A first time painter
The two unspoken words hanging in the air at the townhouse in Brampton, outside Toronto, where Frances and Lorne Seyler live are “for now.”
Lorne, 81, was driving home from hospital last year with Frances, 72, when they spotted a sign advertising the townhouses at Chartwell Select Greenway Retirement Village.
Before they left, they had agreed to rent a sunshine-bright end townhouse with a huge side yard where their children and grandchildren love to come for barbecues.
What makes it different from a conventional townhouse is that the main Chartwell retirement residence—a welcoming building of warm textures and delightful spaces—is just steps away. Their rent includes one main meal a day at the residence, but with Lorne, who does all the cooking, getting used to his new kitchen, they mostly eat at home. For now.
“When we moved here, part of the reason was health issues,” says Frances. She has difficulty walking any distance; Lorne has had a heart attack and a stroke, although he seems fighting fit now. In an emergency, a doctor and nurse are available at the press of a button. The couple is switching to the residence doctor because, says Lorne, “Our old doctor is way too busy for us.” There are adjustments. When she was told “the girls” would be in once a week to clean their house, Frances said, “Pardon! What am I supposed to do?” The reply: “Come over here (to the residence) and play with us.”
So that’s what she’s done. Lorne is on the residents’ council; Frances went over to the library at the residence. “There was a painting class going on. I thought, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’” Lorne is confident that, especially if they add a lift for tackling the stairs to their bedroom, “We can live here to a ripe old age.”
Frances says if she were on her own, she wouldn't be so sure. Moving to the residence would mean getting used to a smaller space, but “I like going over there. I am a pretty social person.” Lorne and Frances love to show people their attractive new home. The move, says Lorne, “was the best thing.” But, he adds, “It’s not permanent.” It’s just the best thing for now.
Making breakfast every morning
“It became very lonely for me,” says Norma Fromer. The view over the lake from her condo was as beautiful as ever. But with her husband, Sidney, gone, it wasn’t the same.
They moved to the condo on Toronto’s waterfront 20 years ago because Sidney was a keen sailor. It was perfect.Then, in March 2009, Sidney died. Her three children and five grandchildren lived in the north end of the city, some distance away. Her first thought was to move to a smaller rental apartment nearer them. “But I knew it would not be very long before doing the shopping and cooking would be a burden,” says Norma, 86. “Why pack twice?”
Now, four months after she made the decision to move (her large condo sold in a single day), Norma sits content in her 18th-floor penthouse apartment that is flooded with February sunshine. Her daughter, Nita, who helped her search for a new home, lives only a block away from The Dunfield, an elegant new North Toronto retirement residence that everyone compares to a five-star hotel.
Norma makes her own breakfasts in her two-bedroom suite (“I wanted spaciousness.”) but has lunch and dinner in The Dunfield’s quietly sumptuous restaurant. She does aquafit twice a week in the pool. “You just get into your swimsuit in your apartment, put on a robe, and down you go!” She walks three times a week along the marked indoor trail and has joined the knitting group. And she can’t wait for spring to get out and about in her very central Yonge-and-Eglinton neighbourhood. But family is what it’s all about for Norma. “That’s become much more my priority,” she says. Nita is always popping in (sometimes they have cappuccino in the ground-floor bistro), and is in touch two or three times a day. Norma is closer to daughter Susan and son Lorne and her grandchildren.
“Her quality of life is so much better,” Nita says of her mother’s move. “Her unit is lovely, she’s surrounded by people and she’s still in good health. And it’s so central.”
What counts most? “I would put family first,” says Nita. “I think my mother feels very fulfilled.”
Baking muffins for guests
Moving—don’t we all hate it! Peggy Samson actually broke down and cried when a nephew asked what she was going to do with her crystal when she and her husband, Alex, moved to their new apartment at Delmanor Northtown in Toronto.
But all’s well . . . Alex and Peggy hired Red Coats Moving Solutions, one of the burgeoning number of moving companies specializing in moving seniors, and the firm helped them sort what was going to the new place and what would be sold or given away. The furniture was measured, tapes marked where it would go in the new place, and at 6 p.m. on moving day, Peggy and Alex walked into their lovely two-bedroom apartment with everything unpacked, in place and waiting for them. And they were ready to start a new life.
In picking Delmanor, they walked the neighbourhood first and liked it. Most important though, it’s on the subway. Most days Peggy, 86, takes part in the Fitness and Fun program, even using weights to help a troublesome back.
“Tuesday is my day off,” she says. Then, she and Alex, 87, head downtown on the subway. She loves the dress shops—so much more selection downtown—and they both enjoy people-watching. And then it’s home to their “five-star hotel,” as they call it. “I liked the size of the rooms,” says Peggy. “We both have our own space.”
The staff is so helpful, says Alex, and phone to make sure they’re okay if they miss a meal or exercise class.
The surroundings may be sumptuous, but Alex says they are able to pay their monthly all-inclusive rental out of their combined work pensions and old age security.
Regrets? Alex misses his $7,000 organ, which he gave away to a church, so he goes to the nearby public library where there’s a piano he can practise on.
They make breakfast (usually porridge) in their suite, then eat their other two meals in the handsome dining room (where it was Italian day when we met, with wedding soup and lasagna among the lunch offerings).
