The one thing that pushed me over, we had one of those big storms like we’ve had in the last few years and I ended up without heat, without light, without television, without telephone, because we had a well, we didn’t have water, I ended up sitting in a dark cold house by myself and the next morning I opened the front door and there were seven or eight trees that had been uprooted and they were old big trees and their roots were facing me. And I thought to myself “this is not a way to live.” Now when I wake up and it’s snowy I look out the window and I cuddle under the cover, I don’t have to worry about the snow.
Rita Ulrich Interview, April 2014
Interview starts at 7:14
J: Good afternoon.
J: Hi, how are you?
R: I’m good, thank you.
J: Oh good, thank you so much for taking the time to call us, we really appreciate getting to hear your insights and learning about your experience, thank you so much.
R: Who am I speaking with please?
J: Oh this is Jill Hofer and I’m also joined by my coworker, Ines Newby.
J: And we’re in Tucson, Arizona.
J: Oh, great. Alrighty, well, we won’t keep you too long but we have a few questions and we want to hear anything that you’ve got to share. We’re learning about the process that people go through when they just very first start thinking “oh you know I might want to choose to move to a retirement community” and it’s really not quite so much about why they should move to The Watermark but more just your experience and how you know you know that really unfolded for you.
R: Well, my husband had died and I was living alone in a big house and actually I had a cousin living here and I had visited him and I liked it very much. I liked the fact that I moved into a place called “retirement” so I didn’t think I was moving into a nursing home.
J: Right. That’s true.
R: And I’m extremely happy here mostly because I’ve met wonderful people.
J: That’s terrific.
R: I made friends here much sooner than any time in my life, it didn’t take me that long.
J: Oh, that’s nice.
R: And I’ve made good friends, I call them my buddies. You know that when I see them I feel I’m home.
J: Oh, that’s wonderful. Now where did you live before you moved to The Watermark?
R: I lived in Woodbridge, that’s about forty minutes away from here.
J: Oh, ok, ok. And when did you move to The Watermark?
R: April of, I want to say 2012.
J: Ok, ok and when you were in your house how long were you in that particular house?
R: About sixteen years.
J: Oh, a little while then.
J: And then what made you kind of put that spark in your eye, that first time when you thought “you know I think I might sell this house?” How did that unfold?
R: I liked the location. The location was very important to me, my family lives going toward New York City and my friends live in Long Island and I wanted to go more south, I didn’t want to go more into Connecticut. And the location of The Watermark here is perfect, I’m right on the Merritt Parkway.
J: That’s very convenient for both sides, isn’t it?
R: Oh, wonderful, wonderful.
J: That’s handy.
R: I came to visit my cousin and we had dinner and a beautiful dining room and I sat with lovely people that were interesting and that I felt I could be friends with.
J: Wow, that’s a great beginning.
R: Oh yes, it was for me.
J: And then what happened from there? Do you have kids who were involved with the process or did you call a realtor or what happened next?
R: My kids were involved but it was really my decision. I told them I was coming here. As I said I came to visit a cousin and I liked it, I liked it very much and then the realtor who was taking care of selling my house he gave me the telephone number of A Place for Mom and I called them and they sent me names of places similar to this that I could move to but I already made up my mind that I liked this because of the location, I had come for lunch here and I had met wonderful people, they were stimulating which was important to me. I met people that were still living, still looking forward to life.
R: They weren’t living in the past.
R: And I said to my kids “this is where I want to go.”
R: And they came and it’s beautiful where I live and they agreed with me.
J: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. How do they feel now, what do your kids have to say?
R: Oh, they’re very happy. Well, they call me every day “are you happy?” And every day I assure them that I’m happy. There is so much to do here and I do everything, I go to everything. So I mean, yesterday, I was supposed to call you yesterday, they had a DVD of the Bridgeport Symphony and I went to that and this afternoon we have things I’m going to and I take advantage of the fitness room. I have my own personal trainer, we’re working on I so that I want to stand straight and there’s a swimming pool I do exercise in and after I started the doing the exercise my doctor said to me “that’s the best exercise you could do.”
J: No kidding.
R: Yeah, I have two bathing suits so when one gets wet I can use the other one and no, I’m having a ball, I’m really having a ball.
J: Oh that’s terrific.
R: And you know when I felt better and this was, I had gone to my daughter for a weekend and I was restless and I kept on thinking I would like to go home and I realized I was thinking about The Watermark because this is where I live.
