Last posting I broached a topic near and dear to my heart. The thought of spending our last days surrounded by friends who knew and cared about us in a setting called Old Friends Home. Anything would be better than being chucked into an impersonal nursing home paying exorbitant prices.
I believe we yearn for community, it’s in our blood and bones. Throughout the ages we’ve been banding together for comfort, safety and survival. It’s only been in the last nanosecond of evolution that the tribe narrowed down to the family unit and even more recently that the individual has muscled it’s way to the fore. But ultimately that is more of an empty existence than a fulfilling one. It is in the group setting that we reach our full potential for living and dying.
I’ve already mentioned that collectively purchasing a property is my ideal, but property ownership is always a delicate issue. Perhaps what’s needed is a collective bargain to let all live out their days on the land, and a clause to temporarily prevent heirs from claiming the property in probate so that no one gets booted out. Eventually it would have to pass to someone. (Yeah, everyone will die at some point.) But perhaps when the last one goes, the land could be sold and the proceeds split by the heirs, or whomever we designate.
I haven’t worked out yet how the last one or two people would afford to live there if they outlive their savings and social security has dried up. In a truly altruistic world, maybe it could be mortgaged to pay for the last few remaining friends. Any proceeds for the sale of the land after the last one goes could then be passed to the heirs. Maybe by then there will be some sort of Medicare or State agency that recognizes that funding small collectives like this is cheaper than expensive corporate nursing homes. Where I am in California there is the In House Support Services program that pays an hourly wage to caregivers of the handicapped, a situation like I am in now, where my roommate does all the house chores, cooks and helps me do things and gets paid for it. The agency thinks it’s cheaper to do that then put me in home, and they’re right. And I am much happier this way, too. I get to stay at home.
This dream has percolated in me for a long time now. One day, reflecting on the fact that this is California and long ago my sister started a non-profit “church” here, composed of psychic healers (now long defunct since she found Jesus) it occurred to me that maybe it would work to declare Old Friends Home a religious order so as to permit multiple families and dwellings on communal land. Can’t you see the hilarity that would ensue? The bulletin board plastered with notices: “Sister Kim invites you to a game of Cranium in the common room tonight at 7:30!” “Morning Matins for all the gardeners on Sunday as it is the New Moon in Scorpio and planting seeds are on the agenda.” “A guest teacher will be leading Tai Chi on the Big House lawn for Vespers.” Wouldn’t that be a hoot? But seriously, as my niece Brooke pointed out, from the time the early Christian church was established, they lived and shared together and no one was with need. I would add that these same orders provided free medical, hospice and traveler aid. So the idea isn’t all that far-fetched.
I know there have been a few Womyn’s Lands that have dealt with community living in various ways. It is an interesting prospect, creating a functioning village out of a group of friends. I believe Old Friends Home would survive better than Utopian enclaves or hippy communes due to a deeper commitment because it is designed as a final harbor, the last port in which our lifeboat will rest. There’s no where else to go but inward, sitting back and enjoying life as best you can with your favorite cronies around.
There is another aspect I’ve contemplated. What if we drive each other nuts? I’m banking on the fact that as old friends, we know each other’s quirks and also have mellowed out with age, but there is an interesting practice I came across awhile back when I was staying in a large share house in Melbourne, Australia. There was a meeting called once a month when necessary information was exchanged. Then we were all invited to honestly air any thing that was starting to bug us about anything going down in the house. The theory was that by letting annoyances out right away in a group situation where all could facilitate and work through the problem then what ever was wrong wouldn’t fester until it exploded in a horrible manner. Brilliant! And for the most part it really worked.
Besides, it doesn’t really need to happen until we’re at the stage where loneliness, down-sizing and beginning to need assisted care is kicking in, so everyone would be pulled together by desire and necessity and more open to getting along. But perhaps a charter might be good to draw up outlining the structure of making a functioning group. Maybe it could work as the United Nations, where a different member takes turns being the Grand Pooh-Bah. Someone who takes the lead in the direction the group could to go, like deciding to become recipients of an organic farm produce box once a week. Democratically voted on, of course. At least until we’re all gaga, then the one with the most brain cells left wins President for Life! Perhaps I’m over-thinking this. I see older people reach a stage where they are over the angst of living and come to a “whatever” attitude. That is what I mean by mellowing out.
My dream is not the only way this Old Friends Home could happen. A smaller group home, taking over a small quadplex apartment building, or adapting any existing, small property would do. Any place that gives everyone some privacy, some community, and close enough together to pool ones resources to hire help and then nursing as the need arises. Finances would have to be assessed to see what could be afforded.
Regardless how it’s done, that’s where I want to live. No back room hallway for me, baby. Let me spend my final days around faces I recognize, and even if I don’t remember them, I am comforted now knowing that they’d care about me anyway and I’d be well pampered and in surroundings that are familiar and nurturing, with fresh flowers from the garden by my bedside. Ones I may have even planted myself when I was able. As for now, let me plant this seed in your mind. Let it grow and spread to your best buddies. This dream may not happen for me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen for you and others. My recently departed friend, Fran, had a final request to her circle: Take care of each other. She is so right.