Reflections on Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life–2015

This is one of the few times in decades that Thanksgiving dinner has not been at our home. Now that Sr. Advisor R has died the celebration has passed to the younger generation (in their 40’s). And they upheld the tradition beautifully this year.

I vividly remember the old days, working at the high school until noon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then scrambling to launch into preparations for the big dinner Thursday. The women–my mother, m-i-l and I– worked late at night in our bathrobes in the kitchen–enjoying special time together as we readied everything but the turkey for the next day.

Now the younger generation–(both husband and wife work as did my husband and I)–loves to cook. They prepare Thanksgiving dinner together–with a little day-time help from a mother and aunt. They have children (1 1/2 and 3 1/2).  Relinquishing the Thanksgiving responsibility was welcomed by me, probably a bit dreaded by them; but the result was a most successful transition.

Being with family, having no pressure, and having little kids who are entertaining and fun– not crying or having melt-downs–is a pleasure.


Things change. Our dining room table, decorated in past years with boughs, fruit, candles and autumn leaves–the latter with the names of those present and dearly departed–now displays yet-to-be-put-away memorabilia and small items from my mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home.

Our houseguests leave tomorrow. For old time’s sake I will gently take the saved, dried autumn leaves from their plastic bag in the drawer and view the names of those who have passed on. They were family or friends who were like family and–as they came together for Thanksgiving at our home–created a special warmth that enriched our lives.

A new tradition begins.

Every twist of the  kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.–Elton John

Aging Parents: Cleaning Out Their Home After Death–The Plus-side

Past posts about cleaning out my parents’ home–basically alone–after they died had one purpose: to offer the best, objective, helpful information, dismissing the emotional for the most part. They didn’t emphasize the emotional benefits because I know well that one person’s experience does not qualify as valid for many.

Recent events, however, make me think the emotional benefit for me, could be many people’s experience, although they’re unaware. Left alone in one’s growing-up home with things and memories –and a lot of work seems overwhelming! That said, looking back, it was one of the most precious gifts one can have if we’re fortunate enough to be cast into this position.


My husband is a very organized person who knows how to get things done efficiently and well. After my parents died, we were with a high school friend and her husband, talking about deceased parents’ possessions. The two guys (equally efficient) immediately agreed on what they thought was brilliant.

How about bringing a dumpster to each of our homes (my parents’ home and their home where many of his wife’s parents’ things had been stored for years) and each guy would go to the other’s home and toss out what they thought should go. That way the wives wouldn’t/couldn’t interfere as much and objective thinking would prevail.

Of course that never happened–in either home. And now my husband’s mother is gone and together we have spent time–in 3 separate segments– away from NY, cleaning out unbelievably well-organized, closets, cupboards, and drawers–as well as a large, dusty storage area. (Admittedly I resigned from the latter area …I was sneezing from the dust.)

Currently my husband is out there alone, going through stuff in the dusty area without distractions. Even before “attacking” the storage area, as he came across things from his youth, I could sense the expedient, dumpster appeal was being replaced by another feeling that sets in, taking us back in time. It awakens memories from a time when–if we were fortunate– “father knew best,” mother was home when we came home from school; and questions that arose, after overhearing adult conversations about their friends and relatives, remain mysteries –unless we’re the cleaner-outer.

My husband’s phone call last night about finding his letters sent home from camp and other “treasures” his mother saved from his childhood, elicited–I was sure– the same feelings I had the year before in the west when unearthing things in my parents’ home. It takes time opening envelopes and carefully skimming their contents–to be sure we’re saving important papers, and to be sure we’ve digested every nostalgic morsel. The dumpster would no doubt rob us of this!

Bottom line: Only children have the joy of the above if they choose to take it on.
Advice: If there are siblings, hope that none of them want the job; but share as necessary (there will be memories only a sibling can appreciate) and make certain they participate in equal distribution of all possessions, unless there’s a legal reason to the contrary.

It’s also important to take breaks. If you’re fortunate to still have some good friends living in the area, they no doubt knew your parents, pets, and siblings–adding a specialness if you can get together with them….in which case you’re batting 1000!

