Our move from the Washington area to a retirement community in Baltimore called Roland Park Place came five ago when, I was 81 and my wife, Pat, was 80. It was concerns about our health and a concerted push from our seven children that propelled us to decide to move. It had become more noticeable that Pat might have Alzheimer’s. For me, Parkinson symptoms, dormant for a decade, had come alive.
At the beginning of our second year at Roland Park Place four falls in two days put Pat in a room in the health care center. I was able to move a second bed into her room and that is where I have slept for the past three years.
While caring for Pat is my main focus, I have become involved in discussion groups concerned with the world’s problems. Last year I became concerned about the morality of our government’s increased reliance on drones. For me it was a “distant mirror.” While I was an assistant to an Atomic Energy Commissioner in the 1950s I became very concerned about the morality of our reliance on nuclear weapons. That concern prompted me to edit a book titled “Morality and Modern Warfare,” published in 1960.
When I decided to ask a few other residents to join me to discuss drones, I looked first to fellow members of a group that holds a peace vigil each week on a busy street in front of our community. By the second discussion, the drones group had doubled in size and by the third it had grown to 20. At that meeting a consensus emerged that we should discuss other subjects and that we should call ourselves the Public Affairs Roundtable. Nine months later, 60 of the 260 residents of Roland Park Place wanted to be considered roundtable members.
We have discussed immigration, mental health of prisoners, the death penalty, and gun control. At this writing we have had three sessions on what we consider the most important problem facing our planet: climate change.
One minor consequence of Parkinson’s is the effect it has on my voice–its volume and its clarity. When I chair a roundtable, I must use a hand mike. In the near future I will begin intensive voice therapy designed for Parkinson’s patients.
The roundtable has been satisfying. So is a Buddhism study group I started with fellow participants from our yoga and meditation classes.
But the most important and most challenging role I play is that of caregiver to my Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife. Seven months ago the chief physician here told me Pat would not live very long. She said Alzheimer’s often closes down one system after another. Because of the excellent care she receives in the health care center, Pat appears to me to have improved physically. A good friend in a situation similar to mine called his essay about it “The Long Goodbye.” And so it is.
Bill Nagle, 86, has a PhD in political philosophy. His career in government included directing policies in the State Department under Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. International environment and development work took him to 22 developing countries.
[For additional discussion of the topics Bill Nagle addresses, see Aging with Purpose, Activism by the Elderly, and “Mommy’s” Long Life with Alzheimer’s Disease.]