to stay integrated into family life, but have private quarters.
I wonder if my mother would have liked that. In her final years, she did not socialize. She sat prettily in her chair by the window in her nursing home. All dolled up—polyester pleated-skirt dress, nylons, beads—with no place to go. She did not complain but would always light up when we entered her room. Living out-of-town, I could not visit often. If she had been in my backyard, she could have read all day in her chair, and I could have helped her into the house for dinner and given her the lotion rub at bedtime that she missed after my father died.
Another article, “’Living Room’ an alternative to ERs for mental illness,” tells about a concept that offers a person experiencing a mental health crisis “a more empathetic and calming experience that they might receive at a busy ER.” In addition to providing a quieter, more welcoming environment than a noisy fast-paced ER, it is more cost-effective. The article says, “if it keeps even two people per day out of the ER, it could save more than $500,000 per year.”
This makes so much sense. I remember patients admitted into the psych unit from the ER (where they’d maybe waited for more than an hour) that just needed a calm safe environment to de-escalate. Entering through a locked door into a bustling day room did not provide that. Being alone in their rooms did not provide comfort. In the Living Room concept, they enter a quiet room, home-like, with six or seven other patients, and with staff to provide immediate crisis intervention.
So what does a retired nurse do with this information? I can’t help but think about going to work in those places. I envision caring for an older person in her Med Cottage or a distraught person in her Living Room. I imagine both places to be slow-paced, warm, and caring. I can see that some recipients of care would be much better served there than in traditional institutional environments.
And, if we were in similar situations, isn’t that what each of us would want—a warm caring place with warm caring caregivers? Meanwhile, I’ll keep being my own classroom—reading , listening, wondering, and marveling at new information, new ideas, new dreams. New ways to grow.