Living in a small village of roughly 170 residents, I like the feel and energy of a wonderful waterfront retirement community called BayWoods of Annapolis. It is comfortable and friendly. It also is 15 minutes from our youngest daughter, her husband and two grandchildren, and 45 minutes closer to our oldest daughter in northern Baltimore County.
All is good. My words are similar to other ones that I have previously written. Please excuse my redundancy.
What differs this time is recognition of the inevitable grief experienced with the demise of friends coping with the ravages of advanced age. Proximity exaggerates the loss. I am observing, not complaining. It is a fact of life in a senior community.
This past year has been particularly difficult. Our immediate neighbor, a wonderfully engaging fellow burdened with a weak heart, died. He was beloved in our community. He was likable, accomplished and intelligent. He knew his fate. He accepted it graciously.
Two weeks ago, a neighbor two floors down died of diabetes. He fought a losing battle. He seemingly lost the will to live. He had led a full life until his illness sapped him of energy. His wife continues to live at BayWoods, the subject of plentiful compassion.
I do not ascribe grief simply to proximity. That would be foolhardy. Thirteen years ago, one of my very best friends died suddenly in Jacksonville, FL, his lifelong home. We typically spoke every two weeks. Our politics were similar. So were our values. I continue to mourn his death. I received the news just as I was leaving for church in Easton.
During 44 years in Easton, I felt grief-stricken when I heard about a friend’s passing. It struck me that friends and acquaintances in a community facing a terminal illness became secluded in their homes or hospitals, served wonderfully by Talbot Hospice. One would have to make an effort, hopefully welcomed by the family, to visit a friend and offer good words (whatever they might be). It was difficult and fulfilling.
In a place like BayWoods, you watch neighbors decline as they navigate illness and disability. They watch you. Their personalities still sparkle despite cognitive and physical challenges. It is sad. It prompts concern and sincere attention; being dismissive of people in decline may be understandable, but selfish, if not inhumane.
While this column may seem morbid and depressing, it is meant to examine the gratifying—and painful passage of advanced aging. Courage and grit are common to octogenarians. Giving up is not an option to most senior citizens. I watch with wonder as the number of 90-year-olds increases at BayWoods.
Readers may wonder about the headline since most of the content concerns grief, not joy. Though many people choose to remain in their home as they age and confront medical problems, some of us view communal living in a retirement community joyfully free of upkeep and maintenance characteristic of a former—and treasured–home.
Life is easier, albeit expensive.
For demographic reasons, a senior citizen community presents a close-up perspective on aging. As we all know, life offers trade-offs. Perfection is unachievable. My wife and I made a choice. We opt to see the joy while cognizant of the grief that accompanies the death of neighbors.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.