R: That was the first time that I thought of it as home when I thought “I’d like to go home” and this is what I was thinking of. It came as a revelation to me.
J: Wow, that’s terrific.
R: Because I came here expecting to make an adjustment but I adjusted so that in my mind this was home.
J: That’s terrific.
R: And I meet everyone here on my way going or coming from somewhere but I’m doing something all the time.
J: That’s terrific boy and that’s just what it’s all about isn’t it?
R: Oh yes, oh yes, but there’s still a lot of living to do. That’s what it’s all about.
J: That is terrific now you told me a little bit about life there, did anything surprise you when you, I know you were surprised that you made friends so fast, did anything else come out of the blue?
R: Yeah, because at my age you don’t make friends that fast, you don’t have kids going to school, you know? I mean it takes time but I met people like myself who were looking to feel at home and make friends and we have happy hour here Friday nights and Saturday night and when I’m sitting with a beautiful plate of dinner and there’s someone playing the piano, I think to myself “if my friends could see me now” because they are living by themselves.
R: I always get a kick out of that. Sitting at a table with friends and you know having a nice dinner.
J: Right, that’s the stuff life is made of.
R: Oh yes, stuff that I like my life made of anyway. Yeah, I wasn’t doing this every night before I came here. I was living alone you know, in a big house and I was very lonely and I was feeling very sad and you don’t have to feel sad here.
J: Oh, that’s terrific. Now is that feeling of loneliness is that the first time that made you consider making a move or did that just come out of the blue when you had lunch with your cousin?
R: No, no that feeling of loneliness I just didn’t like it, I didn’t want to get more down, I didn’t want to get down. I’m a very “up” person, I’m a very optimistic person and I thought to myself “I have to do something for myself.” In fact, that’s the answer to being happy here is doing for yourself. It’s not miracles, it’s taking advantage of everything there is to take advantage of. There is so much given that you just have to taste it.
R: And that’s what’s making me happy is that I take advantage of everything and there’s a lot. Today, this afternoon we’re going to have the history of Fairfield County. Yeah and we learned that the Indians were here before we were and I love history. So, and the entertainment is great.
J: Oh, that’s terrific and it sounds like you like the food.
R: I do, I really do…
J: And that’s wonderful. Oh, go ahead.
R: There is such a variety, there are at least minimum five to six things to choose from minimum, there’s got to be something and sometimes if someone doesn’t like something I remind them when I was home I didn’t always like what I cooked. It didn’t always come out perfect. You know, so?
J: That’s true and then you still had to wash the dishes whether it tasted good or not, right?
R: Oh yeah. That’s very nice when we get up from the table and I go for a walk with friends or we have a movie at night, in fact we’re having a very good one that I missed before I came here, La Vie en Rose, yeah so I’m looking forward to that.
J: That’s great.
R: We have a bus that takes us you know shopping, if you don’t want to drive you don’t have to.
J: That’s nice and plus then you can talk the whole way with your buddies.
R: Yes, and you can tell I like to talk.
J: That’s good, that’s very helpful to us, you know I think that a lot of people start out kind of similar to you when they just look at their life or feel lonely and just think “there’s got to be something better here.”
J: Those are the people we’re trying to talk to.
R: Well, most of the people that I’ve talked to because we always ask each other when we sit down and meet “what brought you here?” and most of them have said they were tired of living alone, of eating alone and of being alone. And most people have moved to be closer to family, I will say.
J: Oh, that’s interesting.
R: That’s very important. People have come here from Florida and Wisconsin that I have made friends with and they want to be closer to family and it’s fun to meet people from other areas that you’ve never been to before.
J: True, that’s true.
R: Yeah, so I’m discovering more about our country.
J: That’s awesome and from the source, from people who were really there.
R: Oh yes, oh yes.
J: That’s neato. Well, let me ask you this was there anything else about being at home, besides being lonely, that you felt like was a motivator for you, was it you know you get tired of taking care of everything or anything else that really pushed you over the line to make that call?
R: The one thing that pushed me over, we had one of those big storms like we’ve had in the last few years and I ended up without heat, without light, without television, without telephone, because we had a well, we didn’t have water, I ended up sitting in a dark cold house by myself and the next morning I opened the front door and there were seven or eight trees that had been uprooted and they were old big trees and their roots were facing me.
J: Oh my.
