Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Living amongst old people in Hawaii, Part 2

As I've mentioned before, I stayed four days with my grandparents at their FAMOUS RETIREMENT HOME in Hawaii. I'd been there before, but never without the rest of my family and never overnight. So on this visit, I had more time to take in the atmosphere and more of a chance to get to interact with the residents than I had on my previous visits.

My grandparents love living in their retirement home. While they probably miss their old house (I know I do--they grew mangoes, lychee, starfruit, strawberry guavas, figs, bananas, and avocados!), they reached a stage where it was too much effort to care for the house and cook all their meals, and living in the retirement home gives them some peace of mind that health assistance is readily available should it be needed. But in addition to the obvious benefits of having meals cooked for them and a clinic downstairs, living in the retirement home is a little bit like being in a college dorm. Their friends live right down the hallway, they see them all the time, and they eat in the same dining hall. They can join a number of clubs; my grandparents do line dancing and ukulele (the first syllable is pronounced "oo" not "you"). They can check their email in the library and take out books or movies. They can sit out in the garden. They can attend free shows (though nothing's really "free" since they're paying to be there--just like in college). They have parties for special events (I went to their St. Patrick's Day party). It's college without the classes!

Except that graduation from the retirement home is death. It's not a nice way of putting it, but it's the sad truth. In a rare moment alone with my grandfather, as we sat on the bench outside waiting for the taxi to take me to the airport, he remarked, "It's kind of sad, because your friends keep dying." In the mail room, there are two bulletin boards right next to each other: "New Residents" and "In Memoriam." When I was there, the boards showed that a woman had just moved in and a man had just passed away on Friday. Seeing their two photos next to each other highlighted the cycle of retirement homes: one person dies, another person moves in to replace him. This new woman is signing in as a new member of a club where she will likely remain until her photo lands on the adjacent bulletin board.

It is a little overwhelming when I realize that some of these people are four times as old as I am. How much experience and knowledge they must have! How many memories! We young people may criticize them for having old-fashioned taste or what we deem out-of-date values, but it is difficult to deny their wisdom. They have a perspective that we won't have for what seems like an eternity to me. And yet they are stuck in weak bodies with poor hearing and eyesight. Young people roll their eyes and sigh at them when asked to repeat themselves for the fourth time. "Youth is wasted on the young." I always hated that saying; I didn't see any truth in it until now.

At the St. Patrick's Day party, I overheard one resident, who had moved in relatively recently, say to the other residents at his table, "I love living here so much, I want to live here until I die." An older resident replied, "Good, because you will." As a 23 year old, I cannot come to grips with being at a stage in life when such things can be said. What do you do, knowing that your greatest accomplishments in life have already happened? Talk about your children, your grandchildren, the past. Learn some new things (like how to play the ukulele). It's senior spring, you're in the home stretch. Enjoy it. Graduation's coming.

View from my grandparents' lanai. It was actually a beautiful full arc double rainbow at one point (you can see a trace of the double rainbow in this shot), but I couldn't fit it into one camera shot, so I couldn't do it justice.

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