Selling My Childhood Home

Lock and key

And for one last time I turned the key, locked the door, and walked away. Never to return. And despite going to Texas for this specific reason, knowing I am nearing the end of the book, not just the chapter, I began to sob. I sat in the car for at least 20 minutes with memories flooding my mind, unable to actually focus and see the house.

My grandparents built this house in 1968, fully intending to spend their golden years there. They were almost 50 and their children were grown. Within two years I would be living there, with my grandparents and mother as she navigated being a single parent. It would be a place my mother and I would stop when out on errands. It’s where I would ask to go to just talk to my grandpa when my grandma was playing bingo. It’s where I would always call home until I got married.

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I would live in the house for a few years when my mom worked nights. I would walk in to the house after school when I was in second grade, after it had been robbed. I would be in this house to welcome my grandparents home from their many trips to far-off lands.

There were birthday parties, break fast dinners, Thanksgiving feasts, Hanukkah celebrations, and Passover seders. Lots of them. With lots of people. It would also be full of people for wedding celebrations as well as funerals. I can hear the buzz of the dryer. And the quiet as I did my homework at the kitchen table alone before my grandparents came home.

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I remember the kitchen table with the divot in it from when my grandfather’s handgun discharged as he prepared to clean it. The corner cabinet in the dining room, made by my grandfather. The antique curved-glass dessert cart that sat in front of the picture window. And the 1950s Grundig stereo that my grandfather would listen to, which now sits in my house.

For the past year I’ve been ready to sell the house. I’ve gone back and packed up, cleaned, and prepared for this moment. I was focused and methodical. This wasn’t emotional. There were no tears. The house had to be sold. I didn’t want to keep going back and forth to take care of it and my grandmother was no longer able to do it herself. It was a stark reality and I approached it very business-like.

That was until I turned the key that one last time. I can never go back. I’ll never walk through the door again and hear the laughter, the tears, or the silence. It’s all gone. It’s not my grandparent’s house any more. The house may be gone, but the memories. I will always have those.

Sara

Having It All Doesn’t Matter At The End

Sunset Image

Like you, I’ve experienced both friends and family passing away. Some very young, others at very ripe old age. Either way it’s never emotionally easy. It doesn’t matter if they were old and had very rich lives or were young and taken too soon. We always look back at their life and try to comfort ourselves with their accomplishments, achievements, and experiences. We look at what they had, both the tangible things as well as the experiences they had that we both witnessed and those which became tales told over and over again. Losing someone you care about is never easy.

My mother passed away when she was 47. Her only brother, my uncle Harvey, was 44. My grandpa was 75. There have been aunties and uncles who were well in to their 70s and 80s. My friend Sally was in her 50s, with a 9 year old son.

As I help my grandma move into the next phase of her life, leaving her home, I’m struck by so many things. It didn’t help that while up late packing up her house I stopped to read an article shared by my friend Lisa entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning at the US State Department. Pretty high powered job. Which she left because, well, she had to get back to her job at Princeton University or risk her tenue status. In my opinion that’s not really “giving up a career for my kids” kind of move. But that’s a bit how she characterized it.

As I sat for hours with my grandmother at her nursing center, I kept wondering if any of the women propped up in their wheelchair were sitting there thinking about work-life balance or how they made sacrifices for their family 40 or 50 years ago and that it was worth it. I wanted to ask these women if they worked while raising their kids. I wanted to know if they sit there for hours on end doing nothing, all alone, paying for someone else to care for them because their daughters and granddaughters are “having it all” just like she told them they could when they were all younger.

Instead, I say hello and ask how they’re doing. In less than 10 minutes I know a lot about them and their family. In what is an informal survey, it turns out that about 90% of the children visiting and caring for their aging parent are daughters. The son? Well, they have “a good job” or “travel a lot”. So much for that idea that little girls were taught they could have it all. Sure, we can have it all. That is only until our kids or our elders need us. Then, all that ALL gets pushed aside because no matter how much of the ALL we’ve got it is trumped by one thing – the traditional role of caregiver.

One of the women I spoke to never married. She was an air traffic controller for the US Military in World War II. Her niece moved her from her home state to be nearby her so she can help manage her aunt’s care. She has a nephew, but, as she said, “he’s got a good job and I didn’t want to bother him.” Hmm, bother him. This is a woman who bucked tradition 50 years ago. But still holds on to traditional ideas of gender roles.

There was another young woman sitting near by. We exchanged glances a few times. Each time as if to say, “I’m a granddaughter, too.” Her mother was there with her grandmother. The “young girl” had come in for the weekend, the end of a business trip I found out. She’s about my age, early 40s. But her kids are older and more self sufficient, she tells me. She said that makes it easier. Her mother retired to take care of her grandmother. She has an uncle, but “His wife doesn’t like when he’s away too long.”

