As part of my Gratitude and Giving Back activities I organized a visit to Priya Living yesterday – a senior residential community in the San Francisco Bay Area intended for Indian Seniors between the ages of 70 – 90 who want to spend their golden years in an environment that is independent yet filled with activities and conversations with like-minded people their age.
In Indian Society any living arrangement that is not with your son, daughter-in-law and their kids is unfortunately considered an “old age home”. The term is loaded with pity, disgrace, shame, despair and even disgust. It is every parents’ nightmare to even think of ever being in a situation like that and there are emotionally loaded expectations that your children will have to ‘return the favor’ you did raising them.
Yesterday, eleven of us spent two hours with the Seniors living at Priya Living in Santa Clara and got a glimpse into a whole different reality. Originally, my intent was to spend two hours helping the Seniors use email, social media, online tools, etc. Little did I know that instead of us teaching them something we would leave their community learning a lesson on how to live a very fulfilled and happy life!
Arun Paul, the CEO and Founder, started Priya Living 2.5 years ago with his parents as the very first residents of the community and today it is a thriving mix of Indian Seniors from every single state in India, except Kashmir. The residents at Priya Living – there are about 36 at the Santa Clara location – are there because they WANT to be there. Contrary to many people’s beliefs they have not been abandoned by their children. They are there because they choose to live a life of freedom and independence along with people their age. Many have children living in the area but they would rather live a richer, fuller life in a community with people in their own life stage than sit in their children’s homes, cook, clean and babysit for them. Their children often visit them on the weekends and the Seniors go visit them as well – that is when the Seniors have time in their busy schedules! Funny story: I had contacted Priya Living about six weeks ago to arrange our visit. However, in the week leading up to our visit I got an email from the Community Director asking if we could move our visit date because one of the resident’s family were throwing their 90th birthday party for lunch and soon after they were all invited to a music concert. Phew! These Seniors sure have a busier social life than most of us do. In fact, we were told earlier it used to be the parents calling their children every couple of days to ask how they are doing but the kids rarely found time to have a conversation with their parents. Since moving to Priya Living the tides have turned. The children keep calling their parents to check on them but they are out partying till the wee hours of the morning having the time of their lives.
Most of the residents have been living outside of India for many years as first generation immigrants and their thinking is evolved enough to understand that working couples don’t always have the time nor energy to come home in the evenings and take care of their emotional needs because they also have children to raise and a marriage to run. Besides, why should you as a person who has lived their entire adult life independently for so many years start depending on your offspring to make your years of retirement more livable? All of the residents we spoke with are well-educated, active Seniors that have built a life in a new country creating a bright future for their kids but also for themselves. They saved into retirement plans and other investments to be able to afford a life of peace and joy in their golden years instead of looking at their children as their retirement policy.
What makes this community different from a bunch of Seniors finding an apartment complex where they rent units next to each other? Mahesh Uncle! He is the resident Community Director par excellence. You look at him and there is a set of constantly smiling eyes clearly telling you that he loves every bit of living here and organizing all the activities for his friends. He is so passionate about social work, hospitality and elder care that he has even been awarded ‘Citizen of the Year’ by the City of Cupertino. He organizes everything from morning walks called chale chalo, day trips, visits to local events, yoga, meditation, on-site programs, potlucks, you name it. His own two sons live in the Bay Area but he and his wife choose to live here simply because it allows them to live a more engaged and fun life.
Mahesh Uncle also happens to be the only person who knew where Idar-Oberstein, my hometown, is and he has even been there. He is a gemstone dealer and effortlessly slipped into talking in German with me. As you can imagine I had more than just a few jaw-dropping experiences yesterday.
After our chat with the Seniors Uncle gave us a tour of the community. The complex has a little colorful gym that plays a slideshow of high-fashion glamour shots of the Seniors posing in their finery at a nearby park and also has chalkboards of activities and responsibilities.
I hope a glimpse into these Seniors’ hip and happening lives lifts the stigma of “old age homes” and gives all of us a new perspective on how to live an independent life, surrounded by our friends and family, yet not dependent on any of them. I am so proud of these Seniors for being the trailblazers, taking their lives by the horns and using age as an enabler rather than a restrictor.
Here I was, trying to give back to the community and in turn learning something so beautiful it makes my heart warm!