Peggy, though, still hankers for her own baked goods, so she plans to make some of her famous bran muffins with cranberries, storing them in her freezer, ready to bring out for visitors.
Carleton Place, Ontario
It was something Joyce Jones hadn’t expected: the feeling of control! We’re talking about ham and scalloped potatoes, about snow-clearing, not to mention pickled beets.
Our story begins when Joyce, 82, told her niece, Beth, she’d been to see an Ottawa retirement residence.
“Put on your coat, I’m taking you to see Waterside,” said Beth. A few days later, Joyce selected a suite at the almost-completed Waterside in Carleton Place, Ontario—the city where Joyce grew up and Beth lives.
She moved in on a sunny day in January 2009. Beth was there to receive the furniture, “She even had the shower curtain up by the time I arrived,” says Joyce.
From the start, Joyce loved the location—beside the Mississippi River where she and her friends, some with their dogs, some using Nordic poles, love to walk—the saltwater pool, the Shores dining room and so much more.
What she hadn’t expected was that when she mentioned ham and scalloped potatoes was a favourite dinner, it would soon be served. That when she remarked she hadn’t been to the St. Laurent shopping centre in an age, the Waterside bus took residents right there.
When she told one of the servers, Jessica, that she loved pickled beets, Jessica, who lives on a farm, brought her in a jar.
Right beside the mail box (“Mailman” Gary O’Meara is a regular entertainer at Waterside) is a suggestion box. Suggestions are considered and reported on at monthly meetings. Clear more paths in the snow? It will be specified in the next snow-clearing contract.
The resident revolution starts, says community director Marilyn Colton, with a “holistic assessment” of health and interests when new residents arrive. “You play bridge? We’ll start a bridge club. Yoga? Consider it done. We’re here to make your quality of life better, to increase your longevity.”
Joyce, just as business-like as when she was an executive assistant, is down to breakfast by 7 a.m. If she spots anyone checking out Waterside, she tells them, “If you want anything done here, all you have to do is mention it. It means a lot to us.”
At Waterside’s first anniversary party, they gave Joyce a certificate—appointing her “The Ambassador.”
Still young at 91
The heroes of this story are Mary Stephens’s four kids. They kept on at her to move, says Mary, 91. “I said, ‘I’m not interested. I’m not going to move into any retirement home right now!’” Her reason? “You’re going to laugh,” says Mary. “I didn’t want to be with old people. I’m an old person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t laugh!”
Then her daughter, Nancy, took her to see Windermere on the Mount, in London, Ontario, and by the end of the afternoon, Mary had signed an application. She went home and sold her condo in less than a week.
The next step: she phoned Bridget Fournier, Windermere’s activities director, and said, “I want to come and live with you.”
Now, from her top-floor suite (“I have a bedroom and sitting room—it just looks like home!”) in the magnificent old renovated building, she watches the leaves and the seasons change. “It’s beautiful here,” she says on an early spring day. “I just got my car washed and it looks like new.” She takes exercise classes on Tuesday and Thursday and tai chi on Friday. She loves reading and playing bridge, “and here I get all the bridge I can handle.” She’s even met residents she knew in years gone by—a doctor she met in Florida, a woman who lived near her in Bayfield.
And now she can’t believe she was so reluctant to move: “In winter I didn’t really enjoy my life. I was stuck there unless someone picked me up.” As for those “old people,” Mary says that she has new friends and they have lots of laughs and jokes.
Mary received a lot of support from her children before and after the move. Her daughter and son-in-law in Perth, Ontario, sat down with her and showed her how she could afford it. A daughter-in-law who is a designer even helped her arrange her furniture and hang her pictures. “My kids are wonderful,” she says. “They are there for me every bit of the way.”
Free to get better
When is the right time to move to a retirement community? Leo and Maxine Nugent hesitated for a long time. Then five years ago, they sold their home and moved into The Manor Village at Rocky Ridge, in Calgary.
“For us,” says Maxine, 83, “it was the absolute perfect time.” A year after the move, Maxine needed major surgery.
As she convalesced in their apartment, there was a nurse at hand, food was taken care of, and Leo could busy himself with activities—and be home in minutes if she called him on her cellphone. “He was free to come and go, and I was free to get better,” she says now. Many people, says her husband, 85, fear they will lose their freedom in moving to a retirement residence. “But it’s the opposite: you are all of a sudden free of the things tying you down. You will never know the right time—until you make the move and then you find, ‘Why didn’t we do it five or ten years ago?’”
They have seven children. “She has done all the cooking she wants; she’s glad to be shot of it,” he says. Then with a twinkle: “And I really miss cutting the grass and clearing the snow!” There’s a preciousness to their lives now. “She has lost her energy and strength,” says Leo. “We walk a mile or so a day. We can see the mountains, and we breathe that clean mountain air.” He’s down every morning for stretching exercises.
Former neighbours come to dine with them (and they visit them in turn), and the week before their daughter from Quebec had stayed in their two-bedroom suite (a guest suite is available too). “The food is excellent,” says Leo. His favourite: coconut fish curry. But Leo still makes the marmalade they enjoy with breakfast in their suite every morning. On Fridays he joins the men’s poker group.
“One of the great things is the attitude of the staff,” he says. “They want to make our lives happy any way they can.”
“Only yesterday,” says Leo, “we were saying how right we were to come here.”