Dear Carol: You seem to be level-headed in your answers to adult children so I’m writing to you even though I’m the parent.
Here’s my situation: I’m 78-years-old, and for several years I’ve lived in a retirement complex that I truly enjoy. It’s the type that can offer me assisted living services if/when I need them. I wasn’t particularly active in the community prior to the COVID-19 pandemic because I prefer lone activity, a fact that’s made adjusting to our current isolation easy for me. My health is good. I’m an enthusiastic reader and can order library books online that my family will drop off. I’m computer literate and take part in online groups for both enjoyment and education. My church groups are also online. In summary, I am content.
The problem is that, because of COVID-19, my daughter’s family has been begging me to move in with them. They’re doing this because they love me and I deeply appreciate that because I love them, too, with all my heart. I just don’t want to live with them or anyone else. We visit over video on Sundays and we message daily. Am I selfish for wanting to stay in my own apartment where I’m comfortable and happy? — SL.
Dear SL: While you may be more self-sufficient than many older adults, you are certainly not selfish and possibly not as unusual as conventional wisdom would imply.
We can’t ignore the fact that loneliness and isolation are killers for older adults and even before the pandemic, they nearly epidemic in proportion. For that reason, we rightly hear about the need for older people to socialize and the damage that they can suffer from long-term isolation.
Given your personality, though, you seem to be making the correct choice for you. You obviously love your family deeply, but you want your independence from them and theirs from you. You have an online social life and the ability to pursue spiritual and intellectual interaction and support as you wish. You find company and enjoyment in books and are, as you state, basically content.
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Are you unusual when our whole aging population is looked at? Perhaps, but I will state emphatically that you are not alone in your preference, either.
For various reasons, many older adults want to live independently from their families — including some with serious health concerns. While it may be true that some don’t get along with their adult children, far more of them are simply content living alone.
Additionally, many don't want to place caregiving burdens on their children. That is not to say that they don’t appreciate occasional assistance from their children. What we’re addressing here is cohabitating with their extended family.
Enjoy your life, SL. While your family might worry about you contracting COVID in your current home, no living arrangement is completely safe from the virus. For your sake and theirs, continue to take good care of yourself, but enjoy your life as you want to live it.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.