My folks returned to Japan yesterday after three weeks here with their four kids and 10 grandkids in New Jersey. As many of you know, my mom is in the advanced stages of cancer. They made the trip against the advice of her doctors, though her oncologist had finally acquiesced: “You can’t live for your cancer,” he’d said.
One issue we wrestle with is what happens after. Though she’s a full decade younger than my dad, chances are she’ll go first. Which means we’ll have to figure out what to do with the old man.
Pop’s American, unlike Mama, so it’s likely we’ll bring him back here. But he hasn’t lived in this country in 40 years, so it’s not like he has a community to return to. Although he’s still got many of his marbles—he still totters in to his ad agency a few times a week—he’s in his mid-70s and not exactly about to return to the tennis courts anytime soon. Three of his four kids live in northern New Jersey, so it makes sense that we’d settle him near us. But where? How? With whom?
He’s not eager to live with any of us. But we’re leery of him noodling around alone in his own pad. So on Tuesday, my brother George and I accompanied our parents to Sunrise Senior Living Center in Cresskill, N.J.
“More like Sunset,” Pop yukked.
“Or Senior Dying Center,” George added.
“Look,” I said, “is that a funeral home across the street?”
We like our humor black.
The place was gorgeous. The complex resembles an extremely high-end apartment building, with plush furniture in russet tones and large windows. It features quality dining, media rooms, activities up the wazoo—not to mention round-the-clock nursing care if needed. Seniors can live there independently, but there’s aid should they require. Kind of like daycare for old people.
What we are paying for, of course, isn’t the deep carpeting or the flower arrangements. It’s peace of mind. As you might guess, peace of mind don’t come cheap. A one-bedroom in the independent-living division costs at least $4,000 a month. That includes the Bingo but not the shrimp scampi.
It feels weird, entering the world of parental dependence. This is a huge and looming issue for Baby Boomers, I know, but I feel it’s too soon for kids born in the ’70s. Jeff D. Opdyke explores the topic today in an article in the Wall Street Journal:
The result is that adult day care, an industry that began in church basements with bingo and bag lunches, is becoming an increasingly important player in the burgeoning business of elder care.
National data are sketchy, but individual facilities around the country report demand is growing at between 5% and 15% a year, depending on location. The National Adult Day Services Association, a trade group, reports that these centers care for about 150,000 residents daily. But the actual number enrolled is much higher, since not every person enrolled in a program attends each day. By some industry estimates, adult day care serves at least 400,000 people nationally.
Those numbers remain relatively small, writes Opdyke, because there’s still a stigma associated with “care.” Well, not if you saw this place, my friends. I want to live there. Not in 60 years, but now. I’d be very happy wiling away my days playing cards and nipping sherry with my girlfriends, toddling out in chauffered buses to the A&P and the occasional Broadway show.
We didn’t see this coming, to be honest. We expected our Energizer Bunny of a mom to care for our dad in his old age, and after his final demise to remain in Japan but spend long months with her children here. Like the comedian Julia Sweeney says, though, cancer is God saying “ha!” to your plans. And so here we are at the Sunrise, wondering when the sun will set, and what we’ll do without her in the dark.
Oddly, Mama is the only one who’s smiling as we leave. I finally understand it’s a look of relief. It’s not our peace of mind that matters, I realize. It’s hers.