"It is windy today!"
"No it's not Wednesday today; it's Thursday!"
If you live in a retirement community, you may have heard a similar conversation followed by peals of laughter. I live in one. Actually it's not just a retirement community--it's White Sands La Jolla, which is really a stationary cruise ship docked in the port of San Diego. Lean over my balcony and the ocean is lapping at the beach below. I have a key to an outside gate that leads me right to the sand. If I don't want to go to the beach, I can walk down the hall, pass by the clinic with its 24/7 nurses, bump into a doctor five days a week, and exit to Prospect Street and be within walking distance to the drugstore (CVS), Von's supermarket, and a multitude of shops and restaurants or take a ride in our free limousine that does rounds of La Jolla every half hour.
This, of course, is after I've had my breakfast with friends in our dining room, open from 6:45 to 9 a.m., or at our soon-to-be-ready bistro, which will be open all day. There is a different entrée every morning--waffles or French toast or pancakes--as well as a different egg dish. My favorite is Eggs Benedict.
After breakfast and throughout the day, we have a choice of twenty exercise classes starting with acquasize in our 86-degree pool. Do I want Tai-Chi with a Chinese master or pilates? Yoga or dance aerobics? There is also Jazzercise; a stretch class; and balance, posture and fall prevention. I may decide to play ping pong, go to our weekly meditation session, or go to our art studio where I can learn to make mobiles or work with clay. We have an instructor to lead us in a current-events class and another for our music-appreciation class each week. We also have monthly political discussions starting with a video from a national "Great Discussions" group. Those of us with dogs have a weekly puppy playtime--after all, why should people have all the fun?
We offer day trips to San Diego and Los Angeles museums, the flower fields in Carlsbad, hikes, shopping malls, restaurants, and many local events. After dinner, our White Sands bus takes us to the opera, the symphony, chamber music, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe, Lamb's Players Theatre, and most of the other regional theaters. Our activities director gets us group discount tickets. We are not culturally deprived. On our own premises, we also have a monthly artist series with the likes of Gustavo Romero, who has played for us since he was eleven years old.
The residents have a large impact with over forty committees. Here is a partial list: library, travel, religious studies, bridge, flowers, new resident hospitality, movie, theater, singers, décor, food, and landscape. Our voices are heard by the administration and our suggestions and requests are addressed.
However, the best part of living here is the family atmosphere. We care for each other, and we have fun together. I often would like to linger in bed, but get up at 6 a.m. so as to not miss my breakfast group. We have been meeting together on a regular basis and know each other well enough to share our life issues: aches and pains and suggestions of tried remedies as well as the latest amazing grandchildren's doings are all part of the seniors' repertoire. I have recently become a great-grandmother and everyone was privy to the photos of those absolutely adorable twin boys.
No one needs to eat alone. Recently widowed residents are surrounded by and cared for by concerned friends. We eat lunch outdoors with frequent barbecues poolside. Together, we stop to watch a whale spouting in the distance, a school of dolphins swimming by, or the green flash at sunset.
I eat my three meals a day in our dining room. (I admit I have not used my oven in the twelve years I have lived here.) We can go to the daily buffet or order from a large menu; we can take food home or order room service. No salt, no sugar added, gluten free as needed--our menus have calories, carbohydrates, sodium, and fats listed. We eat healthily here.
White Sands provides four levels of care. I am in independent living with over 175 residents. Another 60 are in assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. No one ever needs to leave the premises. When my husband needed a catheter at 3 a.m., we did not go to the emergency room; a nurse was here for him. We have hospice care, too. As a non-profit organization, we have a benevolence fund so that if residents outlive their funds (as some have done), there is assistance available.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the amazing staff. Whether you need a picture hung or a spot removed from your carpet, there is always someone here within minutes to help out. Last night at 10 p.m. my TV went on the blink; within five minutes one of our security guards was here to fix it.
Studies have shown that people who live in retirement communities are healthier and live longer than people isolated in their own homes. I have friends who said they were "not ready to move." I ask: What does "ready" look like? Is it when they are so old or disabled that someone else, usually a child, has to make the decision for you?! I also know couples where the wife wishes to move, but the husband doesn't. I think it is because most men have been living in "assisted living" all their lives already.
My life here is wonderful. I have the freedom to devote myself to whatever interests me without any obligations or guilt that I'm not getting something done. I am on several resident committees, serve on three boards in La Jolla, and have four men in my life, all of whom have an essential trait in common--they drive at night.
I am a believer that as we age, we need to be in a community. For me, that community has been White Sands. I wake up early every morning grateful for that palm tree outside my window, the sound of the waves crashing, and the friends waiting for me at the breakfast table and throughout the day.