[Verla Wallace | Following is an article that was prepared for BCRTA.]

Often provoked, she cried at deaths, tragic losses, joy at the birth of babies. But this was different. She was alone, most of the time. The rest of the kids were out playing somewhere, but I surprised her when I came home early, unexpected, from my bike ride to the lake with friends.

It was a quiet cry that I almost missed because of her quick movement from a kitchen chair to the sink. She busied herself there, my mom, with some feigned chore. Her face was turned, but I heard the deep exhale of the controlled breath that in some moments stifles sorrow.

It was her fortieth birthday, and (as I learned later) she was responding to the belief that her life was over. There would be cake after supper and a modest gift exchange, but nothing much in her life would change for her. Five kids and a husband who often worked out of town and who left her car-less and bus-less at home to manage everything: bills, groceries, flooded basements. And chickens!

The year was 1958, before women of her era believed the axiom: “Life begins at forty”. And things didn’t change much for her for the better, though still to come were the long-overdue upheaval of her marriage, older children who managed pretty much on their own, and a brief interlude finding work again as an R.N. Her life went on until it didn’t anymore when she was sixty.

I turned forty in 1986, but I didn’t cry. I wasn’t alone, most of the time. Born in a very different era, I was convinced that life did indeed begin at forty. I was busy with indulgences I could enjoy: gratitude for a career that I Ioved, a stable marriage, two sons, many friends, and leisure time.

Now seventy-five and widowed, much has changed for me in the last decade; I see many similarities between my life now and hers then. When I sold the family home in 2019, I sold a lifetime. “Pops” had died in 2015. The houseful of boys had long since departed. The “posse” had families of their own by then. Gone were the camping-in-the-yard weekends, the fire pit, and birthday barbeques. Picture albums stirred memories of holiday celebrations, of anniversaries and engagements, and of a backyard nuptial or two.

The dwindling numbers in my extended family make me anxious—deaths, tragic losses, and the birth of only a few babies—my family is diminishing. I don’t want to spend the next years of my life alone. I want neighbours to laugh with. I want to go to the pool in the morning, come back, trap someone into a conversation and share a cup of coffee in the Common House. I want to plan a social event and learn how to refinish a cabinet. I know I can cook a community meal, babysit a preschooler, walk a dog, organize a work bee. Just ask me.

But even these wants and can-do’s are muted amidst the cacophony that children will bring. I look forward to the daily chaos of kids who will live in my cohousing community. I will be uplifted by their impromptu antics. I will catch Barbie (in her pink convertible) at the bottom of the slide, right an upended toddler, unjam a wagon, play a board game. I will watch them grow and experiment and overcome challenges and mature into confident, caring young adults. I will applaud at their productions, recitals, and celebrations in the Common House.

Four or five nights a week, I will share a community dinner with my friends and their families cooked by the evening’s “chefs”. It will be my turn one night a month. The other nights I will cook in my own condo, or maybe not. A senior’s life in cohousing is busy with choices.

I am hopeful that my 7-year-old grandson will love cohousing, too. Born in Alberta, he has been to BC only twice. When he was 2 years old and his Grampa was lingering in the hospital, I wrangled him up and down the halls of that hard, grey, granite space— “QUIET PLEASE!”—while my son and many loved ones shared Pops’ last days. My grandson doesn’t remember his West Coast family. Because his first cousins are many years older than he is, he will never know them as peers. It’s all so complicated.

But he will have a cohousing family: seniors who will indulge him, adults who will support him, and friends who will welcome him. And they will always be there for him—Cohen, Brett, Jordan— when he comes to visit Gramma. We will still do the Gramma-together-stuff, of course: visit the aquarium, Stanley Park, the beach. We will probably take 2 or 3 other cohousing friends with us on an outing, and he may join a friend’s family when they have an adventure of their own. So I know when he is old enough to come alone, he will be excited to come to Gramma’s house.

Research shows that seniors in cohousing live about ten years longer outside of senior care than do their cohorts. If my life expectancy is ninety-two, I’m banking on sharing many of those years with my grandson when he comes to visit me and his cohousing forever-friends.

If you are thinking about transitioning into a “village” of authentic living wherever it may be, visit the Canadian Cohousing Network at: https://cohousing.ca/

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