R: And I thought to myself “this is not a way to live.”
J: That’s for the birds.
R: Now when I wake up and it’s snowy I look out the window and I cuddle under the cover, I don’t have to worry about the snow.
R: And I will tell you that the people that work here they are the nicest, nicest people I’ve come up against. They love what they’re doing. They love what they’re doing and that’s important.
J: Right, because the people make the place, right?
R: Well, I found that a place is only as good as the immediate person that you come in contact with. That’s what I found in all the time that I’ve been, say the hospital or anything. It’s only as good as the immediate person you come in contact with.
J: That’s really true; everybody has a huge role to play, don’t they?
R: Yeah, and I’m very pleased to be here, I am.
J: Oh, I love that, now you mentioned quite a few programs that you’re involved in, movies and swimming, anything else on that list that you’ve jumped into?
R: I come to all the history courses, I go to the opera, we have opera and they take us out as well. We’ve gone out to the opera, we’ve gone out the movies, we’ve gone out to the Bridgeport Symphony and the exercise is important because when you get to be my age you’re not going out for long walks and exercise is very important.
J: It’s true, it keeps you going.
R: Yes, you can go be on the treadmill here when it’s snowing outside, you can’t walk out there.
R: And the swimming pool we do exercise and so I feel that it’s good for my health.
J: That’s great.
R: Because I’m not sitting in front of a TV all day.
J: Right, stimulate the mind and the body.
R: Oh yes and we have a beautiful library here.
J: Oh really?
R: Yeah and we have book discussions.
R: I tell you some of my children are ready to move in.
J: Is that right? What do they have to say about it?
R: They come and I show them the pool and they have dinner with me and you know they like it. I said “you have to get older.”
J: Get in line, right?
R: Yeah, yeah.
J: That’s great now let me ask you kind of this is kind of one of our big broad questions, no wrong answer in general, when you think about, when you meet people, maybe people are visiting the community or they’re on the fence or your old friends who aren’t at 3030, what advice do you have for people who might be kind of stuck?
R: My biggest advice that I give to people who say they’re not happy with what they have at home, well, no they come here and they’re not happy my biggest advice to them is “it isn’t The Watermark you’re unhappy with, you’d like to have what you lost you know your home and your husband and the way it used to be, that’s why you’re unhappy.” Because sometimes if I’m down or unhappy that’s what it is, I’d like to have what used to be and what I say to these people “it isn’t The Watermark that you’re unhappy with it’s what you had that you’re missing that you can’t have anymore because that’s life.”
J: That’s very insightful.
R: Yeah but that’s my answer to people that are not happy here because that’s pretty much what it is.
J: I think you’re right. Now if you were thinking about advice that you might have for someone who still lived at home and they’re just thinking “oh, I don’t want to ever move, I fear change” you know all that kind of things that keep people stuck at home alone with the TV dinners, what advice do you have for those people?
R: Well, I have a friend that just called me, she lives alone in Greenwich in a beautiful, beautiful condo and she said to me “I feel so lonely, I feel so empty.” And this is after I’ve come up from having dinner and a glass of wine and the piano playing and I just say to them “come and see where I am.” That’s my advice to them, I always invite them “come and have brunch with me.”
J: That’s so nice.
R: I say “come and see my apartment, I have all my furniture with me from home, I haven’t given up my home, I didn’t need four bedrooms, I didn’t need a big house.” And what I do when I invite someone I have them sit with the people I’ve made friends with and a lot of people do that when their families come they invite people who live here to meet the people that they’ve made friends with.
J: Nice, that’s smart.
R: Oh yeah, we all do that. My son came yesterday and I invited friends to join us for lunch because I want my kids to see more than the swimming pool, more than the things you know the glitter, I want them to see the people I’ve met.
J: That’s great.
R: That’s the best, the people I’ve met.
J: That is great and then your kids go away picturing you with those people and they can picture them and the fun that you’re having.
R: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That’s my answer if someone is reluctant I say “come and visit me, you’ve got to see it.”
J: Oh, that’s neat. Now do you think that people tend to wait too long before they kind of get thinking in this direction?
