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When you know your aging parents have found home

February 21, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
When Annabelle Gurwitch started to look for a retirement community for her aging parents, she discovered there are limited options for those on a limited budget. But despite some early bumps and disappointments, the support her parents ultimately found turned out to be priceless. Gurwitch, author of “Wherever You Go, There They Are,” shares this essay.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: perspective on America’s elderly from a once-worried daughter.

America’s aging population continues to explode and will double, from 46 million today to 98 million by the year 2060.

This week’s IMHO, In My Humble Opinion, features Annabelle Gurwitch. the author of the book “Wherever You Go, There They Are.”

ANNABELLE GURWITCH, Author, “Wherever You Go, There They Are”: When my sister and I stepped in to help our declining parents, there were finances and insurances to detangle.

We wanted them to move nearer to us, but they needed to stay close to their doctors. Now, the aging-at-home option has been touted as a cost saver, but it doesn’t address the isolation and loneliness that marks life for many seniors.

So we started looking for the next place. It turns out there are few resources for the middle class. We found palatial residences like the one I think of as villa grande with wine tastings and white table dining, or villa even more grande with personal butlers and architectural layouts named for Picasso and Renoir. The Michelangelo was the size of New Hampshire.

I started waking up in the middle of the night just to search the Web. Just how much are kidneys going for these days?

My parents had champagne taste, but were on a box wine budget, and the place that we found was something of a letdown. It wasn’t the most up-to-date. It was hard for them to get used to the traffic sounds and the bright lights outside the facility.

My parents were Jewish, but not observant. And my father was caught on more than one occasion smuggling bacon into the kosher cafeteria, while my mother found it upsetting that, at the exercise class, which included people in wheelchairs, they played the song “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

There were small victories. My mother lobbied for K.C. and the Sunshine Band, so the still ambulatory residents could shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake their booty every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

But my mother still had trouble making friends, because depression can keep you trapped inside your shell. Now I was waking up in the middle of the night wondering if I should move closer to them, but my son was in high school, and I’m a writer and performer who is often on the road.

And then something remarkable happened. My father’s health deteriorated, and this community rallied around them, visiting, helping out, making sure that my mother had someone to have meals with.

One night, my mother’s new BFF, Helen, and I went for a stroll, and she took my arm. And I had no idea what had happened in Helen’s life that had brought her to the same place as my mother, who she loved or who loved her, but I took my first deep breath in months.

Villa grande wouldn’t have been right. My house wouldn’t have been right. They found a family, which was more than what any of us could have hoped for.

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