One thing that struck me was that none of the elderly women I spoke with talked a lot about their jobs. All of them had jobs, in addition to being mothers (except for the one woman who never married). Instead, they told me about places they visited and people they met. It struck me that all of them (OK, so it wasn’t a huge sample but it was 7 women) had at one time in their life met a sitting US President, or two or three or four. They all volunteered that information. Most of the women traveled abroad extensively. I heard stories of island visits, touring Russia, visiting ruins on several different continents and more about meeting people. I found out that most of these women considered themselves pretty good cooks and talked about the food they missed being able to make. I learned about the volunteer work they’d done and the awards they received for their 30, 40, 50+ years of service.

I sat alone for a few minutes, just processing all of this. Where were the stories about rushing home to see the school play? About helping with homework or struggling to get dinner on the table every night? Why didn’t they talk about having to “sacrifice” at home so they could work?

Maybe none of that was important to them. As I pulled out my notebook, a woman that would be about my mom’s age sat down next to me. She asked if I was a reporter. No, I told her. Just taking care of my grandma and wanting to take time to let the other women know they are valued as well. We spoke for a few more minutes, she asking questions and I answering. Then she told me her mother was a corporate executive, having started as a seamstress and working her way up through the company. She retired as the CFO, having received both an undergraduate and Master’s degree while working and taking care of her family. Why hasn’t her mom mentioned it, I wondered to myself? Why was it important that her daughter mention it?

While I didn’t have time to explore the answers to all these questions (or get a Ph.D. in psychology to study this topic), I have come to my own conclusions. Not haphazardly. Not without reflection. Not without using my knowledge of psychology and sociology and cultural anthropology.

At the end, I don’t think the sacrifices we make for our family which result in missing our kid’s events and programs really matters. It won’t matter that we cooked every night, or didn’t. It won’t matter that we got promoted or feted at our job. Most of the sacrifices we make just won’t matter in the end.

What will matter are the memories. Memories of the people we love, of the joyous occasions we hosted and attended, of the funerals of our friends. It will be the trips we take. The people we meet and the experiences we have. The babies we hold, the games we play with our kids and grandkids and the cards we write to cheer up our ailing siblings and friends.

Will work and that success be part of it? Maybe. Because in our jobs we inevitably get to meet amazing people. In our jobs, many of us get to travel to places we may never have gone on our own.

But it’s not the job we’ll talk about. It’s the people. The co-workers who become friends. The business travel destination that becomes a place we take our loved ones. The life experiences. The laughter.

I voluntarily chose another path for my life after I had BabyGirl. There are times I see my peers and wonder what could have been. I’ve altered my trajectory, yet I still manage to hit a bullseye. Each and every time I’m fully present for my family, my friends and myself I know I have it ALL. Just not the ALL some others may have or think I’m missing out on.

There will always be regrets in life. Over the past 6 months I’ve spoken to many whose sunsets aren’t too far off. They all had regrets. Regrets about not spending more time with their children and grandchildren. Regrets about not traveling because they wanted to leave money to their children, and yet now there will be little money to leave anyway. Regrets about not visiting their friends and relative across the country when it was easier for them to get around. Regrets about not telling people they love that they really love them. Regrets about not helping more, not laughing more, not smiling more. Not saying hello just to say hello.

The ALL that we’re supposed to have doesn’t matter at the end. But if it does, shouldn’t we each get to define what ALL means to us?

Image: Sun and Sea by Naj at Free Digital Photos

Sara

From Granddaughter to Guardian

 

 

I knew the day would come, so it’s not as surprising as it may seem. Bubbe is almost 92. She’s outlived her two children and her husband. Of her seven siblings, only her younger brother is alive.

Seventeen years ago I promised my Grandpa I would take care of my Grandma, allowing him to die in peace. It was a promise I meant. And I’ve kept my word despite having to adjust my life to be there for my Grandma.

In the past 6 months, though, Bubbe has fallen 3  times. Fortunately, she has not broken anything and each time recovers fully. Once she was in the hospital and rehab for 40-some days. The second time it was only a few days in the hospital. But this last time, she was in the hospital a week and her doctors finally said no more. She can’t live on her own, independently, any longer. But I must see to it that she continue to live with dignity. Elder care is not for the faint of heart.

