What Does It Mean to Grow Old Alone?

Laura P.

Laura P.

On February 1st this year, my 78-year-old uncle suffered a severe seizure. Although he’s recovered physically, he hasn’t regained his former mental acuity. Following a hospital stay and stints at a nursing center and an assisted care home, he’s now living in a graduated-care senior living community. He can no longer drive and relies on the assisted living support in his new home for meals, house cleaning, and reminders on medications and bills.

The house he lived in for decades recently sold, a recognition that he’ll never go back to how he was. Just like that, he lost his independence in life.

When I first heard what had happened to Uncle Tom, I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” With every twist in his saga, I wonder if I’m looking at my own future. Tom and I are a lot alike, you see.

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Embracing life after a suicide attempt

From the moment I was admitted to my first psychiatric ward, I was desperate to get out. I hated the smell, the food, most of the staff, the routines, the magazines. I hated the sagging mattresses, the glassless funhouse mirrors, the furniture, the isolation rooms. But as much as I despised the place, there was one saving grace for me there: the other patients.

Many had absolute horror stories. Stories of abuse, self-mutilation, combat, rape, starvation. Stories that made this liberal lawyer reconsider taking up criminal prosecution. But others had stories like mine. Happy childhoods. Mild traumas possibly but nothing extreme.

In the end though, we were all the same. We were all seriously ill; we all desperately needed help, and we all resented the fact that we needed it. What’s more, we were all acutely aware of the classified, top-secret nature of our conditions and whereabouts. This wasn’t paranoia. It was self-preservation. People tend to look unfavorably upon the mentally ill, especially those of us who’ve ever been hospitalized.

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Man of the House


I’ve had many humbling experiences in my life, including voluntarily going homeless for one week every year as part of an awareness-raising project. But my most humbling experience so far has been being unemployed.

Since I left my job in October, I went from being the man-of-the-house to the man-in-the-house. My new househusband role begins at 6:45 am when I wake up to make and pack my wife’s lunch. By 7:15 am, I’ve also ironed her clothes. At 7:30 am, I’m warming up the car to drop her off at the train station fifteen minutes later

After that, phase two begins. I make sure the house is clean, the laundry is done and dinner is made while also searching and applying for jobs. It sounds easy enough, right? Let me tell you, it’s one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever done and I’m still trying to get it 100% right. I have a new respect for women and men who take on the role of homemaker. And, I can only imagine the work it takes to be a stay-at-home parent.

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