Re: Re: Aging In Place In Cohousing
From: Cher Stuewe Portnoff (
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2006 07:58:16 -0700 (PDT)
When Greg and I (67 and 60, respectively) had an in-house "values and needs" brainstorming session a few months ago, when we first started exploring co-housing. It confirmed that our attraction to co-housing had substance. We hadn't yet discovered that our ages might be problematic for an intergenerational community. (Now we know it is for some; for others, we are welcome but viewed as a potential near-future problem set; for some, it is not an issue. Community, know thyself and be open about this, for all our sakes.) We'll work this all out as we start visiting communities this summer. But meanwhile, here's a perspective from the outside looking in.

The age-related "values" side of things drives our attraction as much as the "needs," and neither are what you might think. We still value being in relationships of varying kinds with those older and younger than us, for fun, learning, and opportunities to be useful -- to care for and help out friends and neighbors of any age -- in some cases, to be "needed," as in "to make a difference."

We need to be viewed as individuals in the context of our distinct histories, characteristics, contributions and abilities, and present contexts -- not as (or just as) faceless members of the [fill in the blank] class or generation. We need to be useful. We need to be missed in a reasonable time if we don't show up where and when we are accustomed to showing up... something we may only need to have happen once or twice in a lifetime, but we realize in our present friendly, helpful neighborhood, it could still be a few days -- even weeks -- before someone investigates why we haven't been seen for awhile. Come to think of it, none of this has increased all that much as a result of aging -- we've always needed this.

We do think that both our values and our needs, met, combine to make us healthier, stronger, slower by far to falter physically and/or mentally. That's what we count on from co-housing -- the opportunity to be fully contributing members, to the limits of our capacities. But no guarantees in this life. We have slowed down over time, for example. So we have LTC and medical insurance for professional care if/when it's needed.

From community, as older persons, we'd ask for the opportunity to earn and
experience with our neighbors giving and receiving caring, good company on this life journey, laughter. Of course, we don't want to become a "burden." But to expect not to be a burden on others, at any stage of life, is an illusion. It's the nature of our relationships and the character of ourselves and those we choose to be with that makes our burdensome-ness light or heavy.

If we want guaranteed, all-purpose, long-term care, there are strangers (who also have the capacity to become friends of a sort) in assisted living facilities who can be paid by insurance, savings, or Medicaid to fill that role. For some of us, there are family members who have a built-in obligation, willingly or unwillingly. Eeewww. We don't need to add co-housing to the list of obligated caretakers.

When we hear about end-of-life experiences within co-housing communities, they seem like serendipity -- each experience unique to the time and people involved. Nothing that money can buy or contracts can assure. We see co-housing simply as what it is -- an opportunity for community and relationships to be realized, not a guarantee, at any age. Simple accommodations for the safety and quality of life of all of us -- children, elders, and everyone in between -- are the most we could ask, integrated into the dailiness of the infrastructure and fabric of life.

Life expands to fill vibrant communities to their capacities or pushes them slightly beyond; if one's personal life requires more, then, one finds a way to make do or moves on. No guarantees. We simply agree to all do our best and then life -- and death -- happens.

Cher & Greg
Columbia, MO, for now

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