Reflections On Independence

By Sally Clement #2262

Do you remember when we RVers kept in touch with our families by snail mail? That was before laptops and smart phones. During 23 years of full-time RV travel, my pilot and I enjoyed the freedom to live on our timetable, going when and where we chose, smelling the roses along the way and finally accepting the reality that the passing years bring change.

During that time, I wrote two fictional letters, one to parents and the other to children, which appeared as articles in Escapees magazine in 2003. These mirrored my thinking at that time. I wanted to explain life our way, as full-time RVers, 21st-century nomads. Independence is a trait to be admired. But as time passes, life and circumstances change and so must my concepts and opinions. Nothing is set in stone, so “never say never.”

Letter to Y(our) Parents(July/August 2003)
I appealed to our parents to understand and accept our love of travel and our full-time RV lifestyle. I described real events when our grandparents crossed the country by train and sailed coastal waters along the East Coast. I mentioned World War I and the Great Depression, when hardship restricted our parents’ travel. I recalled the good times they provided us after WWII while we were growing up. I promised that we would always be available to return and help them adjust to their golden years and make changes to their way of living if necessary. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was shouting independence even then.
Letter to Y(our) Children(May/June 2003)
When I beseeched our children to understand our desire to continue
to enjoy the life we had chosen, independence was foremost in my mind. We apologized for not being with them for our grandchildren’s birthdays or for holidays that didn’t mesh with our seasonal travel itinerary. We wanted to sleep in our rig when we visited them.

It was fun meeting in new locations when their vacation destination or work took them on a road trip. I remember telling them that, when we decided to hang up the keys, we would not be parking in their “back yard.”

The next phase
In 2004, we parked on our lot and lived in our motorhome at Rainbow’s End while still enjoying trips by car, with seasonal stays in rental RVs north and south. During this transition, we gradually adjusted to a stationary backyard and unmoving scenery outside our RV windows. After three years at Rainbow’s End, I felt that, due to increasing health issues, we needed more structure in our lives. We settled in a friendly independent-living retirement community not too far from Rainbow’s End, in Houston, Texas. A year ago, after 50 years of great happiness together, my pilot husband moved to a memory care community a few miles away, so now I must navigate for both of us. As a result, my shouting about independence isn’t as loud as it once was.
Planning Ahead
Another decade has flown by, and I am still e-mailing but haven’t progressed beyond a simple cell phone. Up to now, my desire to remain independent overshadowed any thought of future physical impairment or incapacity or even normal aging. Despite good habits of exercise and nutrition, the body loses certain capability: balance, strength, reaction time, eyesight, hearing. It takes longer to recover from illness, and old bones heal more slowly. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other debilitating conditions are becoming more frequent the longer we live. My independent thinking is slowly changing. I am preparing for the future but living in the present.

Especially when separated from one’s grown children, it is imperative to designate a responsible person to make health decisions by phone. This is the power-of-attorney for health care, which includes the medical power-of-attorney and living will directive to physicians. (These are Texas terms and may be different in other states.) They are vital because a doctor may need to consult with this authorized designee when the parent is unable, frightened or unsure. A rehab facility may want to include this person in their care plan during the recovery. All RVers on the road should already have completed these important documents.

Another requirement for peace of mind is having a trusted person available to handle financial affairs. Bills must be paid, and even keeping up with a checkbook can be a trial when hospitalized in an emergency. Therefore, a general power-of-attorney is a necessity. This is usually granted from each spouse to the other. Normally, this document will not be needed while both are living. However, if one spouse will not be able to carry out the required duties, it is important to take this step while both are able. As with the health agent, a close relative may be appointed. Whenever serious life or health changes occur, these documents should be reviewed and necessary changes incorporated.

In the past it was common for generations to live together: aging grandparents, adult children and growing grandchildren. While many elders still return to live with their children, today there are alternatives. Continuing care accommodations, independent living, assisted living, short-term rehab, skilled nursing and memory care have become accepted options. The big surprise is that no one expected to have to shelter the boomerang kids. Economic hardships have forced even college graduates to move back in with their parents. Therefore, it behooves full-time RVers to think ahead and take advantage of their mobility to explore the possibilities before the need arises.

My Conclusions
While my philosophy has always been “do it yourself,” lately I have begun to observe some of my retirement community neighbors become wholly dependent upon their children. They regularly take their parents grocery shopping and to doctor appointments; they perform household maintenance chores; they even carry out accumulated trash and papers. While these tasks are performed lovingly in most cases, many adult children still have job responsibilities and grandchildren of their own to nourish. In too many cases, the parent becomes the child, and the child is now the parent. When that child/parent deems it necessary to take away a parent’s car and driving privilege, that spells dependence.

Being independent is an admirable trait; so is flexibility. As I get older, I have come to realize that I may have to relinquish being totally in charge. I now understand that sometimes it is necessary to depend upon one’s adult children, a concept I previously never considered. My desire for independence is still strong but tempered now by the vicissitudes of age. Never say never!

Sally is a firm believer in planning before need. While full-time RVing, she and her husband, Harry, researched retirement living options. When Harry’s Alzheimer’s disease loomed, she investigated memory care facilities. She is now looking ahead to the day when she may face life alone. Sally says, “Every day is a new adventure; made all the sweeter by Harry’s loving eyes, whispering I love you and tight hand-holding.”

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