Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Seniors living alone in an island paradise

Many seniors choose to live alone on Shelter Island. (Stock photo).
Many seniors choose to live alone on Shelter Island. (Stock photo).

There was a culture here on this Island that goes way back to the beginning of the last century and the end of the one before that. It still exists to a certain extent — second homeowners who love the Island and all it has to offer for their families in the summer months.

They’ve always lived in the metropolitan area close to the city where the fathers’ jobs were. The families would come here when school was out in June and spend the entire summer here. The fathers would come out on weekends after work and then return to the city on Sunday night for another work week.

These dads would travel by automobile, boat or train. Some time ago there was a boat from the city. Children would wait on Fridays for their fathers to arrive on the “Daddy ferry.” Some of these families were very affluent and traveled with nannies and maids and settled for the summer in majestic homes. Others were solidly members of the middle class who enjoyed their bungalows for the summer.

These bungalows usually did not have any heat or insulation but they served their purpose. And that was to have a comfortable summer dwelling. It was a place to return to after a day at the beach. A place for family meals and barbecues. A place for siblings to get to know each other while they played board games when it rained. A place where summer memories were made.

Come September, the bungalows were closed up, only to awaken in early May when the azaleas and forsythia were blooming. Owners would come out on weekends to get them ready for another glorious Island summer.

Many of the people who summered here are gone. Many of the houses are still in the families and some of the older folks who are left like to come out in the summer.

Senior Center Director Laurie Fanelli told me that she has received a number of calls from family members who have older parents or grandparents who want to spend the summer on the Island alone in their summer homes.

I imagine that they want to be reminded of those wonderful times of slow warm summer days and cool Island nights.

Laurie pointed out that Senior Services has options to offer seniors living here alone, but cannot guarantee that the senior will be safely maintained at home, adding that “we cannot accept the caregiver role and its responsibilities.”

To help these older Islanders have an exciting and pleasurable summer, Laurie suggests, “prior to summer, the senior and family caregiver meet with the town’s director of senior services to assess their needs and capabilities for living safely at home.”

“We need to obtain family contact information and networking supports,” Laurie said, noting that, “Together, the group can design daily options in an attempt to engage the senior with activities to enhance their socialization.”

But living alone for an older individual always has its risks which is why we should periodically ask ourselves how we’re coming along in the independence department.

The first question to be answered is “Can I drive?” This is vital for independence. If driving is not possible because of an infirmity, then the individual must have enough cash to use cab service regularly.

Another important question is “Am I able to go to the store to buy food to cook?” This is essential.

It’s also essential that I can clean my house or pay someone to do it.

As I mentioned  last week, our bodies cannot do what they used to be able to do.

We all want to be able to live comfortably with as little fuss as possible.