Mimi has put all the pieces in place to make living alone manageable.
Mimi has a lot going for her. Her overall health is excellent. Despite being (as she puts it) chronically disorganized, she has put all the pieces in place to make living alone manageable. And she has an extended family that happily celebrated her “Big Nine O” this past July.
A former high school history teacher, Mimi has what every educator would cherish: students who continue to appreciate her decades later. Through the wonders of Facebook, she remains in contact with many of her students. Somehow, to Mimi’s disbelief, those she knew in their teens are now adults in their 60s who are beginning to retire. And some can even recall what they studied!
“I’m proud that a bunch of ex- Newton North High School kids still have some perception of what history is all about.”
Mimi, a Manhattan native, is grateful to live in Cambridge MA, a place that she has happily adopted as her home. She first moved there as a Radcliffe undergraduate. She loved so many aspects of college: the freedom to be on her own and the opportunity to find fellow nerds who shared her joy that the awkward high school years were over.
It was a unique time. World War II was raging and college enrollments were soaring. Thousands of young men were on the Harvard campus in accelerated academic and officer training programs. To respond to this surge of activity, faculty who had once taught men and women separately now needed to consolidate their caseloads. The shift to co-ed classes was met with mixed reactions.
“A few professors didn’t want women around and were hostile. Being raised in patriarchal homes, we didn’t know any better and just put up with it. As a group, though, most of the faculty were resigned and probably hopeful that things would get back to “normal” (i.e. segregated) after the war. Overall, I was just so happy to be at Harvard.”
One of the high points of her college years was meeting her future husband George. After the two were married, their Cambridge home was often the “go to” house for young relatives who were experiencing turmoil in their lives. Mimi claims that the teens came to their home solely because of its convenient location. More likely, they came because Mimi and her husband offered them non-judgmental respite to pull their lives together.
George died in 2005 following a long illness. Mimi speaks openly about the reality of the situation.
“I was his caregiver for three years. He was in miserable shape and ultimately his death was a relief. I am amazed at those women who can put their own lives on hold while caring for an ailing spouse. Maybe they are just not that honest about how difficult it is. When people bring up the topic, there are a lot of unspoken looks.”
For the past 10 years, Mimi has lived alone but she is far from lonely. She has multiple circles of friends and a range of interests and activities. She lives in a building where all the condo owners know one another. She’s comfortable being the oldest resident because she enjoys having younger people in her life. That was particularly true this past year when Boston experienced a seemingly endless number of storms and record-setting snow levels.
“I could never have made it this winter without my neighbors. Fortunately, they are young people who like to go out and shovel.”
When she feels more help is needed, Mimi can call a local organization to arrange support services. To date, she has contacted them for nothing more serious than managing her cat’s untrimmed nails.
Mimi is savvy. She knows that at some point living alone may not be a safe option, and she has taken steps to consider other arrangements. She has submitted an application for a unit in an assisted living community. She gets periodic phone calls from the facility informing her that an apartment is available. She routinely turns them down. She’s not ready, and her application returns to the bottom of the wait list.
It’s a gamble of sorts to figure out the right time to pack her bags. If Mimi waits until a health crisis hits, she may no longer be eligible for assisted living. Yet, giving up an independent lifestyle is a large decision with far-reaching ramifications.
Mimi does not need to make a decision today. For now, she is focusing on gathering her friends for a weekly game of Scrabble rather than scheduling a moving van!