Let’s Grow Old Together
Written by Kristi Guillory Reid
Society has many ills, but the one that causes more angst and fear than others – aging. We are constantly bombarded with everything from subtle cues to outright messages that aging is wrong. All wrong. I guess we should all head to our nearest plastic surgeon to get nipped and tucked at the first sign that we no longer look 22 years old. While society seems to willingly separate the elderly from the rest of us, there are those among us, like Steve Gurney, who willingly look to our elders for insight and who want to test our views of aging.
Steve Gurney, Publisher of the Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook, is an able-bodied 43 year-old, who is making it his business to live in a retirement community. When I learned that he had lived in a retirement community, I had to do a double take, but once I chatted with him, I more than understood his motivation as well as his passion to help the elderly.
Gurney stumbled into his career as a specialist in elder care. When he graduated from college, Gurney didn’t have a set career path, but he had an idea — an idea to produce a guidebook for senior living options. The spark for this idea came from his grandfather who lived in a senior community while Gurney was in college. Gurney thought that if he put one guidebook together this would be a good thing to boost his resume and that would be it. He received such a positive response from that first guide book that he just decided to continue to produce them, and the rest is history. Gurney’s Guide to Retirement Living provides a comparison of retirement communities in DC, Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and Philadelphia.
Gurney’s blog on his experiences living at retirement communities is aptly titled, “Everyone is Aging.” He noted that in our society, we tend to feel that aging begins once we get our AARP card, but he said that aging begins on the delivery room table. He said that he is aging at the same rate of his children, aged three and six. What he said is not new information, but it seemed new when he said it in this manner.
Why move into a retirement community? As Gurney describes it, the idea came to him in a sort of haphazard way. There were a series of events that seem unrelated but all seemed to connect in Gurney’s mind making this the logical next step for his study of the world of elder care. One event that contributed to his move occurred when he was dropping his children off for their first day of school. His children asked him about his own first day of school. He noticed that his kids took his words to heart because he had gone through the experience and this made him an “expert.” Around the same time frame, he happened to have a meeting at the Paul Spring Assisted Living & Retirement Community in Alexandria. As he reflected on what it means to be an expert, he decided to ask the folks at Paul Spring if he could live at their community for a week. In order to be a real expert in elder care, he wanted to do more than compile information for his guidebook, but wanted to experience what it felt like to live in a place where he has visited often before, but never stayed there. Surprisingly, the representatives from Paul Spring fully supported his decision to move in.
This past February, Gurney moved into Paul Spring for one week. Gurney wanted to capture his “feelings and emotions” of that week, which is something often overlooked when we consider the process of selecting a community for a loved one. When he announced his plans on his blog, folks wondered how he could truly experience what it feels like to move into a retirement community when he his only 43 and is in good health? He wanted to experience the week at Paul Spring as an able-bodied 43 year old, not as someone who was trying to act as if they were old with faux disabilities. He wanted this experience to be authentic, more than anything else. He wanted us to see that retirement communities could very well be a place for healthy people of a variety of ages.
Gurney said that his short time at Paul Spring provided him with so many lessons. Here are a few things that he learned that we may all be able to incorporate in our lives:
Death—We die at every age not just at advanced ages. We need to talk about death more, as the residents of these communities do, so death is not so jarring when it occurs.
Don’t play by the rules—We need to go outside of the box and color outside the lines when we think about caring for the elderly. We need to have the courage to do different things that work for us and our families.
Everyone has a story—He wonders why we keep the elderly segmented and segregated from the rest of our society. These are the most treasured individuals in our society and they have stories that should be shared with all of us, especially the next generation.
What’s next for Steve Gurney? On August 19th, he is moving into another retirement community, The Residences at Thomas Circle in Washington. Here is the catch—he is bringing his six year old along with him. He chose this community because he wanted to go to a community in an urban location, and a location where he could live without a car. He said that he realized that a lot of his persona is tied to ownership of a vehicle and he wanted to dispense with a car for a period of time.
He is also entering this experience with the knowledge that living in a place like this with a six year old may be challenging, but he definitely wants his child to be a part of this experience. Also, by living with his six year old, he will see this experience through the eyes of a child who has no prejudices, no preconceived notions about aging.
He will continue to record his experience via his video camera and his blog. If you want to see what Steve is up to, please visit his blog at www.everyoneisaging.com. Steve Gurney wants to inspire people in terms of how we view aging and how we care for the elderly.