Related: Cleaning out Elderly Parents’ Homes after Death or Moving–1
    Cleaning out Elderly Parents’ Homes after Death or Moving–Part 2
    Aging Parents: Letting Go and the Circle of Life (about letting go of the family home)

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents~Thanksgiving: A Day to Give Thanks with Family and Friends plus…..

…..a Creative Way for Remembering Loved Ones

Again this Thanksgiving, tradition will meld with warmth and thankfulness as family and dear friends gather at our home. Like many families, our Thanksgiving is multi-generational. We span a century–the oldest is R at 101; the youngest not yet a year old. Also like many families, family and friends who once joined us for Thanksgiving dinner are no longer with us; they have died. Others now occupy their place at the table, but they do not take their place.

As I began setting the table the first Thanksgiving after Mom died, I got out the plastic bag that contains the place cards from Thanksgivings past. I was feeling sentimental. The wish to have Mom with us or at least honor her memory was there; yet I couldn’t figure out what to do without dampening the mood.

I was gingerly removing the place cards I always save. They were actually dried leaves with people’ names written in white ink–a creative Idea, learned from a Martha Steward demonstration decades before. The leaf with Mother’s name surfaced. So did the leaf with the name of the ex-husband of one of my best friend’s daughter. The latter leaf fell apart as I tossed it into the recycle. I delicately held mother’s. Then the memorial idea surfaced. Why not add it to the centerpiece.

Since then–13 years now–mother’s leaf has been integral to the centerpiece. I’ve since added the leaf of one of my best friends, of her mother, and my Dad’s leaf. I turn them upside down, the name doesn’t show, so they blend in in a natural way. We all know they’re there. That’s what counts.

“Friends are Family We Get to Choose”
Wishing you and your family Happy Thanksgiving

     Note: Fallen, dry autumn leaves and a white pen are all that’s needed for the place cards

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.



Family: Making Room–with Aging Parents Living Beside You

Mansion, the Saturday real estate section of The Wall Street Journal, ran a cover story:
Make Room For the In-Laws.
“…Why space for aging parents is a hot real-estate amenity now.”

Put away the snarky in-law jokes,” we read. “For both domestic and foreign buyers, the hottest amenity in real estate these days is an in-law unit, an apartment carved out of an existing home or a stand-alone dwelling built on the homeowners’ property. While adult children get the peace of mind of having mom and dad nearby, real-estate agents say the in-law accommodations are adding value to their homes.” WSJ 11/7/14

We learn:

  • Homes with in-law units (technical name:accessory dwelling units, ADU’s) are priced about 60% higher than those without.
  • We learn almost a third (32%) of the 550 respondents, who had one or more aging parents, said they expected to have a relative live with them in the future, according to a 2012 survey by PulteGroup (one of the US’s largest homebuilders).
  • We learn in the Southwest Pulte “rolled out casitas,” stand-alone in-law units.” Personal note: “Casitas” are not a new concept for Pulte, although an interior design that’s adult friendly (if it is) would be new. Pulte has, for many years, built casitas in Arizona for use as guest houses, even/especially for home owners of normal-size homes, who like having guests or grandchildren.
  • We learn in the Southeast Pulte has introduced “Multi-Gen dwellings” that are built into the main house.
  • We learn that in 2011 Lennar (Miami-based) introduced “NextGen dwellings.” They are part of the main house, but have a separate entrance–and their sales grew 27%.

I wonder: “Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?” Are economics driving this? or Are adult children caring more about their aging parents?

Two aging mothers, mentioned in the article, say that having their adult children living only steps away eases the transition; and knowing their children are right next door keeps them from feeling lonely.

For aging parents who can still “do,” this living plan has the potential to work well. Everyone is more or less independent; everyone still has his and/or her own life; and while health problems probably exist, they are no doubt manageable. Connections, stimulation, and feelings of security for aging parents exist and are all factors in helping parents age well. And they can extend aging parents’ ability to continue to do.

For adult children, there’s a sense of control and the peace of mind that comes from knowing they can come to the rescue sooner, rather than later should parents need them. And the additional expense of providing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)–to their home (or to their parents’ home if they decide to move into that home, which some children decide to do) has no doubt increased the home’s value.

When aging parents begin having health issues that require caregiving, adult children will need to rethink sharing responsibilities with siblings and making decisions with their parents. This should NOT come as a surprise. In the meantime, adult children can take heart in the fact they’re doing their best to help parents age well. And shouldn’t that instill confidence in their future decision-making ability ……as they help parents age well until the end.

