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.

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.


Help Aging Parents, Grandparents, And Loved-Ones: Can Care-giving Family Members Do It All? Continued

It brought back thoughts of Mother’s experience with a temporary feeding tube. Although we had someone to help part-time at home, I could manage it better (especially if it got clogged), once I learned how; yet I don’t remember how I “learned how.” What I do remember is that I could do all the stuff, but the thought (even before the doing) of causing any pain or hurt to someone I cared about, bothered me the most…and of course, still does.

So we learn our limits and our tolerance and our skills, but unless our calling is nursing-related (OK, I did want to be a nurse from ages 5-8), caregiving can involve so much more than we originally anticipate.

The New Old Age column states more than half the respondents undertaking these tasks felt they had no other options–either nobody would do them or insurance didn’t cover So caregivers just did it. More than half said they had no training from any source.

“How has doing these medical/nursing tasks affected your quality of life?” is the last survey question mentioned. “57% said “they felt they were making an important contribution;” 45% said “they felt closer to the loved one they were taking care of;” “40% suffered symptoms of depression;” 1/3 said they were “constantly waiting for something to go wrong.” Lastly, 1/3 described their own health as fair or poor.

Going back to the grateful old man with the white hair and kind eyes, takes us to his insurance. Based on the nursing tasks caregivers assume, it would seem caregivers need others to help shoulder some of the responsibilities. And since most lay people aren’t familiar with the details of President Obama’s healthcare plan, we have another responsibility: to learn if it provides ways for family caregivers to get some additional inexpensive help.

For many, caregiving is a part of helping parents age well until the end and we want to do our best. And when we invest a lot of ourself in something it’s difficult to let go. That’s normal. On the other hand, we need to know–and plan–how we can have some respite to keep ourselves healthy–physically and mentally. To quote the flight attendant on the airplane before take-off: “Make certain your oxygen mask is secured, before helping others.” Excellent advice, but perhaps easier said than done for family caregivers.

Related: Formerly Nat’l Family Caregivers Assn. Good resources here

Photo credits: Family Caregiver Support Program and
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Aging Parent. New Romance. Support? Protest? Ignore?

The more we invest ourselves in something–the more we put into something–the harder it is to let go.  It’s also more difficult to see things objectively.  But it’s often part of life as we try to help our parents age well.

While some think the aging father is doing just fine, thank you, (see last Saturday’s post, some have other thoughts. Some, but not all, can identify with and understand the devoted daughter’s inability to think objectively about the benefits a younger woman can bring to an aging father’s life.

One daughter explains how her older father was revitalized by his relationship with a much younger woman.  From a rather “blah” aging widower, not wanting to leave his apartment unless necessary, he gained energy, loved “to be on the go.” He was like a new person according to this daughter. They had the much younger woman to thank.

A pragmatic child tells of a man in his 80s who lived (unmarried) six years with a woman  young enough to be his daughter–until he began to have health issues common to those his age. The 50-something-year old woman still had many good years ahead and decided she didn’t want to be tied down.  The man had six wonderful years with the younger woman, according to the pragmatic child, but ultimately the age difference got in the way.  If the devoted daughter can just “wait it out,” this pragmatist suggests the possibility that the relationship will dissolve like the one just described.

Other considerations:

  • As we try to help aging parents it makes sense to ask ourselves “what’s the goal?”  Parent’s needs/wants or adult child’s needs?
  • A special and close relationship with a parent is priceless. Should the daughter keep that thought “front and center” and let everyone move forward?
  • It’s the girlfriend’s age that’s bothers the daughter; yet a younger girlfriend can be a big help to an aging parent, AND no doubt take over some of the responsibility that would otherwise fall to the daughter (who in this case is a far-away living daughter).
  • If there’s a concern about inheritance issues, assuming the aging parent is of sound mind, there’s nothing legally that can be done. However…
  • When a child feels comfortable having a conversation about prenuptial agreements, and also understands about trusts that entitle a person to use the trust’s monies during her lifetime but revert to the family upon her death, that’s a possible conversation. But details should be checked with an attorney to be certain of facts before such a conversation takes place.
  • Concern about a “gold-digger” or less-than-desirable “girlfriend?” One can always try Googling or–at the extreme–hire a private detective. That can ultimately help an aging parent when there are valid reasons for concern.

Although aging parents may do things that we are skeptical of, they are still our parents. We are still their children. If they are of sound mind, is it better to let go of efforts to control things that don’t endanger life and limb or their finances? Or should we direct that energy towards making them happy in our efforts to help our parents age well?

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help us help parents age well.