I now have 20 days to find a place for Bubbe to live. 2 states away from her home so she can be near me. To pack her up with some semblance of normalcy to live out her last days, weeks, months, years. Whatever it is she has. I am no longer just her granddaughter. As much as I have loved being her granddaughter and at times adding on the role of caregiver, I know that in just a few days I will sign her out of her Skilled Nursing Facility, take her to her home for a few days and then drive her away from the place she’s called home for the last 44 years. Never to return again.

While she’s doing this willingly, knowing that being closer to me will mean more opportunities to see her great-granddaughter. And for Bubbe, life now is all about finding moments of joy amid all daily challenges. But for me it’s not as easy. I must find peace in knowing that I am bringing her closer to me so she can die. That she will be leaving her home and will no longer have a house full of memories to sustain her when she’s up at 2am because she can’t sleep, when there’s nothing on TV, or when she eats at the same table she sat at with her friends and family. The phone will be different, the bathroom, the bed. It won’t be the same. It’s not a vacation. There will be no returning.

No matter how much I visit, her new place will never be home. It will be her new place. The neighbors won’t be the same. The young man who delivers her newspaper won’t put it in the special box for her. The mail carrier won’t ring her bell to give her the mail, knowing she has a hard time getting around if there is too much mail to carry. Tami won’t do her hair anymore. She won’t see Dr. Sanchez or the nurses in Adult Care. Everything she’s known for the past 40 years will be gone.

For sure I will bring things to help her feel at home. Her favorite chair, a few knick-knacks, photos. It won’t be the same. I don’t think it’s supposed to be the same. But it has to hurt her heart, knowing what this all really means. It hurts mine.

For me, it’s not only bringing her to be near me. There’s so much that goes in to this. Little things like forwarding her mail and dealing with her utilities. And huge things like finding her an assisted living home that will be near me, have decent food, make her feel comfortable, and generally not suck. Then there’s the issue of doctors and what to do with her car. And all the stuff for the military. It’s all so much. And at the same time, nothing.

It’s not easy being the granddaughter-caretaker. It’s not a normal dynamic. But it is my life. I care for my Grandmother with joy and honor. I feel honored to be able to do this for her. It’s a small way to give thanks for all she has done for me.

The reality hits very hard sometimes, though. I’m overwhelmed by what I need to do. But I soldier on, knowing I dont’ have much time. And neither does she. It’s the best I can do to make sure she is OK with all of this. Because we all know what it means.

And that, I can not change. One day I will say good-bye. And it really will be for the last time. Until then, I have a promise to keep. And, for sure, I will do that.

Sara

Elder Care: From a granddaughter’s perspective

Bubbe photo

That’s my grandmother, my Bubbe. BabyGirl and I went to visit her in December because she doesn’t like to travel. Actually, she loves to travel. Only traveling now is much more complicated since she needs oxygen at night. And then there is all that TSA stuff. So, we go visit her.

I’ve mentioned my grandma before. Last year she celebrated her 90th birthday. She still lives in the only house I’ve ever known. She and my grandpa had it built in 1968. She’s a very independent woman!

Every few weeks I’ll get a call from my aunt, a neighbor, one of my Grandma’s friends asking if she’s visiting me because they can’t get a hold of her. This has been going on for about six months. And every time I tell them no and reassure them that she’s just fine, having spoken to her just days prior. They’ll sigh a sigh of relief, thank me and assure me they’ll stop by her house to be sure she’s fine.

My grandmother has outlived most people she started life with. She has buried both of her children (my mother had a stroke in her 40s and my uncle died of Lupus-related complications in his early 40s) and her husband. Of her seven siblings, only her ‘baby brother’ remains. And he’s in his 80s.

It’s almost weekly now that my grandma tells me she’s going to a funeral. I guess at 90, that’s just part of life. She has very few friends, peers, still living. Most of her friends are significantly younger. Then again, my grandma doesn’t seem to think she’s really 90!

When you’re 90 and live on your own, most people are in awe. I certainly am! After all she’s lived through the Great Depression, wars, conflicts, and 17 presidents. Woodrow Wilson was president when she was born. She’s seen the world change before her eyes. From no television to the ability to stream live events in the palm of her hand. No telephone to its ubiquity.

Yet here I am, the primary responsible party (I use that term loosely because really, my grandma is very responsible for herself) being bombarded with ‘friends’ and relatives telling me she can’t live on her own any more. They have no real reason for that other than she’s 90 and perceived to be frail.

And while I don’t like when my grandma drives, she is as good a driver as most people out there. Her hearing isn’t as keen as it once was but she’s not a danger. She drives no more crazy than she’s always driven. Actually, I think she’s more cautious now because she realizes her hearing isn’t up to par. Truth be told, she’s never caused an accident in all her driving. She’s been involved in accidents, but never the cause. So she’s got that going for her.

