What’s it really like, those first days at a retirement community?

Jul 11, 2015 | Ann Burnside Love

By Ann Burnside Love

Ann-LoveFor weeks I‘d imagined the scene: On my first full day as a new retirement community resident, I would leave my pile of boxes and go down in the elevator for lunch, and walk the curving hall, with big windows overlooking the lovely pond with fountains and water lilies, to the dining room entrance. Study the lunch menu in the lighted case for the first time, then walk into the dining room and find a seat. By myself. Surrounded by examining eyes.I’ve been on my own for a lot of years: Decades ago, as a young widow, I founded a little marketing company that grew way beyond anyone’s expectations. Traveled the country to clients alone, been in professional meetings with total strangers. Circulated and made new acquaintances in crowded rooms. Eaten in lots of restaurants alone. Confident and independent, you bet. But now it would be different. I would be a newcomer, no longer in charge. This entrance …

It’s a good thing my imagination hadn’t completely overworked the dining room scene: When that first day actually came, I paused in the dining room doorway, several faces lit up and a lovely woman who would become a good friend walked up and rescued me, invited me to her table and introduced me to her friends full of smiles and greetings. She explained the food ordering process, so I was ready for the waitress’ arrival. My shoulders relaxed, and I genuinely enjoyed the first of what would become hundreds of meals in that bright, pretty dining room.

Most newcomers’ vision of comfort is that as soon as they unpack, get all the electronics hooked up and get through a few other settling-in hurdles, they’ll be ready to branch out. Guess what? We discover that unpacking the last boxes isn’t nearly as important as making new friends. Saying “yes” to an invitation, even to something that’s not usually at the top of your list, might be a good plan during the early days. New relationships will form over time, which are more valuable to your daily life than creature comforts.

This is when you find it was a very good thing to make this move before you had too many major ailments, limitations or were too frail to participate in the activities that interest you most, including your own hobbies you’d planned to spend time on during these years. I wish I had a quarter for every senior who says:  “I’m not ready yet!” — and later finds themselves not in good enough health to qualify for independent living.

I sincerely hope “all of the above” helps you see the value in making the decision to “right-size,” as they call downsizing today, before you’re forced to — and your children or others have to make decisions you’d rather make yourself.

Let’s keep the conversation going!


Latest Insights