We’re too young, but let’s look at some Quaker retirement communities anyway and put our names down—it may take ten years to get a two-bedroom apartment."
"For now, our family, friends, Radnor Meeting, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and our favorite museums are right here; we’re very happy in our Wayne condominium townhouse, thank you."
Bob Crauder and I are in our early 60s, 15 years ago. We visit Quaker retirement communities in the Philadelphia area and are impressed by their facilities, care, and community. We’ll be well cared for at any of them and find friends from our yearly meeting and AFSC days. Their refrain is, "Don’t wait too long. Come early enough that you can make your own friends before you’re too old or ill, early enough to truly make this your home."
We put a deposit down on two communities within an hour of Philadelphia, "just for insurance." But we’re not ready. Underneath our unreadiness lies our spoken and unspoken fear of moving to the last place we’ll ever live, going there to die, even if not soon.
We can still climb our townhouse’s two sets of steep stairs. When we’re unable to do that we’ll need to move; or, if one of us dies, the other will be too lonely to stay. We do not want to become a burden to our children or to each other.
In 1990 I’m invited to teach a course on prayer at State College (Pa.) Meeting. I’m hosted by meeting members including Jane and Bart Jenks, who live at Foxdale Village. A newly opened Quaker retirement community, Foxdale is surrounded by hills, cooler and drier than Philadelphia, and enjoys the cultural offerings of this university town. I have a sense of comfort, of rightness there; we put down another deposit.
We visit Foxdale several times over the next dozen years, spurred on by old friend and resident Dan Frysinger, who is eager to have us come. Each time we like it better. Its cooler temperature will relieve my cumulative heat exhaustion from our years in Third World countries that has become more bothersome in recent Philadelphia summers. We do wish Foxdale were closer to Philadelphia, yet we watch our Friends in Radnor Meeting move into Quaker retirement communities just an hour away, return to Radnor once a month, then less and less often, and finally join a local meeting and make friends where they are. So, perhaps moving three hours away will not be so different.
While we continue to feel unready for such a move, we are in reality readier than we realize as we see friends and family no older than we, struggling with chronic ailments, needing more care than is available in their present homes.
Finally, in 2002, in our mid-70s, we ask Foxdale to put us on their "ready" list—meaning we plan to move within two years. We fill out forms—health, financial, social ("Will you miss your present community?" Yes!)—that make the move imminent and frighteningly real. Leaving our beloved home and community of 20 years is now certain—before, the move was always "in a few years"; now these "few years" are upon us! Even though we came to Wayne without children in local schools, dogs to walk, or local jobs, we have strong ties to this community—stronger, I note in my journal, than we realize. We ruminate on how to look at this move in a healthy way—perhaps seeing it as just another of many moves we have made in our married life? Not so; this one is different.
We find ourselves beginning to detach from our surroundings even as we don’t want to. I journal: "The looming reality of our leaving Wayne for Foxdale is beginning to affect me. I need to be aware of and fight against a gnawing sense of being warehoused as elderly—I know intellectually that this is not so, but my gut feels that this move may well take us out of the world."
I take this fear into prayer, admit that Bob and I are indeed aging. But we also want to enter this new world with the same enthusiasm that we entered other "new worlds" in our many moves, especially to Third World countries. This outlook takes a while to take root in me. We have to let go of our culture’s—yes, even Quaker culture’s—expectations that in order to be worthy one has to be doing something.
In January 2003 we visit Foxdale again, to be vetted—poked by the doctor to see if we’re still alive, have our finances scrutinized, and sit in a clearness committee whose members ask pertinent questions. We feel welcome with a sense that Foxdale will become for us another God-centered home.
In April, during a women’s retreat at Radnor Meeting, we are asked to delve into an area of noncenteredness that affects us. To my surprise, I write: "Getting older, especially my friends getting older and dying. Each news of an aged friend or relative’s death is upsetting, for it forces me to look at what is—I’m not at all ready to pack it in/cross over to the other side/or whatever happens, but the fact is that indeed I am also aging."
We begin the tedious work of sorting through the accumulation of 50 years of married life. We plan to distribute some furniture among our children, clean out the kitchen cabinets for the first time in 20 years and give the overflow away. We have the townhouse painted and the kitchen cabinets refaced. Realtors come to advise us. And we wait, slowly detaching yet still very much here. We finish our terms on committees and boards. As yet we haven’t told friends and family when we’ll be leaving, for we don’t know.
In mid-June Foxdale calls: an apartment will be available in the fall. Could we come in the next two weeks to look at it and decide? Bob and I give each other a look that signals: "So soon?" As the days pass we’re more relaxed—if not at ease—and our feelings rest on the possibility of moving sooner than expected. We can of course say no to this apartment. On the drive up I tell Bob, "Well, I’m certainly not going to take the first place they show us." He agrees. Three hours later, as we’re standing in the living room of apartment B-30, I turn to Bob: "Let’s take it."
Right after this visit, on our way to the Friends General Conference Gathering at Johnstown, Pa., we’re amazed at what we’ve committed to. But the Gathering week with family and Friends gives us space to begin to live into our momentous decision. One afternoon we bring our two grown children to Foxdale. That both like it is a gift to us and reinforces our feeling of rightness. Suddenly we realize that we’ve already told our news to the most important people in our lives!