Most of the issues relate to her forgetfulness. Some people try to tell me she has Alzheimers. Far from it! Cancer three times, yes. Alzheimers? No. However, she does have symptoms of vascular dementia. But according to her doctors it’s normal given her medical history. Nothing to worry about they keep saying.

I talk to my grandmother several times a week. Her brother talks to her every day. If ever there is a time we can’t find her for 24 hours straight I can call her local police and they’ll check on her. They know her by name. She bakes treats for the precinct every few weeks. If she hasn’t been by in awhile they stop by. It’s like a TV show when she walks in, balancing two big chocolate cakes – cheers of “Hello, Mrs. Greenberg!”, “So nice to see you, Mrs. Greenberg!” and “Thank you, Mrs. Greenberg!” echo in the stark halls.

But she’s 90, will be 91 in a few months. I know she’s not that same spry young woman who helped raise me. And regardless of my age, to her I’m still a child. Not that I’m incapable, but when it comes to some decisions she wants to make them on her own. Thankfully her brother is there to team up with me to make sure she’s making good decisions.

Our newest issue has to do with her moving out of her home. She doesn’t want to. She see no reason for it. And, honestly, I’m no so sure I disagree. Yes, it’s a lot to deal with. Sure, it is not easy making 3 meals a day. Heck I’m half her age and I have troubles making 3 meals a day! She cares for herself, drives to her appointments, visits and shopping.

Who am I to tell her she has to leave her home? I know she needs some help, but she’s not too keen on that. She keeps forgetting that she’s 90! In her mind she’s still very young. When she turned 90 she told me she was starting to feel old. Starting!

I’ve watched as some of my friends have had to find care for their aging parents. I’ve helped them pour over brochures of what look like Disney for the senior set. It’s very different because this is my grandmother, not my mother. For my uncle it’s a challenge as well because it’s his big sister. The dynamic is very different. But our desire for them to be safe is the same.

I knew this time would come. Actually I’ve been listening to people tell me what to do about it since my grandmother had her last cancer surgery nearly 3 years ago. I’ve been ignoring them for a long time. But now they’re getting very loud.

I have always had a great respect for my friends who care for their aging parents. I’ve watched how they gracefully transitioned from child to caregiver. I’ve taken mental notes, bookmarked websites and have read and read and read. And yet, I’m at a loss as to how to do this dance with my grandmother.

Sara

Reflections on Aging – Happy Birthday to Me

Today I turn 41! Yes, I know. Hard to believe that this youthful beauty is a 40-something!  (did I make you choke?  Sorry!) It’s a bit of a bittersweet day though, because part of me is celebrating all the fabulous things that are still to come while I’m a bit sad that I can’t share it with my mom.

Deep breathe, I won’t cry…..

Holy Guacamole, I’m 41!  And if I had known that at 41 I would have such wonderful and fabulous friends all over the world I might have become 41 much sooner.

My hair is streaked with gray.  Each strand a symbol of my maturity (or my fear of getting my hair colored and it turning orange).  Each one speaks of a different experience that has shaped my life.  Several gray hairs are specifically attributed to missing my mom.  And many of them I blame on this blog I’ve had for only 4 months that has stressed me out because I want to be good at this despite my lack of tech knowledge and my deep-set need to write ‘perfectly’.  Some are there just to mock me and make me feel old.

I’m starting see wrinkles around my eyes.  I attribute it to all the smiles I’ve been able to share over the last 40 years.  I blame them on the tears I’ve shed for the sad times I’ve endured.  But I love each and every one of them because they make me who I am.  (I know, gag!, but I’m trying to age gracefully here.  So give me some slack.  It is my birthday after all.)

My spandex is being replaced by Spanx, which don’t laugh at me as I reshape my marshmallow-y body.  While telling myself that this is nothing compared to the stupid stuff I wore in the 1980s.  Although, that Wonderbra?  Well, it’s a wonder I ever wore that thing. I’ve heard that Spanx makes a bra called Bra-llelujah.  What an awesome name that is!  It’s like a choir singing the praises of the girls.  And I envision putting one on and little angles and pixies floating around my head telling me how awesome I look!  Sounds like a good gift for ‘the girls’ this birthday, doesn’t it?

But this birthday will be a lot different than those of my 30s.  And even last year turning the big 4-0.  It is during this past year that I’ve come to understand that age really is just a number.  Each birthday I’m given the opportunity to decide how that year will be lived.  I’m deciding that 41 is the Year of Awesome.

Welcome to the YEAR OF AWESOME!

Sara