Aging Together: A New Way to Avoid Late-Life Loneliness

Life's Belongings in Three Plastic Bags

The other five began to get together after that. They went on a trip to the Priwall Peninsula, on the Baltic Sea, where they sat on the beach together. Heini said a few sentences to Erika. He became bolder. At Christmas, the five seniors went on another trip. After that, they began looking for an apartment, finally settling on the third apartment they had seen. They moved in a year ago. When they picked up Heini, his possessions fit into three plastic bags. The moths had destroyed most of his clothes.

Heini makes coffee in the kitchen every morning. When he worked, he was always the first person to show up in the morning. The next person to appear is usually Peter, a lanky 73-year-old with gray hair parted on the side. When he retired, Peter started building model ships, which are now on a shelf in his room. He never finished one of them. Peter had a stroke and has been paralyzed on one side of his body ever since. He has recently been thinking about finishing the last ship.

Of course my parents think about getting older. Actually, it's my mother who thinks about it, while my father just goes along with what she says. They have prepared a living will and issued the necessary account authorizations, and they are thinking about what their lives would look like if one of them died.

My mother's brother now lives with his wife in a retirement home. There are no flowers, and residents are not allowed to put up their own pictures. My mother thinks it's intolerable. She says that as long as there are two of them, they'll stay in the house with a live-in care worker. And if one of them dies, the other one will move into a nice retirement home in the city, where each resident has his or her own apartment. My uncle wouldn't be able to afford that, and neither would the five people in the shared-living community. Money plays an important role in aging comfortably, but aging happily has nothing to do with money.

How Would My Parents Get On?

I've spent the last few months looking for an apartment for my parents in Hamburg. So far, they've come up with objections to everything I've found. I think it has something to do with fear, and with the fact that it would be the apartment in which the spouse who had survived the other spouse would be living.

Sometimes, when I observe the five residents of the Hamburg shared-living community, I imagine that it would also be a good solution for the children of elderly parents. It removes some of the pressure, and it takes away some of our frightening visions of our parents sitting alone in a corner somewhere, in a bathrobe and with unkempt hair.

In a shared-living community, my father could help Peter finish building his model ship. He has a workshop at home, and he likes doing that sort of thing. In a shared-living community, my mother would have someone with whom she could talk about books or her favorite TV shows. She also likes cooking for large numbers of people. She is more flexible than my father.

The next person who comes into the kitchen in the morning is Irene. She is 81. But sitting down at a set table is something new for her.

Irene is a slim, energetic woman with short hair, the kind of person who says: "I'm a housewife, and I always had something to do." She did everything for her family. Irene spent her Sundays on the football pitch with her son. She was 54 when her husband died.

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