November 22, 2017
(+++) ELABORATE FEAR FIGHTER
Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age. By Joy Loverde. Da Capo. $17.99.
This is scary stuff. Start by thinking: when exactly do you become old? You can imagine it as always being 15 years older than you are – both Bernard Baruch and Francis Bacon are credited with saying that. You can call it the time when you start paying less attention to what people say and more to what they do – Andrew Carnegie made that observation. You can join George Bernard Shaw in lamenting that “youth is wasted on the young.” Or you can take to heart the comment by 19th-century American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, “A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.” But homilies and witticisms aside, the only alternative to old age is one most people would not opt for: early death. Therefore, prescriptive books on how to handle getting old abound, and Joy Loverde, an eldercare consultant (there’s a job title that didn’t exist until very recently indeed), tries to lay out a simple-to-follow prescription for aging well in Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?
“Prescription” brings to mind health, and that is indeed one part of what Loverde discusses. But it represents only half the book’s subtitle, and it is a fair bet that anyone reading this work will be more interested in the other half, about preserving happiness – always assuming, of course, that health is there as a foundation. Loverde’s own relationship to aging is a somewhat curious one: she is described as “a leading consultant in the senior/active adult industry for thirty years,” and she writes about “the old people in my life,” but she is noticeably circumspect and thoroughly noncommunicative about her own age. In this context, that is a shortcoming: it is fine to write, as Loverde does, “Sixty is not the new thirty. Sixty is sixty.” But failing to be up-front about one’s own place on the age spectrum casts a more-negative light on the experience of reaching 60-plus than is warranted in a book whose author tells readers, “You must promise that from this moment on you will be completely honest with yourself about the fact that you are getting older.” Readers have the right to expect such honesty from the author as well.
The book is divided into five sections called “Personal Readiness,” “Where You Live Matters,” “Ties That Bind and Unbind,” “Safety Nets,” and “No Tomorrow.” Each section in turn is subdivided into chapters, and there are many dozens of concluding pages of worksheets, Web sites, books, movies, TV shows and other information sources at the end. This is not a book to be taken in hand lightly. Loverde uses one of the standard approaches of self-help workshops by starting chapters with “objectives” that she says can be achieved within the pages that follow. She also includes worksheets, numbered and unnumbered lists, and material for “Insights and Inspiration” at the end of each chapter. The result is that tackling this book seems like a big, big project. Whether that is Loverde’s point is not clear: tackling the needs of old age is a major undertaking, as she says repeatedly, but it is not certain that that requires making such a slog out of Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?
Readers willing to go along with Loverde’s well-organized approach will find some genuinely helpful guidance, as in the reminder that when making a difficult age-related decision, you should look back at difficult choices you have made earlier in life, such as deciding on a career, choosing whether or not to marry and whether or not to have children, or stopping a bad habit. However, Loverde’s useful thoughts all too often appear adjacent to much-less-helpful ones – such as observing elderly people of all sorts in order to see that some choices turn out well and some badly. The frustration of this book lies in the way its plethora of good thinking and good advice is so often juxtaposed with less-useful material or intrusive suggestions to go elsewhere for further information. Planning for old age is difficult, time-consuming and complex enough without being urged again and again to read more, watch more, see more, arrange more. For example, it can be daunting enough to contemplate creating an income stream after retirement – a list suggesting ways to do it that includes impossible-for-most-people positions such as keynote speaker, comedian and caricature artist does little to encourage readers to pursue this worthy goal.
Still, Loverde’s basic outline of the needs of aging is correct and helpful, and some parts of her book, such as her discussion about what to do if you want to age at home in your own community and how to compare that possibility with moving to an age-friendly location, are usefully thought-provoking. Her “No Tomorrow” section, an extended discussion of planning for one’s inevitable death, is very well thought through from an objective standpoint although thoroughly lacking in empathy – a difficult read on a very difficult subject. It will take a super-strong and super-patient individual to get through the chapter called “‘Just Shoot Me’ Is Not a Plan” and all the places it suggests consulting (13 interactive sites for discussing dying, 12 online “additional resources” on the topic, seven spiritual/religious Web locations to visit and explore, and many more). In one of her few self-revelatory comments, Loverde writes, “All my life I have lived with goalposts – relentless real-life demands pull me in every direction imaginable.” She then discusses the importance of slowing down, saying she herself has managed to do this. Perhaps – but she sets goalpost after goalpost after goalpost for the readers of Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? They are well-positioned goals that generally make a great deal of sense. But there are a lot of them, and there is no “slow it down” way of attaining them all for people who have things going on in their lives other than reading this book and following its suggestions. Loverde tries to gather everything into a single “Cross It Off Your List” chapter, encouraging readers to choose a time by which to do things and then write down the time they actually did them – a recipe for stress if there ever was one. And many will find these six single-spaced pages completely overwhelming, especially given everything that is involved in even one single item, such as “engage advisers,” “manage grief responsibly” or “research medical tourism.” If you did not feel bombarded and swamped by all the planning needed for a comfortable old age before picking up this book, you will very likely feel that way by the end – assuming you make it all the way through Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?