Recently, the New York Times published an article on one of the City's fastest growing populations: the "oldest old." They interviewed six New Yorkers aged 85 and over--people who have inevitably experienced deep loss, health challenges, and things that few on this Earth can still remember first-hand, like the impacts of the Great Depression and World War II.
Now they face new challenges that they hadn't anticipated. For example, trying to make it across the street before the light changes, being treated like children, and the toss-up of whether they want to stay or go. These snapshots explore the challenges of a surprisingly large yet invisible population--one that encompasses 12% of the residents of Glen Oaks, Queens.
Helen Moses has been lucky enough to find love at 91, an age where women outnumber men two to one. She married her kindergarten sweetheart, and now has a second chance with Howie Zeimer, a companion at her nursing home in the Bronx. They enjoy spending time together, but when Howie stays past 10pm, the staff comes in, often without knocking, and sends him back to his room, even though the home does not have a curfew.
Frederick Jones lives in a third-floor walk-up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. After having his toe partially amputated, he was told he would need to use a walker. “I can’t manage getting it up and down three flights of stairs. That’s no use to me.” He tries not to think about what he will do if he has to leave his $300/month apartment where he has lived since 1976. Still, he remains upbeat, wishing to live to 110 or more. He shares the saying "Heaven is my home, but I'm not homesick."
Ping Wong moved to the U.S. in 1982, and represents a microdemographic: that of foreign-born older people in the City, which increased by 30% between 2000 and 2010, and Asian-born older people, which increased by 68%. Ms Wong plays mah-jongg with her neighbors almost daily, and lives off of $700 in social security and $200 in food stamps monthly. She doesn't complain.
John Sorensen, like many gay men or lesbians his age, has no children and many of his siblings and friends have died. He sometimes spends weeks at a time alone in his Upper West Side apartment, imagining his partner of 60 years there with him. His main fear is that he will live a lot longer. He says he's not unhappy, but he'll be glad when it's over.
Ruth Willig, along with 100 others, had to move out of her Park Slope assisted living home when it closed and is not adjusting well to living in Sheepshead Bay. "I find that I’m sad most of the time. I’m not happy anymore, and that bothers me. I don’t know if that’s the move, missing the people that I liked over there.” She thinks about what she will die from. "I think, ‘Is it going to be cancer? Is it going to be my heart again? Will I just drop dead'?"
Jonas Mekas, a filmmaker, shares an apartment with his 33 year old son, and is not slowing down. He has three book manuscripts to finish and is planning an expansion of the Anthology Film Archives that he helped found. A Lithuanian survivor of a Nazi labor camp, Mekas came to the U.S. in 1949, diving into art and never looking back. His old friends Andy Warhol and John Lennon have been gone for decades and others his age can't keep up with him.