I recently completed a new documentary about aging together. What happens when 25 senior citizens – the subjects of “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” (TRT 51min) – decide to form a cohousing community?
I live in a cohousing community called Silver Sage Village in North Boulder, Colorado. The film provides insights from six of my neighbors about their experiences and perspectives about growing old together. Everyone here is over 50 years of age.
How did the movie come into being?
Cohousing is a collaborative living arrangement. Residents own their own homes, live private lives but share in the ownership and upkeep of common spaces such the garden and common house.
It’s a challenging way to live, but living together more intentionally is a hedge against being alone and isolated through the twilight years of life.
In May, my next door neighbor’s Henry and Jean Kroll were facing the prospects of dementia which was later confirmed as Alzheimer’s Disease. After seven years, Jean had to move into a long term nursing care institution. Soon thereafter, my up stairs neighbor Gere Young was moved by her family into an assisted living facility.
Meanwhile, another resident moved and sold her place to a women with a debilitating health issue.
Times are changing at Silver Sage Village.
There there’s my story, which I’ve written extensively about in these pages. I faced a huge lifestyle change when I landed in the hospital two years ago on December 16h. I had a rare lung disease, couldn’t walk, was on a respirator. On top of that I developed a septic ulcer that was repaired. I made it home six weeks later.
Having to regain my strength and flexibility, I joined a yoga studio. I didn’t know much about yoga but one of my teachers gave a darma talk about the importance of community and how we are members of many communities that help us navigate through life.
That was the nexus of the movie – where community meets individual choice and the balance that must be struck between the two.
I put out a casting call and was surprised that I heard from so many men, but I wanted to focus on my neighbors who have or have had life changes while at Silver Sage Village. Dan Knifong has Parkinson’s, Jean has Alzheiemers, Jim’s wife Brownie is currently in rehab with an unknown nervous condition, any myself. Two others have mostly been in support roles.
The National Cohousing Conference happened in Durham, NC and I decided to attend at the last minute. I am new to the CoHo USA board and wanted to meet my colleagues, and see if there would be any interesting people there to interview.
I ended up talking with a gerontologist named Anne Glass from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and architect Chuck Durrett who is credited with bringing cohousing to the United States.
I wanted to find out about their theoretical ideas and see how they match up with real world experiences and perceptions of current senior cohousers.
The interviews were conducted by a colleague of mine Mary Ann Williamson. I wanted to keep arms-length from my neighbors hoping to get more frank information from them.
Through my reflections, I recount my continuing recovery and weave those experiences with the perspectives of neighbors with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and those who find themselves in supportive neighborly care giving roles.
Many thanks to my friends and colleagues Michael Conti and Chris Barrera who filmed the opening scene at the Little Yoga Studio.
Silver Sage Village residents:
– Lindy Cook (nurse)
– John Huyler (facilitator)
– Henry and Jean Kroll (retired PBS staff)
– Dan Knifong (retired professor)
– Jim Leach (Silver Sage Village developer)
– Alan O’Hashi (filmmaker)
Margaret Porter (retired federal government)
– Anne Glass phD (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
– Chuck Durrett AIA (The Cohousing Company)
– Larissa Ortiz (teacher The Little Yoga Studio)
Since showing the first cut to my neighbors on December 16th – the second anniversary of being hauled by ambulance to the hospital – “Aging Gratefully” has received a bit of buzz. I have a May 2016 screening in Salt Lake City; a screening in the San Francisco bay area in the spring and invited to show it in Glasgow, Scotland.
Now I have to finish the thing!