R: Well, I would say I started thinking of it when my husband died and I was alone and then the winters were so bad so I don’t know if that’s waiting too long until, actually it was my husband’s idea to move here and then after we made all the arrangements he didn’t want to move here and he was sick, he died shortly after that. But I waited until I was alone. I don’t know if I would have thought about it if I wasn’t alone but there are lots of couples that have moved in together and I think it’s great to come here with a husband and have time to share together and those things because if you live together, two of you, you’re there for each other and you can prepare each other to be alone so I think…
J: You get settled.
R: Yes! I think it’s important, I think this is very important to get settled before one of you go. I think it’s great if you come two of you and you enjoy things together and you’re not left alone when one of you go, you’re not left alone.
J: That’s good advice.
R: I feel strongly about that because I have friends who didn’t move into a place such as this but moved from a large house to a small apartment so that the one that was left behind would be already settled when one went that they didn’t have to face doing it all, you know.
R: In an emergency kind of state.
J: Thing is though, you’re sitting alone in that apartment.
R: I was.
J: It’s nice that it’s a smaller space but there’s still lacking all the friends, you know.
J: The support network.
R: Well that’s what my friend said to me “I’m so lonely, I feel so empty.” And no I tell you but what really caught my eye because when I came the first time I thought “oh I don’t know if I’m ready for this” and then when I saw the word “retirement” it’s crazy, I saw the word “retirement community” that’s really what perked me up.
J: Well, it’s time to have fun you know, we all kind of retire from one side of life and then we can engage and sort of un-retire and start getting busy again.
R: I said “I want to laugh” and I laugh a lot here.
J: Oh, that’s great.
R: You know it’s good here when we don’t remember something, you know at this age you don’t remember things and we laugh and we say “you’re in the right place” because we’re all not quite, we forget something and then we all laugh and we don’t feel strange about it.
J: Right. It’s life.
R: It’s life, yeah. That’s exactly, it’s life. So you don’t feel “oh my gosh I’m getting old.” I just thank God I’m getting old. That’s life.
J: Beats the alternative, doesn’t it?
R: Yes, yes. But what I do when people can’t make up their mind is I say “please come visit me” but The Watermark does that because they have many lunches. I used to come when they had programs so you could taste the food and they put people, I remember sitting with a businesswoman that had just retired and I’m sure, I wasn’t a businesswoman but I’m with it and I’m sure they put people at the table so I could see what kind of friends I could make because I’m very open minded, I’m very interested in everything. So and that’s what made it for me really, the friends.
J: That’s great.
R: I made buddies.
J: What was the last thing you said? I’m sorry.
R: I made buddies, I consider them my buddies.
J: Oh, that’s so great.
J: Buddies and pals make the world go round, don’t they?
R: Oh yes, oh yes and that’s what makes you happy here.
J: Well, I love hearing that. I really really appreciate that you took the time to share your insights and you know if you have anything to add we want to hear it but we’ve got a lot of great info here and it’s going to be very helpful to us.
R: Well, do you know I go down for breakfast every morning, I don’t have to, I mean I’ve got a refrigerator here, I could have toast and coffee. I go down because I like sitting with people. I like having my first cup of coffee in the morning with other people and the people that come down feel the same way I do because we could all have breakfast up here if we want to. So the people that come here are looking for friends that’s why it’s so easy to make friends.
J: That’s terrific, everybody’s in the same boat and looking for a nice time.
R: And we have a beauty parlor here, well, you know that.
J: You like it?
R: Oh yeah I can run down and get my hair done; we have a bank here if I need money I can run down and get money.
J: That’s easy, that’s nice.
R: Yeah, so and the people at the front desk are great. If I need to mail a letter I know exactly what time the mailman is coming.
J: Oh, that’s nice. Well, see and that makes life better. The little things like that kind of add up and become pretty big after a while.
R: Well, the little things are what make life, they really do.
J: Well, I think that’s wonderful. I think that’s just terrific that you have this attitude and I appreciate everybody around you benefitting from it. I know everybody is just thrilled that you’re there and Ann couldn’t wait for us to talk to you and I can sure see why.
R: Yeah, I’m all over the place when there’s a program I’m visible. I go to everything.
J: Well, I’m glad we were able to catch you during your busy schedule, we thank you for penciling us in.
R: Yeah well, now I’m going down to the history of Fairfield County.
J: Thank you.
R: Thank you.
J: We’ll look back on this interview and I’m really going to enjoy thinking back on all this good information, thank you so much.
R: Put your application in. I’m joking, you’re young.
J: Alright, well have a good time at the history program.
R: Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.
J: Thank you, bye-bye.