The summer weeks rush past, filled with moving estimates and realtors. I bury my apprehensions in the minutiae of sorting and discarding; Bob is slightly depressed, finds sorting and discarding more difficult. Intellectually we know what needs to be done to have the townhouse ready to show prospective buyers; emotionally it seems too soon. Our home now looks like those who live there have no papers, no clutter! We feel we’re in a hotel where we have to stow things every time we go out so the maid can clean, only there’s no maid! We sell quickly, 20 years to the day we moved in! One hurdle is overcome.
Friends and neighbors express sorrow at our leaving; so do we. But we are, as Bob puts it, "on a roller coaster of an inexorability," looking forward now to complete the move. Many of our friends are familiar with State College—having attended Penn State University—and congratulate us on our choice of moving to "Happy Valley," the nickname for this area with its pleasant natural setting.
Friends arrange goodbye parties. One friend writes, "We’ll miss you terribly here, but remember, there are hundreds of new friends to make wherever you move."
We reflect on the truly important aspects of this move—not arranging furniture in the Foxdale apartment, but becoming part of the community, making new friends, finding meaningful volunteer work. I check in with John Corry to talk about Jesus and God—not that I’ve forgotten them but during these overly busy days my emphasis has been on doing, not being. God is here, with us, fully as always. I try to be here fully, also.
Then a time of the blahs sets in; we’re neither here nor there. I read mystery novels. The Foxdale contract is in the mail, the townhouse full of boxes. We sorrow at leaving this place we’ve loved—realize that sorrow at leaving means we can love another place.
Our long-planned September vacation in the Rockies helps us detach emotionally from Wayne. In the evenings we write change-of-address letters.
In late October, Radnor Meeting sends us off with a good-bye party. Our daughter, Elaine, speaks at meeting for worship that we not only did "good works" but had a wonderful time doing them, especially in Third World countries. Other messages are about truth and beauty. We feel well loved.
The next day the movers arrive. Bob and I float insecurely between a half-empty house and a local restaurant. By afternoon it is done.
Foxdale’s admissions directors hug us in welcome. We find more friends than expected, especially from Bob’s Philadel-phia Yearly Meeting Young Friends group of the 1940s and the Friends Ambulance Unit Old China Hands. We’re invited to dinners. Neighbors arrive with cookies.
We unpack. Maintenance staff put up pictures, shelves, give helpful suggestions. For a few days we feel we’re on a visit to a very friendly place, despite the boxes in the living room waiting to be opened.
Many residents have lived fascinating lives—we listen for hours—and we share our own. Many are deeply involved in social causes. We feel part of the life here as quickly as we used to in Third World countries where most expatriates’ tours were for two years and you moved swiftly to cement friendships with those who’d already been there for a year because you had only one year in common.
State College Meeting welcomes us; several members are from Foxdale. We now have two new communities: Foxdale and the meeting.
After a couple of weeks of organizing our spacious apartment—buying some needed items, getting to know Foxdale’s few written and unwritten rules—we realize we need to get off campus for a day. Perhaps we are spooked by the many wheelchairs and walkers, afraid of becoming "that old." On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that apartment residents and assisted living residents can eat together, part of one community.
We explore the town. I tell Bob, "I feel like a tourist!" He replies: "We are tourists. Remember whenever we moved to a new place, a new culture, we spent the first months exploring our surroundings? And this is a new culture, a new place."
My dreams are of coming and going, of changing clothes, places. . . .
Community living is joy and sometimes a burden. For some weeks, I occasionally feel I’d rather have dinner just with Bob, but old and new friends invite us to share their table. I feel my privacy invaded, realize that this is the price I pay for an always-available, supportive, classless, cheerful community that accepts us as we are. Later, when we feel the need for privacy, we just prepare dinner in our apartment. Living here begins to feel like a college dorm: we’re all in the same place in our lives. It also feels like a Third World expatriate community—close, self-selected; people arrive, make friends, fit in; at unexpected—or sometimes expected—times they check out.
After a month a let-down sets in, an "is this all there is?" feeling. It is seductive to be cared for this well—when the apartment needs some work we put in a work order and it is done; the pharmacy delivers to the door; nurse and doctor are there for us; meals are good and abundant. When it snows, roads and sidewalks are cleared for us. We feel too well cared for—we’re not that old yet! We need to become active in town and meeting and to go to Penn State events to balance our lives.
Five weeks after we arrive, we return to the Philadelphia area for Thanksgiving with family. A cousin asks, "What’s it like, being here again?" To my surprise, I answer, "It’s great to be back, but ‘home’ is in State College." Bob seconds that. When we return to Foxdale, we feel we belong, we’ve come home indeed.
We do admit to ourselves what we’ve left and miss: family, friends, Radnor Meeting, the Orchestra, for me the Shalem and dream groups, for Bob his squash club.
After two months, residents in wheelchairs and walkers have become part of the landscape. We realize that this might be us in a few years, hope that won’t happen, but accept its possibility with more equanimity.
After three months, I journal: "Much has happened to integrate us into this delightful community of diverse people. Bob’s happily involved in the financial aspects of Foxdale and is on several committees. So far, I’ve stayed away from committee commitments but am offering a month-long workshop on spirituality. Bob has a birthday and the apartment is filled with new friends eating cake."
A friend asks, "Are you glad you’ve come?" We answer, "Oh, yes!"