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Aging Well

It still takes a village
      We count ourselves lucky to get old.
      Then what?
      This has long been the story of how life played out.
      Mothers raised their children; then children supported their mothers. Fathers less, whether because of their bad habit of dying early or their good habit of independence.
       Each family has this story to tell, and it is always bittersweet.
       I am learning my family variations of this story as I write Miss Cora Smith’s Last History Lesson, a memoir told through the letters of my first cousin, twice removed, on my father’s mother’s side.
       Born in 1880 and a twin for the first year of her life, Cora, was the youngest surviving child of Sophronia Katherine Smith, a mother of five widowed before she was out of her 20s. Once the Mississippi River made off with Sophronia’s eldest and only son, James, Cora’s fate was sealed.
       She was her mother’s social security. Her older sisters would marry and go on their merry ways. Cora would grow up to devote her life to her mother, supporting the two of them by teaching school in the village where she was born.
       Cora and Aunt Frone, as everybody but her family knew Sophronia, had a village backing them up. Cora’s sisters helped when they could make the time. In age and infirmity, the doctor was their mainstay.
       Today, many of us live as long as Aunt Frone’s 90 years.
       But as we age, we’re much less likely to have a dedicated child waiting in the wings or a village to help us. We often have to designate our own caretakers, and we have to make our own villages.
      Assuring our care and making our villages is the subject of this week’s paper. 
        Please! Don’t think you’re too young — or too old — to read it. 
        We’ve tested it on six generations in our office, and young to old, each reader has gotten an education. Just as how to manage the happy inevitability of aging is nothing we can take for granted, neither is it a subject we learned in school. 
        There’s lots to learn. On a subject so big, being comprehensive is impossible — as well as unreadable. Our approach to retirement and aging has been fivefold.
         First, we’ve compiled a Community Directory of key services for aging and aging well in both Anne Arundel and Calvert counties. 
        To that we’ve added a directory of Bay Weekly Partners in Your Care. These are providers of specific services that can help you — and your family — in your own life. They range from health-services providers … to financial planners … to attorneys specializing in estate planning, wills and living wills … to assisted living communities … to a store selling, renting and repairing mobility equipment … to computer troubleshooting for seniors … to people who come to your home to be your assistant in the tasks of daily living … to planners who work with you and your family to, in the words of Lynn Carr of Alliance in Aging, “create a road map for your future.”
        Many of these partners have also shared stories about ways they’ve worked with other families to create that caring village.
        Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle adds a charming column on retirement as the time to do all you longed to do when you were punching the clock.
         Finally, we’ve added a series of stories on the basics of aging and retirement, from Living Your Best Life to entry-level guides to Social Security and Medicare. 
        All together, you’ll learn that no matter what your situation you don’t have to face it ignorant and alone.
      It still isn’t easy. Bay Weekly colleague Susan Nolan testifies to that. Her family — husband, two children, small chicken flock and now a dog — has twice grown to include an aging mother, first husband Anthony’s and now Susan’s.     Aging can be a life stage as challenging, fast-changing and demanding as life’s earliest years. 
         But if you’re lucky enough to get to that stage, you’ll want to do it well — for your first chance may be your only chance.