Charting a path to old age

November 2, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 22
Helmut Lemke |
Helmut Lemke

Getting old was not something I looked forward to. The shift from being someone who gives to someone who receives requires adjustment, but with God’s help we can prepare for getting old gracefully.

I kept this in mind when I built my house. It sits on the west slope of Burnaby Mountain, with a beautiful view of the ocean and the coastal mountains. Though I was not quite 60 at the time, I designed it especially for my old age. Given the slope downward from the street, most houses on the block had stairs going down to the entrance, but I designed a bridge from the street to the top floor of the house that would allow for a level entrance and even wheelchair access.

I designed the main floor as a self-contained apartment. On the second floor, I provided rooms for my children while they still lived at home. These became guest rooms when they left. On the lower floor, I designed a completely furnished in-law suite.

When my wife died in 2007 at age 73, I lived alone in my big house. I decided to offer the in-law suite to a student couple from Simon Fraser University. We set up a contract that involved them helping me with cooking, cleaning and laundry in lieu of paying rent. This worked well for 13 years.

Over time, upkeep of my big house became more challenging. I began to think about my next move. With my daughter, I visited nine seniors’ homes in greater Vancouver. The cost for room and board varied from $3,900 to $9,000 a month. I chose Amica Arbutus. I appreciated the bright, spacious suites, the excellent food, the available health services and the good entertainment program.

I was able to try out the suite for a week before finalizing my decision. However, I was not quite ready to leave my home. Half a year later, Amica called to say they had a suite available. I had to make a quick decision. I moved in two weeks later. I was 94 years old at the time. Although it was not easy to leave my beautiful home and my car, I knew the time was right.

Aging is also made more bearable by new technology. My son, a former executive at Microsoft, came to me one day and said, “Dad, you have to move into the twenty-first century.” He brought me a computer and printer, installed it for me, and showed me how to operate it. I can now do all my banking and correspondence online, which is quite helpful since I have no car and my handwriting is no longer legible. I can partake in our church services online and remain connected with my congregation in that way, since I cannot travel anymore.

I rely on my heart pacemaker and my CPAP machine to improve my breathing and heartbeat. My new medicine dispenser calls me when it is time to take my medicine and spews the right amount out for me. This technology gives me a level of independence I would not otherwise have.

Although I can still take care of many things on my own, I am not alone. In my morning meditations I feel close to God. I have come to know a number of my fellow residents and appreciate the kindness of Amica’s staff team. My family comes to visit me and to take care of things I can no longer do. I appreciate visits from friends and members of my church.

I am now 97 and have found that getting old is not as difficult and lonely as I had feared. Being cared for and no longer having any pressing responsibilities or stress can even make life enjoyable at times. 


Helmut Lemke is a member of Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship, Vancouver.

Helmut Lemke

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