Related: Click “Make Room for In-Laws” link at top below picture.

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to current research and information from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical and spirit-lifting ideas, to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Making Memories for Older People


Sharing with SantaMemories are part of our being. They allow us to momentarily recapture ourDad's 90th youth, milestone events, surprises large and small and so much more. If “Time Takes  All But Memories” (August post) from elders who’ve lost spouses, good health, friends, family etc., can we supply happy memories for them–as well as for aging parents and the older people we care about?

Five suggestions

1. Momentarily recapturing youth: What immediately comes to mind is celebrating a lady’s 100th birthday with lunch at a bar. (She died at 104.) I’m quite certain she never forgot that lunch, nor have I.

What made it memorable? Doing something no longer normal for her, that was once an enjoyable, normal part of her life. An added surprise and obvious memory-maker: The fact that two strangers–young guys–sent drinks to our table in honor of her birthday, thrilled her. (I couldn’t have staged that; if I could have, believe me I would have.) Can telling the wait staff how old your guest is produce something extra special?

2. Doing something that’s “today” could be a special event that comes to town; an outing to something contemporary that you go to together; something that elders know about, but may not have experienced, or an ordinary occurrence that wasn’t ordinary in their day.

That said, I remember Sr. Advisor R phoning to tell us (we’re far-away-living adult children) that some younger friends (in their 40’s and 50’s; R was in her 80’s), took her to a gay bar one night. R has always had a worldly view of life, which includes staying up to date on what’s going on.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

3.  Family togetherness: may produce the best memories for aging parents. Don’t we, in fact, remember special times with family?

It could be a holiday or a gathering when all children and grandchildren are together. Interestingly we can amass all family members from near and far for the funeral, so why not do it while aging parents/grandparents are able to enjoy it and the memories it leaves?

4.  Reunions and visitations from meaningful people in elders’ lives: Can we provide the occasion for childhood friends, buddies from military service, and old friends to be reconnect, share past memories and possibly create new ones?

5. A collage of photos: Today we still have photos of special times (often stored in boxes). Tomorrow most photos will no doubt be stored in our devices’ memories.

Can’t those who do crafts, make a collage of photos and put them in a picture frame as large as an older person’s empty wall permits? It captures memories that can be relived each time the collage is viewed.

With hopes that the above contributes towards our goal of helping parents age well until the end.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: My Parents’ Home–The Long Farewell

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy's clubhouse--decades before Woman's Lib.Would you guess the young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist?

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy’s clubhouse–decades before Woman’s Lib.
The young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist.

How many of us have had the bittersweet experience of being back on the street where we lived, in the bedroom of our growing up, years after our parents have died?

Our street was a micro world–kids about the same age who, when very young, built summer huts of tall weeds on a vacant lot near the end of the street. Before adolescence our early “architecture” morphed into the boys’-built clubhouse in a neighbor’s back yard. It had the requisite “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign.

Time passes, people pass. Our old home is no longer an Ozzie-and-Harriet kind of home and the neighborhood is no longer filled with the high-pitched voices of the neighborhood kids.

We readjust and move forward with–hopefully– the strength gained and wisdom learned from navigating in our micro world. It was our world until we all left for college.

Amazingly in today’s world of rapid change, the houses remain with few changes. Only the inhabitants have changed.

And instead of our street being flooded with kids and dogs, construction vehicles have taken over. A new home is being built across from ours–on the “playground,” an empty, grass-covered lot connected to my first best friend’s home. We kids spent a lot of time there–first on swings and teeter-totters, then playing ball, alway hanging out. Times change. Developers don’t. The construction signals time to sell. Time for a new family. New expectations, new dreams.

As I contemplate readying our family home to be sold, which involves emptying out 6+ decades of memories in addition to the tangible belongings, we’ve had more years than most to cut the umbillical cord. It’s time to let go of the house that provided us security for so many decades–a house that was home…for many years more than one has the right to expect.

A childhood friend of my brother’s, growing up with us on our street but now living in Florida, said on the phone recently: “Visiting your home was like a time warp… still the same inside. I’ve loved being able to come back over the years and experience that.”

So have I.