Aging Parents: LETTING GO and the CIRCLE OF LIFE–Parents’ Death and Selling the Family Home

Dad and My Childhood best friend

Dad and my childhood best friend after Mom died

Dad died almost 11 years ago. We held onto the family home we grew up in so there would be continuity for my, at-the-time, very young niece. I was certain the home represented needed security and stability for her. I was also  trying my best to soften the loss of “Grandpa,” with whom she spent a great deal of time– often sitting on his lap in his blue recliner.

She was at the house most of the week after he died. When she asked why Grandpa died, I said something to the effect that God wanted Grandpa. An age-appropriate response, right? That 3-year-old memory, I realized, was much better than that of older people who would no doubt have forgotten that conversation. Her request of me several months later: “Would you please call God and ask him to send Grandpa back?”
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Memories came back in waves as Dad’s recliner, Mother’s china and various furnishings left our home thanks to the estate sale. Interestingly, they weren’t poignant nor did they engender sadness.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

I have been asked often during the last week if I felt sad cleaning out the home. My answer: “No.”  Interestingly that was my brother’s answer also. Reminders of past moments and the people who were part of them take me back so many decades. Yet as a far-away-living child I knew my parents’ death was always a possibility and tried to make certain, as they aged, that there would be no unfinished business nor unspoken words as each visit ended.

I also think, as does my brother, that our home deserves a young family with kids–to slide down the banister and discover our hiding places in the big basement. And so I, a sentimental person, have done a pretty good job of letting go–I think.

Moving on happens. It’s difficult to control. Life in my parents’ home is coming full circle.

Family Photos

Family Photos

It will house a new family and children again. And my parents’ last gift to me is this mountain of stuff that–in the going through and reading–has helped make sense of much of my past…and our family’s past.

If your parents should leave you boxes and drawers to clean out, try to muster up the patience (most in my family can’t) to see this is an opportunity to fill in gaps and answer questions. You get to relive your parents as younger, healthy and strong. The illnesses and the caregiving recede. For me, it has provided closure; has made letting go easier; has been priceless.


Connections with others are important for aging well.
Research confirms that–time and time again. Can we help make it happen for our parents?


Two days before Christmas: Photo above taken at a family’s yearly, multi-generational  party, Originally held in people’s homes, 4 generations numbering over 50–including little kids old enough to walk–and a few best high school friends of young married adults–eat, socialize, and catch up on everyone’s doings over the past year–now in a private room at a hotel. The far-away-living adult children of the  90-year-old great-grandparents carry on the tradition in the elders’ home town. They also supply some entertainment by telling stories and leading songs.

I’ve always been impressed with adult children who make the effort to increase and/or maintain  connections for their aging parents. Two more examples immediately come to mind.

The daughter of a man we’ve known for over two decades, recently emailed to ask if my husband and I could join her and her dad for lunch. We’d been invited to his 91st birthday celebration last summer, but couldn’t attend. She remembered that and followed up a month later, emailing us with the lunch invitation.  I notice she seizes every opportunity to plan social engagements for her dad with people he’s known over the years. She knows the more connections with others, the better. He’s in a wheel chair now; his vision is poor; his mind is good. He loves being with old–and young– friends

I write this with admiration for his daughter.. She’s the sibling responsible for his care. She lives closest to him–a good half hour away–with a husband and teenagers. That said, there’s no question she’s in charge, well organized, and on top of things. When someone asks about her dad, she responds “Why don’t you phone him, I’d know he’d love that.” More connections, more outside stimulation. She’s a parent-includer.

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I wrote a January post about the weekly bridge games my friend’s friend arranged for her 90+ year-old, now hearing-challenged mother. She obviously thinks creatively and rotates my friend and others in their age group in to play on a 3-week cycle. My friend says the elderly woman was an excellent player but her hearing deteriorated and many didn’t want to play with her any more. I say the daughter is a “parent-includer.” And my friend, she’s always ready to help out an older person or a friend.

The holiday season approaches…..a time of profound sadness and loneliness for many. On the other hand, opportunities to help parents age well by including them and increasing their connections with others are everywhere–when we stop and think about it.


Pushing Aging Parents Too Much?

“Caregivers Don’t Always See the Spirit Diminishing,” NY Times Science Section this past Tuesday (9/6/11) resonated. Do we force/cajole/implore/push our aging parents to do what we’d like them to do or doctors persuade us to do to maintain a diminishing quality of life…ignoring the possibility that they’re weary of coping and depleted of energy?

And if they comply, after they’re gone, do we revisit the uncomfortable feeling that we might have subjected them to unwanted pain or stretched-to-the-limit endurance, because of a natural desire to hold onto or “help” them? Isn’t this the exact opposite of the peaceful exit from life we wish for those we love?

The NY Times piece highlights something I think we often ignore.  My take: allowing “failing” aging parents to live out the end of their life as they wish–not as we–or their doctors– may wish. I’ve referred to this winding down, getting tired of the having-to-“perform” process and the need to respect it in previous posts. Easier said, than done.

On a personal level, I think about the last time I (a far-away-living daughter) visited Dad, who died the next month of kidney failure. Every 4-6 weeks when I flew out to see him I took care of the necessities while doing everything possible to enrich his life. This was another attempt.

His mobility had been good. Never even used a cane. But recently he’d gotten a walker to help with the fatigue he was feeling. I wanted–so badly–to give him a change of scenery, get him out of the house and take him to a favorite restaurant, although he said he “didn’t feel like it.” We’d go to the Chart House with my favorite cousin, his favorite niece. He loved their clam chowder, he loved the view, and he loved being with his niece. Why was he reluctant? “Giving in,” he reminded me where he wanted to sit, saying I should explain he was 941/2 to better insure sitting where he wanted.

Once seated Dad enjoyed the clam chowder, but his appetite had lessened; he ordered nothing more. When the hostess brought him a complimentary slice of mud pie, “in honor of being 94 1/2” she said, he shared it with us–ate a little. Thinking back, he made an enormous effort to go to dinner that night to please me.  He was winding down, the time had come when he preferred staying home, sitting in his chair watching/listening to TV while reading and dozing–a book in his hand.

And I think about Mother–at almost 89, mentally alert but frail, weak and winding down from health issues. After almost dying, Dad and I decided on an additional surgery for her. A compliant woman, she agreed. While the procedure brought good short-term results, she hated the aftermath in the hospital. Too many painful “pokes” with needles and enduring other medical stuff. Was it worth living 2 additional months? (If successful the surgery could give a month, a year, more.)

I guess it’s easy to ignore the signs of this last stage when we’ve been trying so hard and so long to help parents age as well as possible. But, then, we don’t want to live with regrets.  Thus, today’s post.